The University of Wyoming’s vice president for finance and administration, Neil Theobald, will take over July 1 as interim president of UW after Laurie Nichols’ contract expires, the university’s board decided Monday.
Eleven board members voted to appoint Theobald, who came to the university less than a year ago. The 12th trustee, Mel Baldwin, wasn’t on the call. The vote comes nearly two months after the trustees demoted Nichols in a move that surprised the campus community.
Theobald will stay in the interim role for a year, board president Dave True said. Theobald will earn a base salary of $340,000.
“I’m honored to be in this role,” he said Monday in a phone call.
Theobald said Monday he plans to return to his current position after his year as interim president ends. He also said he will continue his duties as vice president for finance and administration, with the help of his staff, during that year.
“There’s about five of us that do this job right now,” Theobald said. “... They might have to carry a bigger part of the load, and we’ll keep it going (during the next year).”
He’ll take the president’s office exactly one year after joining UW, then replacing retiring finance VP Bill Mai, who was also a candidate for the interim president job. From 2012 to 2016, Theobald was previously the president at Temple University in Philadelphia, though he resigned from the school shortly before that board met to vote on his dismissal. He was facing scrutiny for issues with a scholarship budget and for the dismissal of Temple’s provost, according to local media reports.
“I loved my time at Temple University,” Theobald said. “... In the end, it came down to a disagreement between the board (of trustees) and me on how you appoint deans.”
Theobald said he felt that faculty should be involved in those decisions while the board disagreed.
“It made sense for me to move on,” he said.
As UW’s point man on finances, Theobald managed a sprawling department of some 380 people and a budget of $205.5 million, a significant chunk of the school’s total budget. It was a “natural conversation” for Theobald to apply, given his background, he said. He couldn’t recall who first suggested he apply but believed it was mutual.
Former UW lobbyist and state legislator Chris Boswell was also a finalist for the interim position.
Theobald takes over amid a period of uncertainty for the state’s sole four-year public institution. While the board has committed to an open search process to find a permanent replacement for Nichols, which True has indicated could take a year, there remains significant confusion about what led to the demotion of the university’s first female president.
True has declined to provide any details, including apparently to Nichols herself, who has said that she has no idea what prompted her demotion to faculty.
Last week, outgoing Faculty Senate chair Donal O’Toole asked the board at its public meeting if Nichols’ demotion was influenced by her gender, saying that it seemed that way to him. He asked the board to provide Nichols a detailed breakdown of what happened and the campus a broad explanation.
True, in a comment to the Star-Tribune, declined to comment other than to say he disagreed with O’Toole’s conclusions.
Theobald said stability was “probably one of the reasons” the university promoted internally. As a UW officer, he said, he was not in the meetings and does not know what led to Nichols’ demotion. However, Theobald said he trusts the UW board of trustees.
“They always put the best interests of the university first,” he said.
Nichols, who’s a non-voting member of the board, was not on the call. Nor was Gov. Mark Gordon, who also serves as an ex-officio trustee.
Theobald said he plans to continue the strategic plan Nichols has begun during her tenure.
“There is not a major course correction here,” he said.
His first priority as president, he said, would be to work with community colleges in the state to get more students “into and through” higher education. He said the latter part of that was especially a focus of his at Temple, where the rate of students graduating in four years rose to more than 50 percent while he was there.
Theobald, who spoke Monday while on vacation in Hawaii, said he tries to be “highly transparent” and plans to continue that in his new role.
“We work for the state of Wyoming,” he said. “You’re my boss.”
Reporting from the Laramie Boomerang and WyoFile recently called the UW board of trustees’ transparency into question, namely its use of executive sessions, which are not open to media or the public.
Theobald has some history with Wyoming, dating back to his time as a graduate student at the University of Washington, where he said he participated in a school partnership with the University of Wyoming. He also spent time visiting the area thanks to his friendship with former UW College of Education Dean Dick Andrews. Theobald and his wife had owned a house outside Laramie before selling it three years ago.
“This was my dream job,” he said. “I always wanted to get back to Wyoming.”