University of Wyoming presidential candidate Duane Nellis visited campus Monday, addressing faculty, staff and students while answering questions.
Nellis is currently the president of Texas Tech University and has an extensive past in higher education institutes including dean at West Virginia University for seven years and provost at Kansas State for five years.
“Then I had the opportunity to return to the northwest at the University of Idaho (as president), which I thought would be my last move,” he said. “But then Texas Tech came after me, and one thing led to another, and it appeared to be an exciting opportunity, and I moved to Lubbock, Texas, in 2013.”
Nellis outlined a couple reasons why he wants to become UW’s president and leave his position at Texas Tech. All of his experience is at land grant (universities) other than Texas Tech, which operates under a different hierarchy. Four schools — the Lubbock campus, two medical schools and a regional campus — are under the Texas Tech umbrella, each with a separate president. A chancellor of the system heads the entire group.
“The chancellor of the system, who’s generally from a political background, has his office in the same building as me,” he said. “It’s been, the fit, I thought it’d be something I’d be able to adjust to and overcome, but the fit and the context is more challenging than I thought … there’s a little bit of tension in that context.”
Moving back to the region is also a consideration, Nellis said, as he grew up in Montana near Glacier National Park.
He went on to explain what leading UW would mean both for him and the university.
“This is an opportunity to truly be a president and work closely with all of you — work with the governor, the Legislature, the Board of Trustees, the citizens of this great state, the alumni base,” he said. “And really, I believe, have an impact in a very positive way working with all of you.”
A top-down approach to leading is not his focus, Nellis said — consulting with administration, faculty, staff and students is an important part of his job.
“(I am) strongly committed to shared governance,” he said. “Certainly I have ideas about where I’d like the University of Wyoming to be. I’d like it to be one of the nationally recognized land grant universities in the country and recognized as a place that is truly special, and I think it has some of those attributes now, but I’d like to see that expanded.”
Faculty members asked Nellis several questions during the meeting, with the first coming from Donal O’Toole, veterinary science professor.
“Your current salary at Texas Tech is $437,000 — that is way, way above our current president,” he said. “Are you expecting the University of Wyoming to match that salary?”
Negotiating a salary is part of the hiring process, Nellis said. The trustees are aware of a salary increase, he said, and do not seem to have a problem with it. Nationally, the salary is about average, he said.
“I think that’s something I certainly want to try to negotiate,” he said. “I think it’s part of being a top-tier university. I think it gets reflected how the university is perceived as to how well, not only the president, but all of you are compensated. That’s just the reality of what I expect if I make the move.”
He went on to emphasize the importance for increased wages of every UW employee.
“I want to be out there, advocating for you all as far as generating the salary pool,” he said. “I’d certainly work very hard for that. I realize how important that is, not only for faculty, but staff, as they make a huge difference in the success of this university.”
Gov. Matt Mead’s recent budget proposal recommends funding of $16 million to UW athletics along with a $5 million decrease in UW’s block grant, which Nellis addressed.
“I was disappointed when I saw the governor’s budget and looked down and saw that $5 million cut,” he said. “If I were here, I would hope, even before we reached that point, it was very clear how important that funding is to the University of Wyoming. I don’t want to create a confrontational relationship with the governor or the Legislature or the Board of Trustees, but you can be sure you’d have the strongest advocate for faculty, in recognition of how important the support for faculty and faculty salaries, in me.”
Nellis said he’s not informed enough about the athletics budget and what the funding would be used for before speaking more on the subject.
“Athletics, in many ways, nationally, is an American culture and the ‘front porch’ of a university,” he said. “Certainly, athletics is important and we need to be supportive of that, it’s the reality.”
Taking into account everything happening at UW, Nellis said he’d be a great fit for the presidential position.
“I believe I bring the experience, the passion and the energy,” he said. “The idea of being at the university in this state, and the opportunity that comes from that, and the sense of truly being the president and working with all of you to advance the university, truly excites me.”