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February 12, 2013 9:07 am

EDITORIAL: A new chapter for Northwest College

Written by Tessa Schweigert

State’s presidential search law a step backward

In an ironic twist, Northwest College’s public search for a president culminated on the same day a new Wyoming law took effect to allow presidential searches to be closed to the public.

On Friday, NWC trustees announced they hired Stefani Hicswa to lead the college. That same day, three days after House Bill 223 arrived at his desk, Gov. Matt Mead chose not to veto or sign the legislation, and it became law without his signature.

With support from the majority of state legislators, the University of Wyoming will now continue to conduct its presidential search behind closed doors. Though a district court judge last month ruled UW must disclose names of finalists in its search, lawmakers created the new legislation to circumvent it and allow future searches to be closed to any public involvement.

We believe this flawed legislation will unfairly exclude taxpayers whose dollars support public institutions. A closed process also dismisses important input from educators, students, parents and other stakeholders.

Meanwhile, Friday’s decision by the NWC board further proves the value of an open search process.

When NWC trustees announced Hicswa as the new president, we understood what a difficult decision it was. The board had to choose among three first-class candidates who each brought their own qualifications, experience and strengths.

Northwest College leaders rightfully gave our community the opportunity to know each finalist, and NWC Board President Mark Westerhold said the board considered feedback from the campus and the public when deciding who to hire to lead the college.

Knowing the finalists helped us, and hopefully you, better appreciate and understand college leaders’ decision. Employees and students at Northwest College also benefited from visiting candidly with finalists before the new president was selected.

Hicswa will become the college’s eighth president.

She brings more than six years of experience at the helm of Miles City Community College. Hicswa has shown a keen interest in Northwest College. She praised the college and said she considers it an honor to serve NWC and the community. “I am blown away by the level of excellence here, the quality of everything that is done in the academic arena and the student development arena,” Hicswa said last month.

The job comes with challenges. The college faces about $1 million in budget cuts in the coming year, and leaders must trim while also maintaining infrastructure and investing in quality educators and degree programs.

Hicswa also must work to continue improving morale and relationships among faculty, staff and administration.

Facing budget cuts and other pressures, Hicswa and NWC trustees must not lose sight of the most important task ahead: providing quality education to students in a variety of academic programs.

We hope Hicswa’s tenure at Northwest College is successful and lasts for years to come.

One day, however, the college will inevitably search for another president. When they do, we hope they will choose the same public process.

We also encourage the University of Wyoming and community colleges around the state to take note of Northwest College’s decision to keep the community involved and ask them to follow our trustees’ lead.

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