From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 27 - 3/2/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

The Future of Wyoming & UW

by Philip Dubois, President, Univeristy of Wyoming

During this session of the Wyoming Legislature, much has been said and written about the future of this state. I, and others, also have had much to say about the future of the University of Wyoming. Since those futures are very closely linked, I'd like to discuss where we are headed, together.

Lifetime Wyomingites are justly proud of their state. Some tend to be a bit suspicious of people like me who come from other places, but one advantage of having lived elsewhere is that we can really appreciate what we have here in Wyoming. Another advantage is being able to compare Wyoming with other states and offer some different suggestions about what should be preserved and what we should consider for change.

One example is our need to start taking a long-term view for UW and for the state of Wyoming. We need to adopt solutions that will guarantee a better future, not just two years from now but rather 10 years from now. When oil prices were depressed, I thought we had a good chance to achieve a long-term solution. However, recent increases in oil prices seem to have checked far-sighted ambitions. Unfortunately, the future can't vote.

We need to adopt an offensive strategy. After the legislature created the Wyoming Business Council, many people hunkered down and waited for it to fail. Instead, we should be asking how we can make it work. How Wyoming resolves that discussion will say volumes about our commitment to economic development.

We must reject the tendency to create bogeymen and instead face our problems with real ideas and real solutions. The future of the Wyoming economy depends upon a sound strategy to build our infrastructure, expand our intellectual capacities, and strengthen our workforce. We need to adopt the wildcatter's theory of life. Only with reasoned risk will we realize reward. Wyomingites are conservative, but we need to invest capital in new ventures to stimulate tourism, business development, and research. Wyoming needs to have faith that it can control its destiny.

We need to develop a clear vision for our future. Are we just going to be one big rest stop with fast food tourist operations paying $6 an hour, or are we going to create thriving full-service communities with high-wage jobs? We also need to ignore our borders and think about the role we can play in a national and international marketplace.

We also need to rethink our role of government. Wyoming has a profound anti-government bias, especially in the case of the federal government. But in Wyoming, with just 450,000 people, many of the principles of the private marketplace just don't work. Partnerships, collaborations and alliances are the name of the game, and government must be one of the partners.

We need to support our public leaders in their efforts to effect change. It is not surprising, in an environment where public leaders are attacked personally before their ideas are even debated, that they have become timid about even introducing new ideas.

We need more people to speak for the common good, not merely their private interests. The common good will advance the private interest; that's clear from an examination of successful business communities with strong hospitals, good roads, quality cultural programs and attractive downtowns.

And, we must acknowledge that you get what you pay for. Wyoming will not be successful if it keeps trying to convince itself that blue skies and open spaces alone will result in successful business and educational recruitment. We've been trying to get by on the cheap, but the world is simply too competitive for that formula to work in the long term.

So, what does this mean for the university and the state of Wyoming?

means that the university must help prepare future leaders to understand these challenges, through our regular degree programs, outreach education, local leadership programs, and our new joint venture with the Wyoming Business Alliance, Leadership Wyoming.

It means the University of Wyoming must be closer to the center of debate on critical economic and policy issues confronting the state, using the best science and social science to help solve the state's problems. We should be encouraged to advance new ideas, not threatened for doing so.

It means that we must expand our research and technical assistance. Basic research is critical for a land-grant university, but we need to work harder to create businesses and encourage applied research that will benefit Wyoming.

It means we need to become more flexible, serving not only traditional students but also nontraditional adult students; workforce development is essential to attracting and retaining high-wage jobs.

We need stronger support from the legislature. UW is a $270 million per year business. Only about $92 million - 39 percent of our revenues - come from the state; the rest comes from tuition, research, and self-supporting operations like our residence halls. But state support is critically important, and ours has been devalued by inflation over the past decade by 37 percent. In 1982, Wyoming ranked third in the country in faculty salaries, and we got the very best. Today, Wyoming ranks 47th and we face the challenge of replacing one-third of our faculty over the next seven years as they retire. We are not currently positioned to compete for the best.

Universities are one of society's most stable institutions, but they are also among its most fragile. Institutional reputations take years to build; they can be destroyed in a heartbeat. And, once damaged, they aren't easy to fix. As I watch our legislators wrestle with a myriad of difficult issues, I see that Dorothy had it right-a brain and a heart are essential. But nothing of lasting value can be achieved without courage.

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