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Robert Sternberg

Robert Sternberg

Oklahoma State University Provost Robert Sternberg will become the next president of the University of Wyoming.

The UW board of trustees unanimously approved Sternberg’s hiring as the university’s 24th president on Tuesday.

He will replace retiring President Tom Buchanan on July 1, according to a UW media release. Officials are finalizing Sternberg’s three-year contract with an annual base salary of $425,000, according to the release.

Sternberg, 63, has been provost since 2010 at Oklahoma State, where he also teaches psychology, according to his biography on the university’s website. Before that, he spent five years as the dean of arts and sciences at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

“Oklahoma State and Wyoming are probably two of the most similar universities in the country,” Sternberg said in the UW press release. “Both value and appreciate the deeper meaning of the land-grant mission, and that’s something I fully embrace.”

In an email interview with the Casper Star-Tribune, Sternberg said the No. 1 issue facing all universities is providing unsurpassed value. That includes quality education at an affordable price.

“This means that the university must show the people of the State of Wyoming what a treasure their university is and how important it is to support it so that it, in turn, can support and serve the State,” he wrote. As a land-grant institution, UW’s mission is “to serve the state, the nation, and the world — to make the world a better place. And to work with the people of the State to make the State the best it can be.”

Sternberg said his main goal as president is to contribute toward UW becoming the premier land-grant university in the country. His first priority as he gets to know Wyoming and UW better will be to meet people, form meaningful relationships, and, most important, to listen.

Trustees President David Bostrom said in the release that trustees are confident Sternberg will provide strong leadership at a critical juncture for UW. Efforts include a project to lift the College of Engineering and Applied Science to “tier 1” status, as directed by the state Legislature, and to continue building programs focused on research and work force preparation in collaboration with the energy industry.

“He fully understands the relationship and importance of energy of all kinds to the state and the university,” Bostrom said of Sternberg. “He will be fully involved in the efforts to achieve the goals set forth.”

Bostrom added Sternberg is a great fit for UW and Wyoming.

“Collectively, we’ve agreed that this is the most important decision we will make during our tenure on the Board of Trustees, and every action we have taken has been made to ensure a successful outcome to this process,” Bostrom said in the release.

Sternberg’s hiring comes after months of controversy and legal dispute over university officials’ initial choice to conduct a closed search for president. The Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and The Associated Press filed a successful lawsuit to make the finalists’ names public. A ensuing bill fast-tracked through the Legislature allowed closed searches for UW and community college presidents, but time constraints forced trustees to proceed with finalists who consented to publicizing their names. Sternberg was named Friday in a short list of four.

“I believe in transparency,” Sternberg wrote to the Star-Tribune. “I have been fully transparent in my role as provost at Oklahoma State. That said, I think the media made a mistake effectively in forcing the hand of UW to reveal publicly the names of finalists in the presidential search.”

His reasoning is that when searches make finalists’ names public, many candidates withdraw or never enter. Their jobs, and credibility in their jobs, are adversely affected. Sitting presidents may find themselves risking the job they have for a chance at a new one.

“And even for a provost or a dean, once it gets out that he/she is on the market, constituents of the university in which they work start to take them less seriously because it is assumed they soon will leave,” he wrote. “It also decreases their viability for future job searches if it is public information that they failed in one or more previous searches. So I believe the university was correct in promoting confidentiality of the search. I know that the media saw it as a transparency issue, but I believe that the best interests of the university and the State are served when presidential searches remain confidential.”

Another controversy in the past year played out when UW officials removed a piece of art that many viewed as critical of the coal industry.

“I know this has been viewed as a controversy, but in the end, I believe everyone had something to learn from the experience,” Sternberg wrote. “The best thing always is, where possible, to anticipate issues and discuss them rationally, sharing views before things begin to get out of hand. The energy industry and the university share the goal of supporting the State of Wyoming and making it the best place to live in the nation. We can work together for a common good and show that, in the end, we all are working toward common goals. We all want what is best for the State.”

Gov. Matt Mead on Tuesday issued a statement to welcome the new president.

“The University of Wyoming is a superb institution and our state has charted a course for UW to become one of the finest land grant universities in the nation,” Mead said in the statement. “I look forward to meeting Dr. Sternberg and working with him to assure that UW continues to be a great resource to all students, and a contributor to the Wyoming economy. I want to thank the Board of Trustees for its work and diligence in selecting Dr. Sternberg.”

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Sternberg’s background

At Oklahoma State, Sternberg has served as the university’s chief academic officer, overseeing its colleges and campuses comprising about 35,000 students and 1,600 tenure-stream faculty members, according to the UW press release. He also is vice chairman of the board of the OSU Center for Innovation and Economic Development, which fosters start-up companies based upon innovation by faculty members.

Sternberg started his career at Yale, where he taught for 30 years, according to the OSU website. He said it’s a great university in which he takes pride, but he reached a point where it no longer suited him.

“When all is said and done, I come from a family in which neither parent was graduated from high school,” Sternberg wrote. “My father sold buttons in a second-floor walk-up in Newark, N.J., and my mother was a housewife.”

He needed to be in an institution that “truly wants to integrate excellence with access.” That lead him to Tufts University in Massachusetts as dean of arts and sciences. There, he was able to fulfill his passion for making ethical leadership the center of his focus, he wrote.

Then he moved on to Oklahoma State as provost and senior vice-president.

“I fully embrace the land-grant mission and that is what I bring to UW — a passion to educate the ethical leaders who will make a positive, meaningful, and enduring difference to the State and to the Nation,” Sternberg said.

He also has been president of the American Psychological Association and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences among other organizations.

Sternberg said the university itself is what first drew him to Wyoming.

“It is a university that is great and wants to become — and will become — even greater,” he wrote. He also mentioned people with a welcoming attitude and pioneering spirit, along with the state’s natural beauty.

“I’m already an Oklahoma Cowboy but I need some time to become a Wyoming Cowboy,” he wrote.

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Reach education reporter Elysia Conner at 307-266-0593 or elysia.conner@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @ElysiaConner.

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