When University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel was hired this spring, he had lots of ideas. Then COVID-19 hit and his priorities shifted. Despite budget cuts, he's still excited about the future of UW and how it will impact the state. He spoke with Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck.
Ed Seidel: One of the things that I talked about when I came to interview was the experience base I had in economic development over the last four years before coming here. I was the Vice President for Economic Development at the University of Illinois in Champaign, thinking of how the University can kind of sharpen its tools to bring back more value to the state as a land grant university. And so what we did there was we formed partnerships with all of the state universities, 12 of them across the state and a number of communities in addition to the city of Chicago and the private universities like University of Chicago, Northwestern and laboratories like Argonne National Lab. And we tried to figure out how we could most effectively try to stem the brain drain out of Illinois, we have enormous talent, it goes all over the world, we want people to stay in the State of Illinois. So likewise, in the state of Wyoming, I think the idea would be that the University of Wyoming would play a leadership role working with the community colleges and communities across the state to see if we can align our offerings in a way that makes the most compelling value proposition for students.
Bob Beck: I want to ask you just a little bit about budget cuts. How do you get your goals done with less money?
ES: I have directed a committee to advise me on the best ways forward in terms of addressing budget cuts that we have to make, but at the same time, at every budget cut level that we might have to look at the committee is also being asked to propose budget enhancements for certain kinds of programs that we think will be important for the future of the University and the state. And I laid out four specific areas that I think are very important. I would like the University to become more digital. And that means in a number of different ways. For example, more online availability to be able to reach rural areas of the state. Also more training in areas in computing in its applications, or artificial intelligence, or data science, and not just in computer science or electrical engineering, but across the entire university, because every market is driven now by advances in technology. The second one is I want the university to become more entrepreneurial. And I mean this in a couple of different ways as well. One is faculty should be able to be really out there trying to get grants and other sources of income, we have to diversify our sources of income just beyond what the state provides. So federal sources, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, philanthropic sources, corporate sources for support, and so on. But at the same time, I want students to be trained in entrepreneurship.
And this again, isn't just for business majors, although it is for business majors, but it's also for the English majors or the physicists or the astronomers, or the engineers and so on. And so if we take this training, then we can think about having the ability to create new businesses and not just Laramie, but across the whole state. The third area is becoming more interdisciplinary. That means we have problems in the state that are really hard and the University has expertise in virtually every aspect of what's needed to address for example, diversifying the economy or making certain markets more efficient to energy. That might require people with expertise in the humanities, the arts and sciences, engineering and so on. So interdisciplinarity, that means bringing all of these together, taking all of our expertise to make sure that we address problems that Wyoming has. And then the fourth area is making sure that the University is more inclusive. And that means for every faculty member, for every student, for every staff member and for people from every community in the state, from all walks of life, all income brackets. Diversity in ethnic, racial, gender in every way, to make sure that everyone could participate in this and particularly to participate in the regrowth of the economy of the state.
BB: Okay, the fun topic, how you open this university up and keep it open for the next semester or for the entire year. You've asked for a fluid plan. I've already seen some adjustments in the plan. Maybe you can give folks up to date today, where things sit and when you plan to open and how we're going to keep everybody safe?
ES: So one thing I will promise you is we will be nimble as new data becomes available and we will be science driven. What is the best way to keep the students, faculty and staff at the university safe--that is the top priority and all of this. The first step is to have everyone tested before they come back to campus. If they're negative, that is negative for coronavirus, then they'll be able to come back. If anyone shows positive, then they'll be put into quarantine, they'll be isolated and so on. But then we are now working very hard to develop our own testing program. Because testing once is useful only at that time, a little bit later you can't be sure. And there have been a lot of epidemiological studies that are showing that if you can test your entire population, not only once, but perhaps twice per week, you'll be much more effective at being able to make decisions about what's happening. You have enough data to make decisions. And we have plans that we're still developing that will say, if we have so many positive or we have so many symptomatic students or staff members, then we will go into a five day pause. The concept is that if we get into certain situations that are triggered by data we have on the population will be able to make effective choices on what to do.
BB: What would cause you to go totally online?
ES: Well, if it just got to a point where it was clearly dangerous, endangering the lives of the students and faculty or the community, then we would have to do that. I should be more clear, if people together on the campus, were creating a situation where too many people were getting sick, there could be deaths, you know, and if we had a death, we would certainly go into a pause. I'm sure, if we had too many cases that we felt the density was too high, that the risk of spread was too high, then we would take a pause. And if it didn't improve, then we would have to go completely online as we did last year.
BB: How do you keep our students from being normal college students and not passing this around?
ES: Well, college students will be college students. At the same time, we're asking everyone to be a responsible college student and we're going to have people monitoring. If people are not wearing masks, they will be asked to wear masks. If people refuse to wear masks, it will be dealt with in the way any other disciplinary action would be taken on campus not only for students, but for the faculty and staff as well.
Have questions about this story? Contact the reporter, Bob Beck, at email@example.com.