LARAMIE, Wyo. — University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan announced Thursday that he will retire next year, ending a career of more than 30 years at the state's only four-year public university that saw him rise from assistant geography professor to its top administrator.
Since becoming UW's 23rd president in 2005, Buchanan's tenure has seen UW earn national envy for the strong financial backing provided by the state's energy resources and national ridicule for its handling of campus free speech.
Buchanan made the announcement at the end of his annual state of the university address in which he spoke about budget issues, building projects and the successes of each department.
"I will retire from the position of president about this time next year, end of the summer, and I want you to know that it has been my honor and my privilege to serve the campus community, and it really is a community," he said. "It's been an amazing run."
Buchanan declined to answer questions from the media after his speech.
Dave Bostrom, president of the UW Board of Trustees, said the process of finding a replacement for Buchanan will begin soon.
Speaking for himself, Bostrom said he hoped that the board would be able to vet candidates this year and begin to make a selection for a new president sometime early next year.
UW Faculty Senate Chair Michael Barker, an engineering professor, said he would like to see a president who reflects "Wyoming values."
"Strong character, integrity, a passion for education, a passion for meeting the needs of the state, of the people of the state, and the nation," Barker said.
A native of New York, Buchanan earned his masters of science degree at UW in 1975. After completing his doctorate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Buchanan returned to Wyoming as an assistant professor in the Department of Geography. He rose to full professor and then moved on to various administrative positions, including department head, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, provost and vice president of academic affairs.
He was named president July 1, 2005.
Over the last seven years, UW has prospered while other universities around the country struggled thanks to increased revenue provided by Wyoming's booming energy industry. Over the past decade, UW's base appropriation from the state has grown from $100 million to $195 million annually.
Over that period, UW has expanded its faculty by nearly 220 positions, added academic programs and invested tens of millions of dollars in numerous improvements to academic and athletic facilities.
Bostrom said Buchanan has expanded the university's reach across the state through outreach and other programs.
"He made it clear that this is not the University of Wyoming in Laramie, this is the University of Wyoming," he said.
Barker said UW has seen major improvements under Buchanan.
But Buchanan's tenure hasn't been without controversy. Of particular note was his handling of the visit by former 1960s radical Bill Ayers in 2010. The UW Social Justice Research Center invited Ayers to speak, then rescinded the invitation after it drew criticism from around the state.
Citing anonymous threats and concern for campus security, Buchanan tried to prevent Ayers from speaking on campus when a student invited Ayers back. But a federal judge ordered Buchanan to let Ayers speak and there were no problems when he spoke on campus.
Some faculty members criticized Buchanan for trying to hinder free speech.
Barker said Buchanan recovered by discussing the controversy with all sides.
"The University of Wyoming went through a time of learning there and did some self-reflection and came out of it in pretty good shape," Barker said. "We learned a lot during that time."
Gov. Matt Mead said he appreciates Buchanan's work at the university.
"The public in general continues to benefit from the research and academic excellence at UW, and most importantly, under Tom's leadership students have continued to receive a high-quality education," Mead said in a statement provided through the university.