SHERIDAN — Northern Wyoming Community College District President Paul Young sat down for an interview with The Sheridan Press on Tuesday to discuss a wide range of topics, including budgetary issues, future construction projects and Native American racial bias on campus.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
The Sheridan Press: You’ve said that the NWCCD’s salaries are increasingly becoming uncompetitive. Do you have plans to address that?
Young: We’re trying to get our size to sort of a sweet spot, if you will, where with more revenue we can afford to pay more salaries. But there’s also this tricky business of, one way to attract more students is to have more programs, which takes more employees … That takes money, and then that becomes that balance.
TSP: Do you have an idea of what that enrollment sweet spot looks like?
Young: I think it’s somewhere around 5,000 FTE (full-time equivalent students) for the district, and I would say 3,500 FTE on the Sheridan site. We’re probably 60 percent of the way there. That’s a long stretch for us, and to get another 1,000 full-time students here would take a lot more housing, a lot more capacity, but we’re moving in that direction.
TSP: So you mentioned increasing enrollment and capacity, which would probably mean more buildings. Any future projects in the works regarding that?
Young: The next project will be our health science center, which will be on the south wing of this original Whitney (Center) building… People look at what we’re doing and say, “My god, they’re building all these buildings.” We are, but it’s 50, 60 years later.
So health science is next, then, it’s popular among students, not so popular among funders, but athletic facilities have not kept pace… We’ve got to fix the leaking (Golden Dome) roof, which apparently has leaked since it’s opened. So we’ve got plans to fix that, and we want to build an athletic field house as sort of a simple but spacious co-facility to the dome.
So we need that, and we need some additional housing. Our culinary restaurant really needs some upgrades. Our library is in need of some upgrades, so there are a few other things.
TSP: Is there a timeline for all of that?
Young: I think the health science building, the athletic facilities and the dormitories will be in the next two to three years… Three to five years would be culinary and library and science building and some of the other smaller projects.
TSP: Any update on the investigation of the racial slurs directed at Native American students?
Young: No culprit has been identified. I know the (police) continue to look at that. I worry that we won’t have someone … Some of the things we’re looking at are swipe cards. Not all of our dormitories, including the dormitory where some of this happened, have swipe card access. So you don’t really know who is where and when, if you just have keys and hand them out.
Investing in that might be a step to help us in the future, and also we’re looking at cameras … We’ve got a set of very aggressive next steps that you’ll be hearing about for how we’re going to address the broader issues of the bias and inclusiveness issues in the climate of our campus for Native American students, and for others. You’ll be hearing quite a bit about that in the next couple weeks.
TSP: What’s been the most challenging aspect of your job so far this year?
Young: Having a racial bias issue. You know, you watch these things from afar and … I couldn’t help but think, “We’re fortunate that we don’t have issues like this.” And in a way I feel kind of stupid, because I’m almost certain that these kinds of biases against Native American have existed. This didn’t just happen. This is the first time it became a problem and issue for us to solve. It isn’t the first time it’s ever happened, and we’ve just not been ready to address it and confront it.
TSP: There is a lot in the news about sexual assault and harassment, too. Have you had any specific conversations about that in the past week or two?
Young: There’s almost always an ongoing, believe it or not, investigation on this campus that has to do with some kind of misbehavior of students. But our focus having been so much, and remaining so much, on the race bias issue, we haven’t taken our attention away from that as a result of the Harvey Weinstein (allegations).
I’ve had people say we really have to talk about racism more broadly on the campus, because we have Latino students, we have black students, and I absolutely agree with that. But I’m not going to allow the Native American issue to get dilluted. That’s where our focus has to stay. Native American students have particular challenges. They are less likely to attend college than many other minorities, and they are less likely to succeed in college than many other minorities.
And I’m just so proud of our Native American students here because they’re going to keep at it, and they’re not going to be intimidated away from their education. But as an institution, we owe it to them to continue to work to make sure that they don’t have to confront that.