Community questions Eastern Wyoming College presidential search

TORRINGTON — The Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) Board of Trustees discussed the unsuccessful presidential search with students, staff and community members during the regular meeting on Tuesday. 

During the open forum, members of the public shared their thoughts about the recent search for a new college president which ended with the board deciding not to pick any of the final three candidates. 

Susie Delger, the Interim Director of Nursing at EWC, told the board she had a very sad heart about the decision and said Dr. Randy Smith had 75 percent of the support from the students and faculty to be the school’s next president. 

Delger had previously informed the board she would stay one more year if he were chosen to help the nursing program she initially helped establish. 

“I didn’t do it alone. I did it with a team,” Delger said. “I wanted to be on Dr. Smith’s team as many others did. He told a truth that somehow falls on deaf ears here.” 

Delger told the board the staff has long deserved raises and believed Smith would have addressed it. 

“Dr. Smith, while perhaps not the most diplomatic, had a vision for this college that gave us hope that he could help us get it significantly better,” she said. 

Another concern addressed by Delger was the involvement of Gold Hill Associates consulting firm, which was hired by the school for the search process. She claimed the consultant did not properly vet the candidates and added the committee was tasked with searching for “dirt” on the candidates. 

Delger asked the board if Dr. Smith had the appearance of “dirt” and could not share it. A major concern highlighted by several speakers was about the transparency and communication between the board and the public in regard to making the decision. 

Associate Professor Kelly Strampe said the staff felt its feedback was part of the reason none of the candidates were selected based on the language used in the press release from the college on Friday, April 8. 

She also said there was confusion amongst the faculty and staff since there was more than 70 percent support for one candidate. 

Strampe added the staff should have received a separate email about the decision rather than finding out at the same time as the public through the press release. 

“To believe that the same press release that is sent to social media and local news media is appropriate for the people with the most to lose and gain in this situation is incomprehensible to us,” she said. 

Strampe asked the board not to appoint an interim president and to reconsider the favored candidate or one of the other two final candidates. 

Instructional Technologist Aaron Bahmer said the staff was and still is angered by the press release and added the language of the press release misrepresented them. 

“We see this declaration to be ultimately detrimental to the community’s support of the college,” he said. “And by this, I mean us, the employees, our donors and the people in the counties we serve as well as the students and parents of students, applicants and prospective students.” 

Bahmer said whatever the reason was to reject the three candidates could have been conveyed to the staff before the press release was sent out. 

Jonathan Pieper, a student at EWC, said many students are discontent with the decision and said he knows several freshmen who plan to transfer since the announcement. 

“I personally wasn’t going to come back but I know I can’t leave a place worse than when I came here. I wanted to come back and be part of something and hopefully turns this college around,” he said. 

Trustee John Patrick said Gold Hill returned to the college 47 applicants for the position, which was narrowed down by the search committee to 10 for Zoom interviews. 

“Out of that process they were then ranked… one through 10 in the order that the selection committee felt that they should be,” he said. 

After multiple votes, the top five were forwarded to the board who felt there was a gap in confidence between the top three candidates and the other two. 

Director of Institutional Development John Hansen, who was on the search committee, clarified there was confidence in all of the candidates, but the final three were the strongest applicants. 

Patrick said the three candidates came to campus and met with students and staff along with the president’s cabinet members and the board. 

“None of them disqualified themselves at that time,” Patrick said. “They were all people that the board was willing to consider.” 

Two days after the board members’ meeting with the candidates, the trustees met again and met with Walt Nolte with Gold Hill Associates who reported the results of further investigation. Nolte listed the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, and Patrick said for one candidate, “he could not give us a recommendation on.” 

After Patrick was advised by the board’s legal counsel to refrain from discussing any further information on the process, Pieper asked the board if there would have been a better way to conduct the search to have known each candidate was qualified before they visited the campus. 

“Why did we even get to meet them as student senate and every other student here, we were all there, we talked with them we wrote down our choice, we don’t know if they were considered or not… and we were wondering, if you’re going to take all that time, why would they be disqualified after the fact? They should be all ready to hire at that point,” Pieper said. 

“Would you take any comfort in the fact that the board asked the exact same question,” Patrick asked, which was followed by mixed responses from the audience. 

Trustee Kurt Sittner said every decision made by the board was made with the interest of the community in mind. 

“I may see things slightly different than you do but… all the decisions that we made were made with EWC in mind and the reason that we did not hire any of these candidates is because none of these people were the best people for EWC,” Sittner said. 

Board members were asked if they believed an interim president would be able to move the college forward. 

Chairman Bob Baumgartner said he personally believes an interim president could with the help of the board. Sittner asked the audience if Baumgartner’s response was “tough to stomach” which many community members said it was. 

“We will regain your confidence. We have the ability to do that; we have the desire to do that,” Sittner said. “I hope that you can work with us long enough to allow us to do that.” 

Converse County Advisory Member of the board Jim Willox responded to a previous statement about how the language in the press release appears to read as though the staff feedback led to none of the candidates being picked and acknowledged how it may have been confusing. 

“That was supposed to convey, we really did take it into effect, and still had to make a hard decision. So don’t think it was ignored. That’s what it was supposed to say, and I understand how it got interpreted a little different,” Willox said. 

In terms of the search firm used during the process, Patrick said the board will not be working with Gold Hill Associates in the future. 

Baumgartner added the board will only have to pay the consultant for his expenditures and not his $30,000 contract due to the unsuccessful search. 

One community member asked the board to provide an “entirely false scenario” for more context as to why no one was selected. Trustee Patrick began to talk about a hypothetical situation of one candidate being accused of a serious crime but was advised by the board’s attorney Tim Bush to not go any further. 

Trustee Tom John McCreery told the public the board worked really hard to find a new president during the process. 

“The board was as crushed as you guys, it was awful. So I want you to understand that it’s one of those things we can’t talk about of course, legally, but believe me we really worked at it,” McCreery said. “It just didn’t work out.” 

In terms of appointing an interim president, Patrick said it is needed since current President Lesley Travers retires on July 1, and the school needs to have a president.