Wyoming Senate President-elect Tony Ross of Cheyenne believes some loyal supporters who live outside the state should be eligible to serve on the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees.
Ross prefiled a bill late last month to expand the number of trustees from 12 to 14, allowing for the additional members to be from out of state.
Ross said the change could bring some expertise to the board from new nonresident trustees who are from large corporations and could be assets to other trustees and to the university.
Although the UW trustees have taken no position on the bill, one board member has reservations about the proposal.
Warren Lauer of Laramie said Ross’ bill comes at a time when other universities are cutting back on the sizes of their boards. Some of those boards have 30 or more members, he added.
Lauer said he will request that the topic be included on the agenda for the next board meeting later this month.
“Something like that shouldn’t go through without anyone knowing about it,” Lauer said. “I think maybe it was something of a quick draw by Tony. Certainly, I didn’t have any conversation with him. I’m a bit leery about pulling a fast trigger to add people.”
Lauer noted that the Penn State University board expanded until it was so big it lacked accountability. As a result, the sexual abuse scandal in the Penn State athletic department became ingrained without any knowledge of the trustees who were ultimately responsible, he said.
The University of Wyoming has no position on the bill, spokesman Chad Baldwin said. He said it is up to the trustees to decide whether to take a position.
“This was was something I think the bill sponsors did on their own,” Baldwin said.
Neither David Bostrom of Worland, the chairman of the UW trustees, nor David Palmerlee of Buffalo, the vice chairman, had any comment on the bill.
Bostrom said he hasn’t had a chance to analyze the bill or to have any discussions with the board about it.
Ross said no one asked him to sponsor the bill and he has no particular candidates in mind for the additional trustee positions.
Ross said he vetted the bill with UW President Tom Buchanan.
“This is a modest attempt to bring additional perspective that I think would be helpful to the board of trustees,” Ross said.
He pointed out that the 30-member UW Foundation Board includes nonresidents.
Rep. Kermit Brown of Laramie, a co-sponsor of the bill and the new House Majority Floor Leader, said many Wyoming graduates are chief executive officers of large corporations or otherwise have prominent roles in other states yet cannot serve as university trustees.
At the same time, many UW graduates will leave the state for jobs and need to be prepared for the competition they will face, he said, adding that the university needs to be competitive and reach out to people in other states.
“It’s only two on top of the 12,” Brown said. “It’s not like the unwashed masses from out of state are going to take over the institution.”
Two members of the UW Foundation Board said the expansion could be of value to the trustees.
“It might have some interesting benefit to bring some larger views to it,” Larry Wolfe of Cheyenne said.
“I don’t see any particular downside to it. It’s a helluva time commitment for anyone to make. You’re going to have to find their right people to do it,” he added.
Rita Meyer of Cheyenne, a former state auditor and UW trustee, said 60 percent of UW graduates leave the state. Allowing out-of-state residents to be trustees would add “bench” to the board, she said.
Meyer mentioned Martha Brown Wyrsch as a nonresident as an example of someone who would add value.
Brown Wyrsch graduated from UW in 1980 with a B.A. in English. She earned a law degree from George Washington University in 1986. In 2002 she completed the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program.
She has been president of Vestas-Americas, an affiliate of Vestas Wind Systems NS, since 2009. Previously, Wyrsch was director at Spectra Energy Facilities, LP, and Greater Houston Partnership. She also served as senior vice president, general counsel and secretary for Duke Energy Field Services.
“Martha Brown had a great professional career, but it was always out-of-state,” Meyer said.
Currently, the UW board of trustees includes at least one trustee appointed by the governor from each of the state’s judicial districts and the rest at large. No more than seven members may be of the same political party. The trustees serve six-year terms.
Many other colleges and universities, including the University of Colorado, have out-of-state representatives on their governing boards.
Anne D. Neal is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. She said that while the residency requirements vary nationwide, they appear to be weighted in favor of in-state residents.
“Ideally, the board size should be kept small to permit trustees to address key issues in committees and as a whole and to do so with focus,” Neal wrote in an e-mail.
A governor should think broadly about appointing trustees with wide-ranging experiences who have a deep sense of responsibility to the people of the state, no matter where they live, Neal said.
“And trustees’ loyalty should be to the public first, not the institution,” she added.
The 62nd legislative session opens Tuesday.
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