Departing University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols is set to become the interim president at Black Hills State University, the South Dakota school announced Monday.
Nichols will take over as interim president on July 1, a day after her contract as UW president expires. The announcement is somewhat of a reversal for Nichols, who had said she would stay on for at least a year as a faculty member at UW after her presidential term ends. But rumors about the certainty of her tenure at UW have been persistent in recent weeks, with her husband taking a job at the University of Montana and the revelation that the couple’s Laramie house was placed on the market in April.
In a statement, Nichols — who previously served as an administrator at South Dakota State — said she was “delighted” to return to her native state.
“I also look forward to returning to the Black Hills, the same region where I started my career as a high school teacher in Hill City some four decades ago,” she said. “I anticipate a positive and productive year as BHSU searches for its next permanent president.”
It’s unclear how long Nichols will remain as interim president. In its press release Monday, the school said she “will serve in a temporary capacity until a national search for the university’s next president is concluded and the next president is appointed.”
“We are so pleased to have Dr. Nichols serve as the interim president of Black Hills State University,” Paul B. Beran, the Black Hills State’s board’s executive director and CEO, said in a statement. “Her higher education experience and previous service in South Dakota’s public university system leaves little doubt that she will be an excellent guide for the university until a permanent leader is appointed. We welcome her back home to South Dakota.”
Reached by phone Monday afternoon, UW board president Dave True said he “had not heard” Nichols was taking another job before the Star-Tribune called him.
He declined to comment, beyond saying that he “had no idea she was pursuing anything specifically, but if she’s pleased with it, that’s a very good step.”
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True added that he understood Nichols would stay on and teach at UW, given a statement she had made to Wyoming Public Media several weeks ago. Faculty leaders had been under a similar impression: Donal O’Toole, who until recently was the Faculty Senate chair, told the board last month that Nichols was brave for staying on another year at UW, despite her demotion.
University spokesman Chad Baldwin said on Monday that he, too, had just learned of the Nichols’ announcement via a media report but that he didn’t know if other officials in administration had been previously aware of it.
He said “it would be my guess” that Nichols will not be serving in any faculty capacity at UW, as she had previously indicated.
The surprise announcement will fully bring an end to Nichols’ time at UW in four weeks. She came to Laramie just over three years ago, having previously been the provost at South Dakota State, where she received a degree in home economics education.
UW’s first female president, Nichols came to Laramie amid a budget crisis that would ultimately cost the university $42 million in state funding, while the school was simultaneously dealing with a free-falling enrollment. She was able to weather both storms and would steer the school through a number of other changes and controversies.
But for reasons that remain publicly unclear, True and the rest of UW’s board announced in late March that they would not renew Nichols’ three-year contract. They have repeatedly declined requests by faculty, students and media to provide an explanation for the decision, which even Nichols has said she does not understand.
True again declined to discuss details of Nichols’ demotion to the Star-Tribune late last month, calling it “hammering on an old topic.”
As the details around Nichols’ departure remains murky, UW is determinedly moving on. The board appointed Neil Theobald, the previous president of Temple University and UW’s current vice president for finance, to serve as interim president for the coming academic year, as the board searches for a new president.
Theobald’s selection drew praise from his past employers and from UW officials. Ken Chestek, the Faculty Senate Chair, said Theobald brought “experience,” “an even temperament” and “broad knowledge” to the position of president.