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Wyoming budget would rein in UW operations

Ben Neary, Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- The budget bill pending in the Wyoming Legislature would require University of Wyoming trustees to propose new policies requiring more oversight on a range of campus issues, including installation of permanent art work, hiring of faculty and the possible razing of historic buildings.

A conference committee charged with resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget bill is endorsing an amendment sponsored by Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie. Now Senate majority floor leader, he's been instrumental in recent years in securing funding for major UW projects.

The amendment would require a range of reports from the UW trustees about current operation as well as requiring the trustees to propose new policies. Both houses could vote by the end of the week whether to accept the budget conference committee recommendations.

The issue of public art projects on the UW campus flared into controversy last year.

The Casper Star-Tribune reported last year it obtained emails from UW showing that university officials sped up the remove of the art installation called "Carbon Sink: What Goes Around, Comes Around."

The artwork consisted of beetle-killed tree logs surrounded by lumps of coal. The university said publicly that the piece was removed on schedule because of water damage.

The emails showed the university decided to remove it a year early to calm angry state legislators, energy industry donors and trade group representatives. The university draws substantial support from the energy industry, which also pays a heavy share of state taxes.

Nicholas said Wednesday that public funds that were supposed to celebrate Wyoming's heritage were used for the Carbon Sink piece. "I didn't think the use of those funds was appropriate," he said.

Nicholas' amendment would require the trustees to report how they handle installation of permanent artwork now as well as require them to draft a policy for future trustee approval of permanent artwork.

Nicholas said Wednesday he has no concerns about paintings or other artwork that's easily removed, but he said the trustees should be involved in any permanent change to the university.

"If you're going to allow it to a faculty member to decide to take a piece of art, and put it in the middle of Prexy's Pasture, then why can't the College of Engineering bring one of those big diesel shovels that stands about 100 yards and put it right in the Prexy's?" Nicholas said. "We wouldn't let that happen."

Chris Boswell, lobbyist for UW, said Wednesday it's not unusual for the Legislature to require the university to create reports and documents between legislative sessions.

"The way these amendments are constructed is a little unusual in that they seem to direct the trustees to have a specific opinion on such of the subjects that are being covered there," Boswell said. "But I'm sure we can find a way to work through that."

Nicholas' amendment also would require the trustees to recommend a process for selecting college deans that would use people from outside UW who are trained in the college's discipline. It would end the practice of allowing individual UW faculty to veto candidates.

Among other requirements, the amendment also would also require the trustees to report on the current hiring practices at the UW School of Energy Resources. That would require the trustees to propose a policy that would allow the Wyoming Energy Resources Council to review and approve school staff.

The Energy Resources Council is a body the Legislature created that includes legislators and energy industry representatives.