“As you might imagine, this was a difficult decision and not one that I made lightly. But the time has come to make plans to move in a different direction at the conclusion of the next academic year.”
Prestwich was contacted numerous times by the Tribune, but did not return messages by press time Monday.
Mark Westerhold, president of the NWC Board of Trustees, said, “This resignation was unexpected, but the board continues to support Dr. Prestwich through the remainder of his term and anticipates he will meet his goals.”
The NWC Board of Trustees in October narrowly approved extending Prestwich’s contract to June 30, 2012, by a vote of 4-3. That was six months later in the year than the previous contract extension it approved unanimously for Prestwich in April 2010.
Trustee Gloria Hedderman said she was surprised by Prestwich’s resignation, but thankful that he gave the board enough time to conduct a search for a new leader.
The board discussed Prestwich’s resignation during an executive session in Cody on Friday.
“I think he just feels it’s time to move on,” she said Monday. “It was what he wanted, not what we wanted.”
Prestwich’s leadership at Northwest College to date has been marked with record accomplishments and with turmoil on campus.
Achievements accomplished under his leadership include a sizable increase in enrollment, expansion of programming in academics, student life, scholarship support, intercollegiate athletics and more than $10 million in improvements to campus facilities.
Over the past three years, NWC’s student headcount grew 28 percent, the largest increase of any college in Wyoming.
“This incredible growth was the result of a great team effort,” Prestwich said. “Thanks to faculty, staff, students and supportive communities, Northwest was able to accomplish a complete turnaround from the early- to mid-2000s, when we were the slowest-growing college in the state.”
In addition to setting other institutional records, NWC granted more degrees last year than during any year on record.
Prestwich also oversaw the creation of the Trapper Scholarship program, widely attributed as a major factor in the college’s enrollment increase.
Also under Prestwich’s watch, the college built an addition to Simpson Hall, renovated and expanded Hinckley Library, built new broadcast and audio recording studios and a greenhouse, and added eight acres of athletic fields.
The athletic fields were added after Prestwich proposed, and the board agreed, to create NWC men’s and women’s soccer programs, a decision that fueled dissension and turmoil on campus.
Other sources of contention included differences between administrators and faculty over shared governance at the college, and recruiting letters sent two years ago to high school seniors who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Ongoing tensions at the college during the 2009-10 school year prompted the board to hire a mediator in September 2010 to help the administration, faculty, staff and students work constructively to overcome their differences. While much of that work took place during the 2010-11 school year, some still is ongoing.
A team from the Higher Learning Commission visited Northwest College and awarded the college with a seven-year accreditation. However, another Higher Learning Commission team visit will take place in spring 2013 to check NWC’s progress on shared governance, planning and student assessment.
Westerhold said the board will take on the hard task over the next several months of making plans to search for a new president and to assure a smooth transition for the benefit of the college.
“We — the board and every NWC employee — have a tremendous amount of work to do in the upcoming years,” Westerhold said, “to help the college become a world-class institution. We’ll now be doing it with a new person leading the charge.”