New UW President Taking On Coronavirus And Budget Challenges

By ETHAN STERENFELD Laramie Boomerang

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — When Ed Seidel had his last interview to lead the University of Wyoming, at the end of February, the coronavirus was never mentioned.

But since Seidel took over as University of Wyoming’s president at the beginning of July, and even before he officially started, the virus and the associated economic downturn have been far and away the most significant issues facing him.

In the next few months, he will oversee the reopening of classes and the return of thousands of students to Laramie. At the same time, he will have to negotiate budget cuts at the university, due to the state government’s budget crunch.

So how does he feel about these challenges? Seidel said he is excited to take them on, and that he thinks the university can come out of these crises better prepared for the future.

“I am just full of enthusiasm for the future of this institution and this state, and I can’t wait to really hit the ground running,” Seidel said. “I want to have an impact on this university and to move it forward. It takes years to do that, and that’s my intention.”

Like others taking on new roles during the pandemic, Seidel has found it difficult to meet colleagues when most meetings are conducted online, the Laramie Boomerang reports.

“I’m trying to meet some people, in a responsible manner, where there are venues where we can be safe, but mostly I’m doing it by Zoom,” he said. “I will say, it’s really hindering my ability to get to know this campus as quickly as I want to.”

He has tried to start meeting some faculty in backyards around town, where he must sit at the opposite end of the table from whoever he is talking to, he said. The chance of spreading the virus is far lower outside than inside.

In a press release issued this week, he pledged to start his tenure with “77 days of listening and learning.” That is the amount of time between when he took office, on July 1, and the September 17 “State of the University” address.

To better connect with the campus, the university has set up Instagram and Twitter accounts for Seidel. His Instagram account, which he will manage himself, had more than 440 followers at press time Thursday afternoon.

Seidel declined to give an exact answer about his confidence in the plan’s ability to stop an outbreak of the virus on campus, but he said that he will be flexible and attentive as the situation develops this school year.

“Things are developing rapidly right now, so I’m just going to say that I’ll be vigilant,” he said.

Budget cuts have emerged as the other crisis facing the university this summer. Seidel has instructed the university to get ready for two rounds of 10% cuts to the university’s allotment from the state general fund, equivalent to about $35 million over two years.

These budget cuts can be targeted so that some of the university’s long-term goals can be preserved, Seidel said.

He has identified four ways in which he wants to see the university grow over the coming years: more digital, more interdisciplinary, more entrepreneurial and more inclusive. Fulfilling each of these will further UW’s mission as a land-grant university, to give back to the state, he said.

“Whether you’re looking at budget cuts or budget enhancements, I want to move the university in directions that advance those areas,” Seidel said. “I want to take every opportunity to move the university towards its future and towards becoming even more valuable to the state.”

Seidel has had a long history in academia before taking the job at UW. After earning a Ph.D. in relativistic astrophysics from Yale University, he worked as a postdoc and professor at the University of Illinois.

He then led research in relativity and scientific computing at the Albert Einstein Institute in Germany, before building the Center for Computation and Technology at Louisiana State University. Throughout this time, he became more involved in research at the intersection of physics and high-performance computing.

After LSU, Seidel worked at the National Science Foundation, then at a university in Moscow that has a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He has worked in various administrative posts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois system since 2014, and he had been the Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation since 2017.