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With Sternberg out, UW facing questions on secret search
Bob Sternberg only lasted four months as president of the University of Wyoming. UW photo

With Sternberg out, UW facing questions on secret search

Nov 15, 2013 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

News of Bob Sternberg's resignation as University of Wyoming president has revived the issue of how the UW Board of Trustees hires the leader of Wyoming's only public four-year university.

After just a little more than four months on the job, it was announced Thursday that Sternberg has resigned amid criticism of his management style. His resignation is effective Dec. 31, but Sternberg was placed on immediate administrative leave. He said he left because he didn't have the full support of the trustees.

Starting at UW on July 1, Sternberg quickly came under fire for his personnel changes and other decisions. Since he took over, five administrators, including the provost, and three deans decided to leave their jobs. Sternberg, who had administrative jobs at Yale, Tufts and Oklahoma State University before coming to UW, asked some to leave.

For a university that had seen little change in top administrative posts under previous President Tom Buchanan, the turnover was a shock that led to increasingly open criticism of Sternberg, some by the law school dean. Sternberg had agreed to participate in a public debate with the former dean, but that will not happen.

Sternberg's decision to pay an outside consultant $35,000 to review and report on how to improve the men's basketball and football programs also caused a stir.

But many also praised the new president, who visited many Wyoming communities this fall and vowed to help transform UW into a top-tier state university.

The consultation on sports teams also was supported by many fans and alumni, particularly as the Cowboy football team trudged through a series of embarrassing losses, including last week's 48-10 shellacking from Fresno State in Laramie.

The search that resulted in Sternberg's hiring was done mostly in secret until the trustees were forced to release the finalist names because of threatened legal action from media.

But a new law enacted by the Legislature this year allows searches for any Wyoming college to hire presidents without ever identifying the candidates, meaning UW's new president search can be done entirely behind closed doors.

UW trustees President Dave Bostrom said the board hasn't decided how to proceed with its new search.

"We will do the best job that we possibly can," Bostrom said.

Critics point to the quick Sternberg exit as evidence that closed searches don't work.

"Perhaps this whole thing wouldn't have come to a surprise and shock to as many Wyoming residents if we had known a little about the guy before he was hired," Jim Angell, executive director of the Wyoming Press Association, said Friday. "To me, it's a perfect example of why you should never hire an official with that much power without a public vetting."

Supporters of the confidential search say there's no relation between Sternberg's short stay and how the search that resulted in his selection was conducted. Sternberg has never commented on how the search affected his job, and he wasn't available Friday.

Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, was one of the co-sponsors of the new state law allowing secret searches.

"I stand behind our decision," Byrd told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. "The transparency issue has nothing to do with what is going on with this right now."

Byrd said he would also support the trustees if they want to conduct their next presidential search in secret.

UW veterinary science professor Donal O'Toole, a member of the UW Faculty Senate, said he favored allowing UW employees and the public to be involved in screening candidates.

"We do it all the time when we're hiring people, and it was very clear, very fast that Bob Sternberg was a bad fit," O'Toole said. "This is a hard place to attract people to, and so we have to be sure that the person that's attracted is going to stick."

Sternberg, whose education background is in psychology, replaced the retired Buchanan, who had been at UW for 30 years when he was hired in 2005. Sternberg was provost and a senior vice president at Oklahoma State.

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