Nichols: Never Knew of HR Reports, UW Investigated ‘in Secret’
Former University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols, the first woman to hold that position, says she never knew of any reports made to the university's human resources department and was never given a chance to respond to those reports before the UW Board of Trustees decided against renewing her contract last year.
Nichols issued a statement to news media Friday in response to an announcement from the trustees that the university would not appeal a court decision publicly releasing records regarding their decision to part ways with Nichols and that university staff members had made reports to HR regarding Nichols while she served as UW president.
Those reports, UW spokesman Chad Baldwin told K2 Radio News in a phone interview Friday, led the trustees to bring in a firm to investigate, ultimately resulting in the trustees opting for a change in leadership.
"Until I saw the University's January 31, 2020 statement, I never knew there were any 'reported instances by university staff members' about me," Nichols said Friday. "I was never asked to respond or reply to the reports. I was never shared or provided with their apparent concerns. I was never contacted by HR."
Nichols was named permanent president at Black Hills State University in December, after becoming the university's interim president last summer and serving in that capacity for six months.
Several news organizations sued UW for the release of records related to the trustees' decision. Announced in March 2019, Nichols' firing was a surprise to the university community.
Nichols attempted to intervene in the lawsuit, asking District Judge Tori Kricken to allow her to see the records and have a say in whether they should be released to the news outlets. Kricken denied the request.
"I felt it prudent to participate in a lawsuit that was apparently about me by two other parties to which I had no knowledge or information. I have asked on multiple occasions to see the records that are in dispute in this lawsuit, but my requests have been denied," Nichols said.
Nichols says she was wholly unaware of the investigation and was never interviewed as a part of that probe.
"Today is the first time I have learned it even happened. I have never been told of 'any individual accounts or perspectives from anyone in the University community that were of concern' about me or my performance," Nichols said. "In fact, by all accounts, the feedback and information I have repeatedly received from the Board, the University community and the State-wide community, has been quite positive."
In the statement forwarded to K2 Radio News by Megan Overmann Goetz, the attorney representing Nichols in the matter, Nichols said she still has no idea what the records say or don't say.
"To date, the University has never shared any information, complaints or reports made about me or my performance. The only comment or evaluation ever shared with me about my performance as President was through my evaluation in 2018," Nichols said, adding that as of March 2019, her contract "was fully negotiated with the Board of Trustees to continue as the University's President for three more years."
"The first time I had any indication that the Board had "concerns" was on March 15, 2019 when officers flew to Arizona and met me where I was vacationing for spring break. At that meeting, and multiple times since, I have asked why the Board ultimately chose not to finalize my renewed contract," Nichols said. "I was repeatedly told that the University would not provide me any reason."
Nichols said she would have welcomed an opportunity to know about the HR reports and investigation, and to try and address the situation.
"As I would do with any other employee, I would have expected an opportunity to be told of any employment concerns, have an opportunity to respond and then an opportunity to address the issues. However, I have learned today, that the Board conducted investigations about me in secret and without giving me any notice or any opportunity to try and fix the concerns which were apparently made," Nichols continued. "I am sincerely disappointed."
The records at the heard of the lawsuit, with redactions to prevent disclosure of sensitive personal information, will be made available to the public Tuesday morning.
Baldwin said until the court's protective seal is lifted and the documents are made available next week, he could not elaborate on the statement from the trustees.