President's Office

Administration Building
Room 105
875 Perimeter Drive MS 3151
Moscow, ID 83844-3151
Phone: (208) 885-6365

Friday Letter Office of the President

The Friday Letter

The Friday Letter is a weekly e-newsletter from the President and focuses on various topics, news, features and announcements. It is sent to faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents and other friends of the University of Idaho.

If you would like to subscribe to receive The Friday Letter, please contact University Communications at (208) 885-6291 or

  • Current Issue

    December 19, 2014

    Dear Friends,
    As we approach the New Year, our university’s 125th anniversary draws to a close. The anniversary proved a fortuitous time to join the Vandal family — the pride in our institution’s achievements and the optimism about our future are all the welcome a new president could ever ask for.
    Now a leading national research university, Idaho’s land-grant school emerged from humble, often muddy beginnings on the hills outside Moscow. President James A. MacLean, the third president of the University of Idaho, guided construction of new facilities, including the school’s first gymnasium; raised admission standards and helped shape the modern academic experience; and warded off efforts to relocate key university programs, such as the School of Mines and the College of Agriculture.
    When a fire gutted the Administration Building, MacLean found a way to rebuild it, and the iconic building stands tall more than 100 years later. MacLean’s nearly 13-year tenure is an example to all Vandals — and Vandal presidents — of what can be accomplished with vision, hard work and dedication.
    Not all success stories are as well-known. At a recent event, our provost and historian Katherine Aiken told the story of Alfred Carlton Gilbert, a young Oregonian who was inspired while watching University of Idaho pole vaulters at the turn of the 20th century.
    “I thought it was wonderful, soaring so high in the air just by using a pole,” Gilbert said. He decided to give it a try himself, and, favoring a bamboo pole, revolutionized the sport and won Olympic gold in 1908.
    If you grew up with an Erector set, you also have A.C. Gilbert to thank — he invented them in 1913, and in 1918 successfully argued against a wartime proposal to ban toy production. That effort earned Gilbert the nickname “The Man Who Saved Christmas.” Sometimes Vandal spirit is contagious, it seems.
    That spirit of innovation — sometimes from unexpected people and places — is a Vandal tradition that we’ve celebrated all year. I was able to attend the Jan. 30 “birthday party” in Moscow, one of several statewide celebrations throughout the year. The Vandal family embraced our anniversary year, attending events, participating on social media and generously displaying Vandal pride all year.
    We can build off that positive energy. We will grow our university’s impact: Our students will go on to become leaders, our research will continue to change our world, and our outreach will help our state’s communities improve. We will build on our proven success. Like those who have come before us, we will find a way.
    Lastly, a word of thanks for the many who contributed to make this a special year. My predecessor Don Burnett kept the anniversary on the right track. Volunteers on several committees and countless other students, faculty and staff members worked hard to pull together the many pieces of this year-long celebration. This labor of love paid off for all of us, a fitting showcase for Vandal excellence in the past, present and future.
    Who knows what Vandals and those they inspire will accomplish in the next 125 years?

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben

  • December 12, 2014

    December 12, 2014

    Dear Friends,
    Tonight Mary Beth and I attend a special event on the Palouse, the Jazz Choirs Holiday Concert in Moscow. With the participation of more than 700 local and regional elementary, junior high school, and high school choir members, as well as the performance groups at the University of Idaho under the direction of award-winning professor Dan Bukvich, the occasion highlights the power of the arts to bring our community together.
    We get many chances to see the power of the arts at the University of Idaho. The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, a must-attend event every February, provides thrilling entertainment for our community and a dynamic learning opportunity for thousands of K-12 and many UI students. The Jazz Fest earned UI the distinction of being the only public university to receive the National Medal of the Arts — the nation’s top arts honor.
    Our university’s embrace of the arts is year-round. Just last week, the Idaho Repertory Theater and University of Idaho Theatre Arts opened “A Christmas Carol” at the Hartung Theatre — a cast and crew of more than 50 people put together this show. The Prichard Gallery in downtown Moscow features work from students and faculty, as well as artists from all over the country. And programs such as the Hemingway Festival, a unique literary event with readings, presentations and visiting authors, bring scholars and citizens together.
    Vandal artistic endeavor also attracts state and national notice. Kim Barnes, professor of creative writing in our English department, was recently honored with the Governor’s Award for the Arts for her contributions to literature. You may have seen Prichard Art Gallery Director Roger Rowley’s artwork featured on “CBS Sunday Morning” in November. The list could go on and on, filled with brilliantly creative people, programs and places.
    I couldn’t imagine life without the enriching experience of art. As a scientist, I often take a highly rational approach to engaging the world. The arts have helped me to understand that there are also interpretive and emotional approaches to seeing the world.
    Unfortunately, the liberal arts have been attacked by public figures and media reports, claiming that careers outside STEM disciplines don’t benefit students financially. Data from New York Federal Reserve economists say otherwise; the return on investment for students in those degree paths is 12 percent yearly — only one important measure of success.
    Tonight we’ll be enjoying the musicianship and celebrating the holiday season. Interim Provost Katherine Aiken and I actually have our own small parts to play in tonight’s concert, and I admit to being a bit nervous, as musical performance is well outside my comfort zone. Please listen closely to the real artists, our faculty and students, as you enjoy the drum group’s performance tonight. And, enjoy the power of the arts to enrich our lives. 

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben

  • December 5, 2014

    December 5, 2014

    Dear Friends,
    This December marks a special occasion for the University of Idaho and the Vandal family. Seven years ago we embarked on an ambitious project, a $225 million capital campaign to maintain and improve upon the excellence of Idaho’s leading national research university. Thanks to the hard work of many people, and the generosity from more than 50,000 individuals across Idaho and the world, we will ring in the New Year having achieved our goal.
    The Inspiring Futures: Invest in the University of Idaho campaign is the largest comprehensive fundraising effort in the history of Idaho.
    While we’re proud of the gaudy statistics, the Inspiring Futures campaign has never been about numbers alone. It is about what those numbers mean for the success of our students, for our pursuit of innovation and discovery, for our world-class learning environments, and for our ability to partner with others on areas of critical importance. The campaign has been about coming together to make a difference for our institution — and our world.
    A public institution like ours is sometimes faced with situations beyond our control. We don’t always know what changing economic climates and demographics will mean for our university, though we strive to carefully assess that. And while we make our voice heard before the legislature, we don’t always know what that body will do for our institution.
    But as a Vandal family, private giving is an area where we can exercise control. Collectively, we can decide that the University of Idaho is a worthwhile investment in our future. We can support programs, activities, facilities and research that develop much-needed leaders and professionals, find solutions to challenging problems, and build roadways to progress and prosperity for our state.
    As individuals, organizations and corporate partners, we can make opportunities come to life. For instance, did you know that 36 percent of students who attend the University of Idaho are first-generation college attendees?
    That includes students like Fredy Olmos. Originally from Mexico, Fredy came the United States legally as a young child, and grew up in a rural, southern Idaho farming community. His hard work and persistence helped him secure 15 scholarships in his freshman year. Now a senior, he hopes to go on to graduate school in either law or management.
    That career path grew wings because people cared enough about opportunities to support scholarship programs. In fact, over the course of the campaign, 149 new scholarships have been created. Donor generosity has also produced 20 new faculty endowments.
    Donors have also gifted $35 million in funding for facilities renovation and new construction. Again, great numbers, but here’s what that translates to on the ground: expansion of the Barker Trading Room where students gain real-world financial management experience; renovation of the Haddock Performance Hall where students take center stage; a newly opened Doceo Center for Innovation and Learning that supports teachers with technology training; much-needed updates to the Kibbie Dome for our student-athletes; a new thinkTANK collaborative space in the College of Engineering; and  many, many more brick-and-mortar improvements to take our physical spaces into the 21st century.
    Student by student, family by family and dream by dream, the generosity of the Vandal family has made an overwhelming impact through the Inspiring Futures campaign. If you have given, or if you are going to give, we hope you have already heard loudly and clearly a message of thanks, but I will offer it to you again: Thank you.
    We are not quite done, of course. And we have many needs that will continue on after the campaign, including some projects that I think you will be very excited to support.
    The Inspiring Futures campaign has brought us together to do our part for the next generation of leaders in the state of Idaho and beyond. Thanks to the generosity of Vandal friends and family, the future looks very bright.   Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben

    P.S.: This week finds me and other members of university leadership in China, where we are meeting with counterparts at our sister institution, visiting a dairy research center, and discussing the collaborative work of our Confucius Institute. I look forward to filling you in on the trip details and outcomes in a special letter on Monday, December 15.
  • November 28, 2014

    November 28, 2014

    Dear Friends,

    This year at the Thanksgiving table, Mary Beth and I were thankful to be joined by our daughter, Rae, home from college. Our two sons had late exams and were not able to join us this year. Because not all students can make it home for Thanksgiving, we were pleased to host our first campus dinner for over 250 students. Some attendees were, like our sons, just not able to return home. Another large group were our international students, many enjoying their first American Thanksgiving.
    Thanksgiving is a special time of year, and coming together as a family means a lot to us, as I’m sure you can appreciate. In that spirit, we were also grateful for getting to join the Vandal family this year. We hope that all of you have also enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We’ll return with a regular Friday Letter next week, but if you have the post-Thanksgiving energy to try out some additional tasty treats, have a look at some recent and historic recipes created by UI students in the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences. 

    Best wishes, 

    Chuck Staben
  • November 21, 2014

    November 21, 2014

    Dear Friends,

    As Idaho’s land-grant research university, we pursue research that pushes the frontiers of knowledge and makes a difference in people’s lives.

    We humans have a natural curiosity. We want to understand our place in the universe. We intrinsically value knowledge and seek to acquire it. We also want to explore concrete ways of enhancing our lives, putting research to work improving health and well-being, economies, and communities.

    Day in and day out, in classrooms, in laboratories, and in the field across Idaho and the world, we are leading the quest for knowledge, both basic and applied.

    In one case, that search has again taken us to outer space. Jason Barnes, associate professor of physics at UI, is working with his students and researchers around the country to create dazzling new photographs of the vast methane seas on Titan, a moon of Saturn. Dr. Barnes’ work enhances our understanding of the solar system and helps open the possibility of landing a spacecraft on Titan someday.

    Some research at UI happens closer to home. At a time when Idahoans use more water per capita than residents of any other state, Howard Neibling, an irrigation management engineer with the University of Idaho Extension at Kimberly, is pioneering efficient irrigation techniques for Idaho farms and ranches.

    If you’ve been to the Magic Valley, you know how it earned its nickname — water management turned this dry plain into an agricultural oasis. Dr. Neibling’s award-winning research will help Idaho agriculture continue to work its magic, doing more with less to keep our fields — and the world’s stomachs — full.

    Research isn’t just the domain of faculty and graduate students, of course. Undergraduate students at UI have an opportunity to participate in research or scholarly activity related to their majors. For example, this summer anthropology professor Mark Warner led a team of students on an archaeological excavation at the old “Surgeon’s Quarters” in Boise. Their discoveries will be used in an exhibit at the restored building — a vital record of the history of Western settlement in the state. 

    I recall from my days as an undergraduate that it is often hard to see the impact of your research because you’re doing one small, though vital, part of a larger project. As an example, the archaeological work in Boise is of a scale that brings undergraduates into the research process. Students can see some results of their work almost immediately, but they are also part of something that contributes to a much larger body of knowledge.

    Of course, any attempt to chronicle the research at the University of Idaho is bound to exclude many important projects. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching includes UI in the prestigious set of national universities classified as having “high research activity.” And though I regret that we cannot include a laundry list of the dynamic work, I urge you to read our annual research report to get a more complete picture of the scope and impact of our efforts in this area.

    I am thrilled to be among such talented and driven faculty and student researchers as those found at University of Idaho. Whether exploring the remains of the old frontier of the West or venturing into the “final frontier,” every day our researchers are helping us better understand our world and how we can thrive in it. 

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben

    P.S.: With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Mary Beth and I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday. If you’re looking for extra ideas for your table, consider the recipes from the dietetics students in Katie Miner’s class in the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences. You can even peruse a catalog of historical recipes, some dating back to 1911. Enjoy!
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