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Budget bill would give Legislature additional oversight of university

Feb 14, 2013 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- 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.

E-mails from UW last year showed 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 e-mails 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's 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."

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