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President Staben's Welcome Speech


March 3, 2014

I am pleased and honored to become, after what seems a long time since the November announcement, the President of the University of Idaho.

I was attracted here by the University's academic reputation and by the opportunities that I see here.  My wife, Mary Beth, and I think that Moscow will be a great place to set down roots together after 5 and 1/2 long years apart while I worked in South Dakota.  Idaho is a beautiful state, and I can simply feel that this will be a great place to work. Mary Beth shares that feeling as well.

The first thing we all should do is to thank Don Burnett for his leadership, for his service, to the University.  It is evident that Don has a very deep love of Idaho and of the University.  We are still working together in our transition, and I want to thank him very personally for his generosity to me, but also I think that we all should thank him because his leadership has lifted the spirit of the University.

I'd like to share some of my initial observations of the University and the state

As you listen to these observations, please understand that these are initial, not exhaustive, observations.  If you don't hear about your program or group, please don't take offense...just resolve to tell me about it!

Most importantly, our students, faculty, staff, and alumni are passionate about the U of I...there is an incredibly strong Vandal spirit.  That passion was evident at the 125th anniversary celebration that I attended.  I've seen it in alumni meetings, in discussions with faculty, in emails...really, everywhere I go.

It won't surprise you to know that the U of I has smart, capable, engaged students.  I've already enjoyed working with Max Cowan, ASUI President, Ivar Gunderson of the Student Bar Association, and Kate Cobb from the Graduate/Professional Student Association.

U of I faculty are conducting world class research.  I knew of the bioinformatics, evolutionary biology groups from interactions via INBRE.  And, I know that we have great programs in many of our colleges.  I am sure that you will tell me the stories that I don't yet know.

I cannot wait to hear more about the transformative experiences occurring daily in our classrooms and on campus.I was already aware of the Integrated Business Curriculum and I visited the Polya lab, hearing about the great work in math education. 

The University of Idaho has wonderful faculty and staff who care deeply about the University and its students.  I’ve met several times with Senate and Staff Affairs Committee leadership, and I look forward to working with them.

The UI benefits from great external partnerships: K-12 systems, Higher Education partners such as our sister universities and the WWAMI collaboration, Idaho National Laboratory, agricultural groups, the Albertson Foundation, and the community of Moscow itself -- just as examples.

​I know that the UI has over 70 sites throughout the state. I visited Caine, Caldwell, and Parma during one of my January visits-ate some great apples developed there. And, of course, I saw the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, and Boise Centers during my interview and I've been able to return to the Water Center several times already. This network offers enormous potential for impact across the state.

​I've enjoyed cultural events -- from Chinese New Year to the world-class Jazz Festival.  I was very fortunate to arrive on Saturday of the Festival, and we can be proud, not just of the incredible music at the Festival, but of the impact the Festival has on thousands of young musicians.

I've also already enjoyed two women's basketball games, even getting to see them win the Western Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday.  I am sorry that I missed the track championship, but I am looking forward to watching the Vandals compete.

I've met wonderful, warm people here who have welcomed me and who I know will welcome Mary Beth.  I have been awed by the beauty of the state -- from the fall colors on our drive from Moscow to Boise in November to gently falling snow this month.

I worked out at the Student Rec Center yesterday -- a great facility and friendly staff. I also understand that at least one student has taken me up on my racquetball challenge.

So, I am looking forward to sharing more academic, cultural, athletic, and recreational activities with you. But, I also WANT to hear more from you, I WANT to know as much as I can about what makes the UI special to each of you.

We all recognize that the University faces challenges, some of long standing

I know you have seen multiple years of budget challenge.  Restricted budgets have caused difficulty in offering competitive salaries and in building the programs we desire.

As you know, the revenue budget has several major components: tuition, state appropriations, extramural grants, and donations. I will work with everyone at the University to maximize our resources and to use them optimally.

I'd like to mention salaries specifically. One cannot buy the loyalty of highly motivated, dedicated people like yourselves. Unfortunately, however, an employee can become discouraged or feel treated unfairly when pay slips behind appropriate comparisons and there is little prospect of improvement.  So, I want to emphasize how much I appreciate the loyalty of our faculty and staff, but also that, with your help in revenue generation and in the efficient use of resources, we will make strong and, I believe, effective, efforts to ensure improved compensation.

Tuition cost has increased considerably at most public universities, including Idaho, in the last 5-10 years. This places a financial burden on students and families. I credit the students who have shouldered increased cost and state clearly that the University appreciates the support of the students who recognize the VALUE that a U of I education represents and accepted these increases.  Nevertheless, access and affordability are critical to our mission as a public university. I will be working hard with my budget and enrollment staff to optimize the use of our resources, including the considerable resources that our donors have made available, so that all qualified, motivated students can benefit from the educational quality that is the hallmark of this University.

What you can expect to hear from me,  some near term objectives

You may hear me talk quite often about resources. I want to state very clearly that the University of Idaho is NOT a business.  Nevertheless, resources are essential to effect our mission.  We will not seek revenue for revenue's sake-but we will seek revenue opportunities consistent with our mission so that we can be more effective in what is most valuable to US.

I'd like to comment on the declining public financial support. This decline doesn’t mean that the public or government does not understand the importance of education NOR does this change the importance of our mission. We must make clear that higher education is an INVESTMENT, not an expense -- as true in terms of the public good as in terms of personal benefit. I will advocate strongly for higher education-with state government, with our supporters and friends, and with students and families.  Please continue to arm me with the successes that will make clear just how valuable an investment the University of Idaho represents.

The State Board of Education, Idaho business leaders, and private foundations have announced very ambitious goals for degree attainment; 60% postsecondary degrees including a large increase in Bachelor's Degrees and Advanced Degrees. I expect the U of I to march behind this banner.  We will play our part in educating students, but we also will educate teachers and school administrators who will prepare Idaho K-12 students for success in postsecondary education. Emma Atchley, State Board Member, said at the meeting last week that students "drop out of college in the 8th grade".  Idaho cannot afford this, and the University of Idaho cannot afford this.  We are bringing our own research capability to bear on why students do not attend college, and how we can prepare students more effectively. We will work together with all Idaho stakeholders to achieve this goal.

These issues lead to a continuing focus on enrollment on the Moscow campus -- with attention to access, quality, and diversity. 

You will see strong and focused efforts to recruit students-from Idaho, from other states, and internationally.  The U of I will continue outreach to first generation college students and under-served populations.  I invite your ideas on how we can do all of this even more effectively. 

Our successful Inspiring Futures campaign (and we have reached 95% of our goal) will provide resources that will aid us in addressing student need as well as in attracting academically meritorious students. Special thanks to our generous donors and also to Chris Murray, Vice President for Advancement, to the deans, and to advancement staff.

We will embrace our statewide mission in education as we have embraced our statewide mission in engagement. I ask that we develop a distance learning strategy, including the roles that our centers can play. I will invite your input on how to ensure that our distance efforts meet the state's needs, our student's needs, our standards for quality, and that these programs are consistent with our culture.

We are a great public research, land grant university. In that tradition, we will excel in Research and engagement even as we face challenges in funding at the Federal level. As you have been doing, we will continue to seek opportunities where our excellence can have impact -- BASIC or APPLIED.  I can see opportunities for the U of I to extend our NIH-funded biomedical research, to further develop areas of excellence like Fire Science, and to assist the state in critical industries, such as the dairy industry.  I will work closely with Vice President McIver as well as our Colleges in further developing high impact research and engagement.

We will shortly conclude the Focus For the Future process -- special thanks to Provost and Executive Vice President Katherine Aiken for her leadership on this; thanks to many others who are also involved.  Prioritization processes are difficult, but they can provide direction and resources to ensure that we remain focused on that which is most important to us.

I want to emphasize that even as I begin to work, I remain in learning/listening mode with plans to connect with campus and statewide before beginning major initiatives.

I plan to be out in the university community and statewide. We have scheduled my first racquetball challenge match with a student.  But even if you don't play racquetetball, open office hours will be  posted on the web, and you will see me at the Student Rec Center, or in a coffee shop and I hope that you will speak with me.

A lot of what I have said is abstract, but it’s the personal impact that a university has that means most to me.

Universities change lives in extraordinary ways. I don't yet have the Idaho stories, like those shared by Don Burnett.  I'd like to hear those stories, and I know that I will, because I know that the University of Idaho HAS changed the lives of so many.

For today, though, I would like to offer the story of a friend that I met in South Dakota-I had dinner with him in Rapid City, South Dakota, on my way to Idaho.  Jason Murray is from Oklahoma, Choctaw-Chickasa.  He went to work in the oilfields after high school.  One day at work he almost caused an accident that would have hurt or killed one of his brothers and Jason decided to change his life.  He really did not know what he should do, but he enrolled at the local community college. 

Jason had no idea how to succeed in school and he did poorly his first semester.  He registered late for his second semester, and was advised it would be his last if he did not do better.  Because he registered late, there was only one open English class, poetry.  He had never read poetry and he did not read these poems, so he was not doing well.  His instructor chanced upon him in the hall 1/2 hour before class and reminded him that he was to analyze "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" by Walt Whitman in class.  Jason decided he better read the poem-we probably have all been there.  The poem's message of the shared human experience struck him SO HARD that not only could he share this impact with his class (a successful analysis)-he could now appreciate how learning could improve his life-not just in terms of a profession but also in a rich, philosophical way.

Jason persisted, and he eventually earned his PhD in English at the University of South Dakota, where I met him.  We hired Jason to run USD's Indian University of North America program at the Crazy Horse Memorial; he now works directly for the Memorial. Jason runs a summer program for students entering college, primarily young Native Americans and first generation students, students much like himself.  He is touching the lives of people and they are succeeding, in part because of his efforts and his success. 

I want to hear these stories about the University of Idaho, but even more importantly, I want to help YOU as students to have those experiences, and YOU as faculty, staff, alumni and/or community members to make a difference.

I am deeply honored to be here, and I am deeply committed to being here.  Thanks so much for your attention...GO VANDALS!