CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - The University of Wyoming launched an investigation into then-President Laurie Nichols after receiving accusations that she verbally abused employees, records obtained by Wyoming news outlets show.
The documents are the first evidence to indicate what led the board of trustees to cancel a planned renewal of Nichols' contract in 2019.
University officials have not publicly revealed their reasoning behind not renewing the contract. Nichols has since been hired as president of Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota.
The Casper Star-Tribune and WyoFile obtained the documents after they filed a lawsuit under Wyoming's public records act.
More than 100 pages of records were released. They include allegations that Nichols yelled at a university foundation employee about an invasive species initiative and at a staff member over a student's interaction with her dog.
Nichols yelled at the employee in an "abusive" tone and pounding her fingers on a desk because "staffers were getting ahead of her" on the initiative, according to notes taken on the foundation staff member's account of the encounter.
In another alleged incident, Nichols "raised her voice" with an employee after Nichols' dog jumped on a student working as a caterer in her home. Nichols told the worker it was unacceptable to bring anyone into the home who is afraid of dogs, according to the documents.
Nichols said in a statement distributed by her attorney that she accepts people may have criticized her as a boss who had to eliminate jobs and cut resources, but she never treated anybody in an abusive way.
"I sorely regret that the Trustees decided to hide these complaints from me and never ask for my response," she continued. "Instead for months, I was led to believe I would be at UW for another 3 years. I wanted to continue as UW's President. The documents confirm that the terms of my renewed contract were negotiated and finalized with the Trustees. During the time of this secret investigation, I was being recruited for two other university presidential positions. I passed on them because my renewed contract with UW was negotiated and done."
Nichols and trustees agreed in January 2019 to a new contract that would have paid the popular president over $500,000 in total compensation. University human resources officials on Jan. 28 became aware of the foundation employee incident, the documents show.
Internal interviews were conducted until mid-February, when board Chairman Dave True signed an agreement with a Colorado firm, Employment Matters Flynn Investigation Group, which began looking into Nichols.
Flynn investigators contacted over a dozen employees between mid-February and March, the records show.
Notes from the investigators do not indicate that they interviewed Nichols, however, nor is there any written response from the former president.
Finally, on March 13, True texted Nichols, who was vacationing in Arizona, and told her to meet him and three other board members at a local airport. It was then that she was told that she wouldn't continue as president.
True did not immediately respond to a request for comment. University leadership and trustees released a statement about the documents on Friday.
"We are confident the material shows our decision not to renew President Nichols' contract reflected prudent judgment and was in the best interest of the University of Wyoming and its people," that statement said.