Edward Seidel, who touted economic development and the university’s role in enhancing the state’s economic well-being, has been unanimously selected to be the 28th president of the University of Wyoming.
Currently the vice president for economic development and innovation for the University of Illinois System, Seidel was one of three finalists for the position. The school announced its choice Wednesday morning after a meeting by the board of trustees that ended a six-month search for the school’s next chief executive.
Seidel will take over in July as the school’s first permanent president since the board allowed former president Laurie Nichols’ contract to expire. He will sign a three-year contract that will pay him $365,000 annually, plus $110,000 in other compensation. When she was hired, Nichols was paid $350,000, with an additional $108,000 in other compensation.
“I am honored and thrilled to be selected by the Board of Trustees to take on this important role for both the university and the state of Wyoming,” Seidel said in a statement. “UW is such an incredibly strong and vibrant institution, and it will have an enormous impact on the future of the state and region. Gabrielle and I are excited to be joining the university and community.”
“We are excited to welcome Dr. Seidel and are confident that he will provide strong leadership for our state’s university,” board of trustees chairman Dave True said in the announcement. “We express appreciation to those who participated in the presidential search process, which resulted in a field of strong candidates and allowed us to make an outstanding choice for the university’s new leader.”
In an interview with the Star-Tribune, Seidel said he applied for the job because he felt ready to take on a president’s role. He said UW’s status as the only four-year public university in Wyoming and the state’s need for economic development appealed to him specifically.
He said that he needed to do more internal “inventory” before laying out specific priorities. But broadly speaking, he said that he wanted to focus on the university partnering with companies and with other institutions in the state, like the seven community colleges. He said outreach to all parts of the state was critical.
Ken Chestek, the Faculty Senate chair, said in an email that Seidel is “a visionary choice.”
“I can report that while each of the candidates had support from some faculty members, the support for Seidel is pretty widespread and strong,” he said. “He is energetic and full of ‘big ideas.’”
Jason Wilkins, the president of the UW’s student body, said Seidel could bring stability to the university.
“I’m really happy with the decision, and I think it is a product of a strong, thoughtful and thorough process,” he wrote to the Star-Tribune. “Ed is someone who has a vision for the University going forward, and is not just going to maintain the status quo. He is incredibly intelligent, but also very personable and down to earth; his interaction with students on campus was highly engaging.”
A physicist by training, Seidel’s resume includes strong collaboration efforts with various industries. His hiring comes as the state looks to diversify its economy and the university has pushed to be a major piece of that effort.
“As a member of the university’s senior leadership team, he has built and supported programs that engage university, public and private partners — strengthening the links among higher education, research and business to stimulate economic development across the state,” the university wrote in its announcement. “He oversees the system’s commercialization pipeline, including the Offices of Technology Management at the Universities of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Chicago, and the early-stage technology investment firm Illinois Ventures, which has catalyzed over $1.7 billion in venture funding for companies.”
In a statement, Gov. Mark Gordon praised the search process and said he was excited to work with Seidel. He, too, highlighted the new hire’s background in economic development.
“Ed has demonstrated visionary leadership and brings a strong focus on economic development,” Gordon wrote. “His exceptional technical and scientific background will benefit the research efforts of a land grant university.”
Gordon’s comments have outsize weight, even for a governor. In September, he sent a pointed letter to the trustees that called Nichols’ departure a black eye. He urged them to undertake a vigorous and transparent search process.
The state’s highest education official, Superintendent Jillian Balow, said in a statement that Seidel “aims high and will fit well in Wyoming and at the University of Wyoming.”
“I am thrilled to work with incoming UW President Ed Seidel,” she wrote. “He brings a passion for STEM, the Arts, athletics and learning for all ages. I am particularly enthusiastic about his knowledge and passion for K-12 Computer Science education and Wyoming’s Boot Up initiative. He will add value to the commitment that all Wyoming graduates are well prepared for tomorrow’s world.”
Seidel will take over a university that’s had strong, even record-breaking, enrollment in recent years. Its finances have stabilized, after the most recent energy bust prompted the Legislature to cut $42 million from UW. State legislators are currently debating funding millions of dollars in capital construction. Seidel told the Star-Tribune he wanted to increase enrollment even more, strengthening the pipelines between the university and the community colleges.
But he will also take an office that’s seen significant turnover at the top in recent years. Indeed, he will become the fifth permanent president in just over six years. His predecessor, Nichols, left in a smokescreen; the board declined to provide any details about why her contract was going to expire and Nichols herself said she had no idea.
After a lawsuit over records withheld by the university, the Star-Tribune and WyoFile reported that Nichols had quietly been investigated after she was accused of verbal abuse. She has denied that accusation, but the board apparently uncovered a pattern of behavior and decided to drop her before her contract was renewed.
Seidel said he wasn’t dissuaded “in the least” by the Nichols saga.
“It had me ask some questions, but I feel quite comfortable and confident that we’ll be able to do well going forward, and I’ve had reassurances that that’s the case and I anticipate that I’ll be doing a job supported by the board,” he said.
Before Nichols, there was the brief — and widely accepted as interim — tenure of Dick McGinity, who led for a short time after the Bob Sternberg hire imploded within five months.
True, UW’s board chair, told the Star-Tribune that Seidel’s “target” was UW and that the Laramie campus wasn’t a stepping stone to something bigger.
“It is certainly accurate to say that the trustees hope it turns into a very long and productive, positive relationship with Dr. Seidel and the university,” True said.
Seidel said he viewed Laramie as a destination and that he was in it for the long haul. He praised the city and Wyoming as a whole, saying it was an ideal place to live.