Decades of Vandal Devotion
Bruce Pitman, dean of students and vice provost of student affairs, retires after a long and accomplished career at the University of Idaho.
Last spring, a letter arrived in University of Idaho Dean of Students Bruce Pitman’s mailbox from a parent of a soon-to-be UI graduate. It read something like: “My son is graduating this May at commencement. I’m confident that without your help, it might not have turned out that way. Thank you.”
The letter was signed by one, but the sentiment is shared by countless UI alumni whose lives Pitman has touched during his 41 years at the University of Idaho. When he retires this fall, his departure will be met by the entire Vandal community with well wishes and a deep gratitude for his devotion to the university and its students.
“I love the University of Idaho, and I’m passionate about my work,” Pitman said. “Retirement is going to be bittersweet, but I know I’ve done what I can and should do here. It’s time to walk off the field.”
Although Pitman will no longer be a player in the daily university happenings, his work will continue to affect students for generations to come. Thanks to his leadership in the Office of the Dean of Students and Division of Student Affairs, the University of Idaho has become a safer, more diverse and supportive university where students of all backgrounds can thrive.
Pitman and his wife, Kathy, first arrived on campus in 1973 for his new job as Greek adviser. He was barely out of college himself, but Pitman immediately began to etch a mark in UI campus life, and quickly gained respect from students and staff alike. Ray Stark ’75, ’79 said Pitman had significant influence on him when he was a young leader
“He was my first mentor, not only in the Greek system, but for Ray Stark as an individual,” said Stark, executive vice president of the Boise Chamber of Commerce. “He always had a calm demeanor when working through problems in the fraternities and sororities. In my mind, he was, and still is, a gentle giant.”
His level-headedness has served him in times of crisis since assuming the role of dean of students in 1981. During his tenure, he has helped hundreds of students and families cope with tragedy, death and health issues; initiated programs to address campus safety, mental illness and sexual assault; led university-wide efforts to reduce student drug and alcohol use; and much more.
In short, Pitman has changed lives.
“Every day, we are involved in the lives of students at often some of their most exciting and positive moments, but we’re also part of their lives during their most difficult moments,” Pitman said. “I have tried to create a culture where we give students the compassionate care and support they need in times of crisis.”
Pitman offers this compassion to the students’ families, as well.
“I have a reputation for giving my home phone number to incoming parents at the end of every parent orientation program so they can reach me after hours,” Pitman said. “I started doing it years ago because I wanted to make a sincere gesture to parents that we absolutely care about the safety and welfare of their sons and daughters.”
“There are several thousand people out there who have my home number programmed into their cell phones,” he chuckled.
Pitman’s commitment to serve others is evident, and it’s a value he’s worked to instill in students at the University of Idaho. In recent years, Pitman has been instrumental in the development of the popular Alternative Service Break program, in which select groups of student—sometimes accompanied by Pitman himself—spend spring and winter breaks volunteering in communities in need across the nation and world. He has also worked to grow the UI Center for Volunteerism and Social Action, integrate service-learning in the classroom, and get UI students involved in community service across the Palouse.
“Before fall semester classes even began, we had almost 1,100 new students spend a half day engaged in some kind of service activity in Moscow,” Pitman said, referring to the annual 2014 SYNC service day for new, first-year students. “I’m very proud of the service ethic we have built into our campus culture.”
A Lasting Legacy
Last January, Pitman took a small team of his student affairs staff to a national conference on mental health issues and substance abuse on college campuses. During a plenary session, the presenter—whose daughter had suffered from persistent mental health problems while a student in college—was discussing the importance of early intervention.
“The speaker told the audience that if it weren’t for the support services of the university that her daughter had attended, her daughter wouldn’t be alive today,” Pitman recalled. “Then she paused, looked around the room, and asked if there was anyone from the University of Idaho in attendance. She said she was deeply grateful and asked the room to join her in applause. It was spectacular.”
This recognition on a national stage for his team’s work is evidence of the far-reaching impact of Pitman’s leadership, and it reflects the legacy that he leaves behind.
“I have been blessed and privileged to have been able to find that lifetime career at a place called Idaho,” he said. “I hope that I have helped to shape the university culture so that we have created an ethic of sincere caring for students and a deep respect for differences.”
"Students often brought their parents in to meet him, or parents brought their children. I can’t tell you how often I heard parents advising their children that this is where you come if you have a problem. The University will never have a more loyal, hard-working employee."
Carolyn Riggs, assistant to the dean, 1998-2010
"I truly admire Bruce for his dedication to his position as vice provost for student affairs and dean of students, his passion for the University of Idaho and—most importantly—his compassion for the students."
Samantha Parrott ’12, 2011-12 ASUI president
"Bruce is an incredible mentor, supervisor and student advocate. He has been a staple in the Idaho community for many years, and his legacy and impact is unparalleled. His commitment to serving students and providing an exemplary level of care truly sets the standard at the University of Idaho."
Matthew Kurz ’11, former UI director of Fraternity and Sorority Life
"Bruce is empathetic and compassionate, but he’s also a tough-love type of guy. He genuinely cares about everyone he meets: every student, every parent, every faculty member. He has been a loyal friend, mentor and supporter to many generations of students at the University of Idaho."
Lou Aldecoa ’76, CFO, Stinker Stores; 2011-12 UI Alumni Association president; parent of two UI alums.
"He leads with his heart, always thinking about his values and what’s most important for students in the university. He keeps a clear focus on that in everything he does."
Joan Pulakos, psychologist in the UI Counseling and Testing Center who worked with Bruce for 31 years
Article by Stacie Jones for the University of Idaho