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New sheriff in town

Nov 14, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

First-year UW president Robert Sternberg isn't afraid of friction

University of Wyoming President Robert Sternberg has turned some heads in his first semester on the job.

There's controversy surrounding personnel moves he has made and personnel moves that others have made because of him, and he has been answering some questions about it around the state.

Sternberg is an experienced university administrator with impeccable academic credentials, as well as both an instructor and a researcher. His field is psychology, which makes it at least a fair bet that he knows exactly what he is doing, and is aware of the public perception generated by the personnel disagreements.

Very probably this is simply a matter of there being a new sheriff in town, so to speak, and he intends to make some changes.

In case you did not know it, university faculty life can be a deeply political environment, full of personal intrigue and hypersensitivity over perceptions of favoritism, slights and competing agendas.

Honestly, that's not a bad environment for a trained psychologist who is also an administrator. Bob Sternberg is both.

It is naive for anyone, particularly those experienced in the world of university faculty relations, to presume that a new president, hired from the outside, replacing an internally promoted professor who had nearly a decade on the job, wouldn't plan on making significant changes.

Sternberg has said as much, noting that he has his vision for the university, and that he wants a team around him to help him implement his plans.

Keep in mind that he is has arrived in his first university presidency at age 63. This could well be his final university administrative position. Sternberg probably feels there is no time to lose if he wants to begin transforming the University of Wyoming into what he says it can be -- namely, the best land-grant university in the United States.

That's heady talk, the kind of thing we've never heard from a University of Wyoming president before. It's also exciting and, in Sternberg's view, based on sound thinking and real potential.

Chances are good that this shrewd dissector of human behavior will find a way to ride out this early storm. In the long run, his "we're No. 1" vision for our state's only university is bound to be a lot more interesting -- and important -- than first-semester friction among people who are just getting to know each other.

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