Governor Gordon Encourages an Inclusive, Transparent Search Process for Next UW President

Gov 9-16-19

Governor Mark Gordon has sent a letter to the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees encouraging an inclusive and thoughtful search process for the next University of Wyoming President. In the letter, the Governor articulated his hope and expectation for a robust process that “empowers and requires thorough consideration of a broad pool of applicants.” The content of the letter follows:

Dear University of Wyoming Board of Trustees,

One of a state’s most important assets is its university.  Wyoming’s has a grand tradition, with a well-established reputation as offering one of the best values for quality educational experiences.  It is a diverse institution with nationally ranked leadership in many areas — a fine record for a university established only 133 years ago. Although a bit older than our state, our university and our state’s fortunes have been entwined since the beginning.  Our futures depend on each other. This letter is meant to both thank you for your service on the Board of Trustees and to underscore the importance of your role in selecting the next president of UW.

I am confident that, as trustees, there can be no question in your minds about the care you must bring to the task of selecting a president. I also believe you are each equally aware that an institution which has seen so many presidents come and go over the past decade must work hard to do better.

Although it is not unprecedented for a university to see a high turnover of top leadership, it is, nonetheless, discomforting when it happens.  I need not remind you of the criticisms that have followed the departures of President Sternberg and more recently President Nichols. Struggles among trustees, the administration, faculty, and other interested parties over how, who, how much, where, what, and to what end our university exists are to be expected.  However, today, I submit these disputes have reached a volume that can only degrade the confidence students, faculty, and the people of Wyoming have in their lone public university.

Few moments of transition have more significance to our university than the selection of a new president.  So, I wanted to take this opportunity — before the next search for a president begins — to articulate my hopes for the University of Wyoming as well as my expectations for the process. My desire is that this process will ultimately result in a durable and auspicious presidency and an ensuing bright pathway forward for our flagship educational institution.  

I am concerned that at this juncture in UW’s history,  the university’s essential mission is not well articulated nor well appreciated. Therefore, before this presidential selection occurs, I sincerely hope the board itself will be clear as to where the institution stands and where it wants to go.   Moreover, I hope as Trustees we will all listen carefully to the responses. Such an effort will help ensure that the Board’s deliberations are well-informed and fact-based.  

Talk to Wyoming citizens and you will hear lots of opinions about the future of our university:   It should be “a world class engineering school,” “a place where all majors are offered because it is our only University,” “a Tier 1 School of Agriculture,” “a center of research ,” “a business incubator,” and “a way to keep our kids here” and so on.  Combine the variety of these opinions with the black eyes that have come from the dismissal of President Sternberg and the exit of President Nichols and it is not surprising that citizens from around the state have shared their concerns about our university being adrift.  Therefore, I believe it is essential that careful thought, a deliberative process, and meticulous execution must be the cornerstones of this presidential search. 

Albert Einstein is supposed to have said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  To me that means no matter how tempting it may be to insert a familiar face into the top position, it is a notion which should be resisted in favor of conducting a comprehensive search to recruit a large and diverse pool of well-qualified applicants.  A thorough vetting of a good selection of qualified candidates will better assure success. I cannot stress the importance of a thorough and transparent process enough especially at this juncture in our history.

I worry that should this search default to a perceived “obvious” or expected choice, your process will be viewed as unsound.  If so, a new administration will be hamstrung before it even gets off the ground. It is not a stretch to suggest that our university’s current image is already complicated.  It need not be undermined further by insinuation or doubt. I fear that any action which could be viewed as engineered will be profoundly disappointing to the University community and beyond.  

I urge you to conduct a sterling, thoughtful, robust, inclusive, and transparent search process.  One that will bolster support for the outcome and inspire enthusiasm for the direction this cherished institution will take under new leadership going forward.  I support a process that empowers and requires thorough consideration of a broad pool of applicants, not one constrained by inappropriately short timelines or artificially constrained pools of applicants. 

I know we share a desire for excellence at our University, and I thank you again for your service.  The people of Wyoming are lucky to have your vision, and your commitment. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.  This is not the time for haste. It is the time to demonstrate vision and capacity.


Mark Gordon