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City Club Speech 2003

September 24, 2003

Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to be your guest and luncheon speaker. I am delighted to join you and honored that the City Club would give me this opportunity to share an early perspective on the challenges that face Boise State and all of Idaho higher education.

When asked weeks ago the title for these remarks, I suggested Giving New Meaning to “Higher” (as in Higher Education). What I was referring to at that time and what still continues to impress me, is what must be one of the most remarkable organizational transformations in American higher education. In the course of a little over 60 years, Boise State has grown from a private junior college to a state supported junior college, to a state college, to a state university and today to a comprehensive university on the verge of moving into the ranks of one of America’s premier metropolitan research universities. Along the way it moved “higher” and “higher” up the academic ranks, first a two-year institution, then full undergraduate study, then graduate work at the master’s level and, in the last decade, two doctoral programs with more in the planning cycle.

Add a College of Engineering, not a common move for a comprehensive university that began not long ago as a two-year college, and now you have Boise’s brand of “higher education.”

What an amazing set of accomplishments! There are a few other institutions that have morphed into a senior university from much smaller roots in such a short period, but they are usually found in larger states such as Florida and California where the pace of population growth leads the nation.

So how did this happen and where do we go from here? Well, it happened because those who have served before me had a vision of what Boise State could be. They were willing to act on that vision, even in the face of job-threatening risks. And they were entrepreneurial in the expansion of academic programming to serve students in Boise, the Treasure Valley and communities in southwestern Idaho.

It is a daunting exercise to reflect on the leadership that has preceded me and the dedicated and committed faculty and staff who built this university to its current state. It is so important in a new position such as this one for the new president to reach back into the past, recognize and acknowledge the contributions of those who brought us to this point, and then galvanize the support of the campus community, its supporters, its funders and its donors in furtherance of the strategies that it will take to move us forward.

But move us forward to where? What is the Boise State of the future? How do I pay it forward by articulating a vision worthy of those who laid the foundation for the Boise State of today; a vision that pays respect to the dedicated faculty and staff who serve our students; a vision that will allow those who follow me to lay claim to the distinction of Boise State as a premier metropolitan research university of distinction.

Well, this president can reach back into the past and rely on the wise and prescient words of Dr. John Keiser. I’m sure that I won’t quote him verbatim, but it was something like, “You cannot have a great city without a great university.”

Boise State’s broad array of educational and athletic programs, its role in work force development and the nurturing of our entrepreneurial sector, its role in the training and education of Idaho’s health-care workers and teachers, its support and encouragement of the arts and humanities all lead to one obvious conclusion. Boise State is destined for a unique position among its sister institutions in Idaho and the West.

No one doubts that Boise State, anchored in the midst of Idaho’s largest metropolitan area, its only urban area, is poised to grow and prosper with this city and region.

It’s so fascinating to see the symbiotic relationship between the city and the university. Even Boise State’s place on the landscape of the region is symbolic of Boise history and its future. The original Boise campus is limited in its expansion plans by a river on one side and residential areas on the other. It clearly represents the traditional Boise as longtime residents remember their hometown. Our relatively new Canyon County Center, on the other hand, represents the future of the region as the population center of the Treasure Valley continues to drift west. Here we find dramatic subdivision growth; significant increases in retail and the growth of commerce and industry in Nampa, Caldwell and their sister cities to the West.

And I need to mention one of this community’s most formidable assets, Boise’s incredible corporate base. I cannot overstate how impressed I am with the size and the heart of these top international companies. More importantly, at a time when Americans are questioning the good citizenship of corporations and many companies have become disengaged from the community in which they reside, we are most fortunate to have their commitment and resources working to improve the quality of life in the Treasure Valley and the state of Idaho.

So what will it take to position Boise State as a metropolitan, research university of distinction? First, we at Boise State must be able to offer the highest quality education to our students, which means the recruitment and retention of the best faculty and staff, academic standards that attract high-quality students, the most effective technology to assist in the teaching and learning process and support for the research mission of the institution. Our research should encourage discovery in our undergraduate and graduate classrooms and laboratories. It should support and complement the discovery process in the workplace in the community and state. It should inform public policy. It should add to the knowledge base of our society in pursuit of a better quality of life.

The quality of our undergraduate education, its emphasis on personal attention to the learner that is Boise State’s signature, its reputation for faculty who love classroom learning and are accessible to students must not be compromised. Too often in higher education, the straw men of teaching and research are set up and we are forced to choose between one or the other. Boise State need not go down that path. There are plenty of role models in American higher education that prove we can do both and do them well.

Second, as Boise State shapes its role and mission to fit that of an urban or metropolitan institution, its academic offerings, its research and its services must serve as a resource in addressing the challenges that face us in the region in transportation, health care, land-use planning and management, law enforcement and criminal justice and work force preparation, to name just a few. For example, we will soon be establishing on our campus a new Institute for Urban and Regional Planning that will provide leadership along with the Boise Chamber of Commerce in the visioning process that will help the region chart and manage growth and development across the metropolitan landscape.

A metropolitan university also has a responsibility to foster a sense of citizenship and community both on and off campus. For those of us who claim dual citizenship as members of the campus community and members of the Boise community, we have a special responsibility. I look forward to engaging our fellow citizens in the life of our campus, especially in the promotion and enjoyment of the arts. In turn, I will look for ways that we on campus can be even more effective in contributing to the civic welfare of the Boise community.

Our community building efforts must not stop at Boise’s or Idaho’s borders. Undergraduate education cannot ignore the forces of globalization and what impact they will have on our students in their lives and careers. We must strengthen the global dimension of the undergraduate experience and weave into its tapestry of academic and extracurricular programming a global perspective that will prepare students for a citizenship role far more demanding and complex than that required in the 20th century. Thanks to the proud history of the Basque people who settled in Idaho and Boise in the early 20th century and thanks to our corporate partners today and their global markets, Boise has become a mecca for people from around the world. I am excited about the prospect of drawing upon the resources of the Boise community in introducing our students to other cultures and countries.

Perhaps I can offer an example of how I expect to gauge our progress in becoming a preeminent metropolitan research university. After Kathy and I arrived at Boise State in July, I was given a list of peer institutions that had been assigned to us by the Idaho Board of Education. I recognized a few on the list that were deeply rooted in agricultural regions of their states, which simply did not make much sense to me as I reviewed projections for growth of southwestern Idaho. I have asked the Board to allow Boise State to align itself as a peer institution with the University of Cincinnati, the University of Louisville and Wayne State University. Each of these institutions is firmly connected to its host community’s past, present and future. They all play significant roles in defining the community and showcasing it to people across the country and the world. Boise State University, of course, is on a similar metropolitan trajectory.

I am confident that we can reach our goals if we have the support of those who fund us, especially Idaho state government. Unfortunately, state support for public higher education across the nation is in a free fall from earlier periods when state aid constituted the bulk of funding for public universities. Thanks to the recent economic downturn, rising Medicaid budgets, the failure to update and modernize state tax systems to take account of changing state and local economies, higher education in Idaho is not expected to receive any increase in funding for the next two years. In the meantime, at Boise State, our enrollments continue to grow and demands for new programs in Canyon County also challenge our budget.

And to make matters worse, Boise State has been historically under funded, compared to other Idaho institutions. The Idaho Board of Education actually hired a consulting firm from Texas two years ago to examine the equity of funding higher education in Idaho. It confirmed what Boise State already knew. At $7,886 per student, Boise State, has the lowest per-student funding of any of Idaho’s senior institutions, almost $2,000 behind the University of Idaho and also trailing Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College.

The Idaho Board took official action when these inequities were reported in the consulting report, calling on the state Legislature to pay back Boise State’s lost funding, in the amount of $4.5 million, and to count student enrollment in the future for more than it was counted in the past to avoid future inequities. Unfortunately, to date the Legislature has been unable to act on either recommendation. Perhaps we need to design a way that the funding can be restored on a gradual basis. It goes without saying that higher education in Idaho must depend on an adequate revenue base for the state.

I would be remiss if I did not mention how much I appreciate the strong support I have received from legislators representing the Treasure Valley – legislators who understand the importance of higher education to the economic well-being of the state of Idaho. I have been equally impressed with the track record of our congressional delegation both in securing federal funding and for the cooperation and leadership that they have offered on federal issues.

I understand that these are not the best of times to expect reparations from the state budget. I also know that some in the business community believe that Boise State may have “poor-mouthed,” as they say, too much in the past. But fair and equitable funding — for institutions making every effort to provide a quality education for our students – is all too important an issue to ignore.

By the way, in visiting with the Boise business community in the last few weeks, I have learned just what incredibly high standards are used to judge our effectiveness in delivering quality education. In many cases, these standards are based on best corporate practices. I like that because it forces us to re-examine how we are doing things on campus and how we can improve quality. However, I also know our corporate partners understand the consequences of the funding challenges we face and how that impacts our ability to recruit and retain the best faculty.

As one who has served in a state legislature, I know that public higher education must earn the trust and confidence of those who fund us. We must be held accountable for results, for the quality education we offer. When I was first announced as the new president last spring, I promised the students that I would dedicate myself to improving the value of their degree. All of us who have responsibility for public university campuses in Idaho have a similar responsibility to policymakers who fund us. We must demonstrate the value of our educational offerings to the state of Idaho and its people.

Is there any doubt that increased educational opportunities improve the quality of the citizenry in any states? Our citizens become more productive, adding value to the economy of the state. Our citizens become healthier, lowering the costs of health care costs borne by taxpayers. Our society becomes more civil and the quality of the discourse among our citizens is likely to improve. Our streets and highways become safer when crime rates fall as educational attainment in the citizenry increases. The quality of our children’s schooling improves because of parents whose own education improves can now contribute more meaningfully to their children’s education.

I know that I do not have to convince many in this room of the value of higher education. What does need to be underscored, however, is the importance of Idaho higher education working together to prove our value to our policymakers. Idaho’s public universities and colleges must stand together in support of the value of our enterprises. We must find ways to collaborate, to join hands across institutions and show our partners in state government that we are using the taxpayers’ resources wisely and cost-effectively. Except for a few fields such as health care where we can barely keep up with demand, we simply cannot afford to duplicate effort, resources or programs in times of economic constraint. Governor Kempthorne and the State Board of Education have sent that clear message to Idaho’s university presidents.

The Idaho Board of Education feels so strongly about this issue that it passed a policy at its last meeting that establishes a set of guidelines governing the delivery of higher education services in Idaho. I am confident that this new policy will have the effect of encouraging collaboration, and discouraging institutions from embarking on costly and duplicative educational ventures outside their regions and statewide missions.

I look forward to joining with my colleagues at Boise State, at our sister institutions, with our partners in state and local government in improving the quality of higher education in Idaho, providing increased job opportunities for the people of Idaho and improving the quality of life for all Idaho citizens.

Thanks to you, the membership of the City Club, for providing me with this forum to highlight the role that Boise State plays in the life of your community and your state. I will be happy to answer any questions that you might have.