UW President Tom Buchanan: The County10.com Interview, part one

University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan. (Ernie Over photo)

By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com

(Riverton) – County 10 met with University of Wyoming President Dr. Tom Buchanan Thursday in Riverton for an interview at Central Wyoming College. Here is the transcript of the interview, part one.

County 10: Welcome to Fremont County, President Buchanan. Do you get up this way often?

Tom Buchanan:  It’s good to be up here. I get up into this vicinity fairly frequently. My wife is a Thermopolis native and we still have some family in the area and we get here a couple times of year to visit with them, and at least once a year to visit with the legislative delegation. Occasionally we stop while on our way elsewhere in the state. Three or four times a year probably.

C10: You have announced your intention to retire.

TB:  Yes, that’s right. It’ll be 35 years for me this spring and 8 years as president. It’s been a great run and it feels like the right time.

C10: Did you have any idea that when you took over as Interim President that it would last eight years?

TB: You know, no. (chuckle) to put it mildly. I had no idea how long it would last. I just came to work, tried to work hard and do what was in the best interest of the University. Looking backwards now, we’ve gotten a lot done. We’ve had great support from the Legislature and elected officials and that makes all the difference in the world. I’m pretty pleased in general with the progress that UW has made.

C10: You were at the university at a very fortuitous time with the revenues coming in and the support of the legislature.

TB: Yes, that is correct. I think my timing was impeccable (chuckle). I’ve been here long enough, enjoyed the good times and the bad and certainly have had my share of budget tightening and belt tightening, reductions alongside of periods of great gain and a lot of progress. I think our financial well being parallels the state and it’s part of the reason we try to stay connected to the economic drivers to the state of wyoming because as the state prospers, so do we.

C10: You’ve had some record contributions made to the university in the last eight years.

TB: Our private giving has increased dramatically in the time that I have been here. I think when I started (35 years ago) a good year might’ve been a couple hundred thousand dollars and in the last 10 or so the role of private giving has become more significant for all publics, not just Wyoming, but across the country. We’ve worked hard with our friends and our alums and others who have the capacity and are interested in giving back to their alma mater, and I think we have been quite successful. This past year we have been at $43 million dollars, the year before $41.3 million and I think this year we’ll break all of our records.

C10: It certainly helped that the Wyoming Legislature provided matching funds.

TB: Oh boy, did it ever. It was just a tremendous incentive to be able to talk to someone considering a significant gift of $25,000 or $250,000 and say we can double the impact of your gift to whatever unit it is being directed to. It has been a powerful, powerful motivating tool for private giving and we’ve been the beneficiary of that. We’ve talked to my counterparts in other states and you tell them we have a state matching fund program that doubles private gifts and you have to tell them two to three times because they they don’t believe you (chuckles) so it has been just a remarkable program.

C10: What do you think the impact of the new UW Conference Center and Hotel has done for the Laramie community?

TB: There was a time when the community was concerned that putting in a facility of that sort and size would negatively impact other motel operators and I think what the city and folks have found  is that is hasn’t done that, in fact it has increased the market and we now have four or five, at least, big nice motel facilities and places to stay, more eateries, and not just for visitors but for folks in the community and it’s a real opportunity for us to show off Laramie to potentially new businesses and visitors to the state and region. It has been a great boon to the university in terms of our ability to bring groups, speakers, and conferences to town and really show them the first class university that UW is developing into.

C10: Along those lines, NCAR has just opened in Cheyenne and you are benefiting  from the computing power there.

TB: We are, we are. We have for the last five or six years, we have been quietly building our faculty expertise in the computational sciences, not just any one can make full use of the capacity of that kind of a machine and we have been hiring in mathematics and engineering-all of the engineering areas-and atmospheric science, the biologic sciences which are becoming increasingingly computational in the way that they operate and study and conduct research. There was a time we were less than certain that we could make use of the computing allotment we would have as part of that arrangement, and as it turned out, the first cycle of proposals of allocations for computer time we received somewhere on the order of 50 proposals on how it could be used and about 26 that were accommodated until we exceeded our allocation. So we’re pleased to be able, right from the get-go, to be able to tap into that hardware and take full advantage of it.

We’re doing a lot of earth science modeling and research that is going to keep us at the forefront of the work that needs to be done to help Wyoming prosper

C10: UW is becoming more research oriented?

TB: I think that’s fair, I certainly hope that’s the case. If you look at funded research that is largely funded through competition with other researchers at the Federal level through the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense and other big Federal funding agencies, we have been on a nice solid upward trajectory every single year for 20 years. Each year we exceed, not by a lot, but by a little bit, and that’s a tribute to the quality of the faculty that we’ve been able to hire, and we’ve been able to hire them because we’ve had great state support, great legislative support so we’ve had the ability to do that and it’s worked well for us.

C10: The student population has grown as well.

TB: We have the biggest entering class in our history this fall. We think when we do the final tally this fall on the headcounts on the numbers of students which we’ll do probably mid December, we think for the first time we’ll be above 14,000. Again, we have been growing, oh, a percentage point or two each year for the last 10 years, so we have been growing at a manageable rate, not like runaway inflation. We can manage the growth when it is of that size. It has been thoughtful. We’re attracting a greater percentage of graduates from Wyoming than ever before and I think that’s the Hathway Scholarship Program. And we increasingly are looking attractive and as a great value for out of state students, particularly those in the Colorado Front Range. If you follow higher ed, Colorado’s higher education system has suffered massive reductions and I think as we develop our own facilities and programs we look pretty darn attractive. A lot of those students who come to Wyoming do stay and get jobs. We smart them up for four years and they decide they’d rather live in Wyoming than Colorado which a well educated person would believe (chuckle).

C10: A percentage of your students don’t go to the campus In Laramie.  We’re sitting now in the UW Outreach facility here at the new Intertribal Community Center at Central Wyoming College in Riverton. How important are outreach programs to the university?

TB: I think it is hugely important to us and to Wyoming, particularly with UW being the only higher education institution in the state, and, being in the southeast corner of Wyoming, we have a population that is spread out over nearly 100,000 square miles. We’re not the university of Southeast Wyoming and we’re not the University of Laramie, we’ve got a responsibility for the whole state. And really the only way we can fulfill that is to aggressively look for and seek out collaborations with community colleges, establish networks to deliver courses. Right now we are delivering 28 degree programs all over the state. We have better than 3,000 students enrolled working on degrees and we graduate hundreds of students each year, some at the graduate level, some at the undergraduate level through programs just like this one. We have great partners with the community colleges. The community colleges do a great job with students that need a little extra help and we’ve discovered that students who finish at the community colleges and transfer to us come as well prepared as our own students. It’s been a partnership that has grown and developed over the years and we’re very pleased with.

C10: And on line courses?:

TB: And that’s what the outreach centers do, they have on line courses that are fully on line and hybrids where some of it is telephone and some of it is audio/video. In some cases we send faculty out into the state and in other cases we have faculty living in other communities. Not as many as we’d like. We’d like to see that grow and it will over time. If we have students interested in a degree program, we’ll find a way to get that to them by hook or by crook.

To be continued…