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Presidential Installation Address

February 27, 2004

Good morning and thank you for joining us on this day of celebration. It’s a great privilege to serve as the sixth President of Boise State University. I am honored to be joined today by colleagues on our faculty and staff who deserve the credit for positioning Boise State for its historic and influential role in Idaho higher education. We are joined also by many friends and supporters of Boise State. A special thanks to Governor Kempthorne, his fellow constitutional officers, Chief Justice Linda Copple-Trout and members of the Idaho legislature who join us today. I thank the President of the Idaho Board of Education, Mr. Blake Hall, for investing me with the presidency and thanks to his colleagues on the Board for joining us as well. Members of the Board give freely of their time to improve the quality of education in Idaho and they deserve our thanks and appreciation.

Thanks also to presidents and representatives of our sister institutions for representing your schools as we usher in a new era of collaboration in Idaho higher education. I would like to single out one who deserves special commendation for the outstanding job that he has done in stepping in at a challenging time in the University of Idaho’s history. Gary Michael deserves this State’s highest praise for his contribution to his Alma Mater and to all of Idaho higher education. I know that in addition to his loyalty to his Alma Mater, he is also a friend of Boise State. I would also like to acknowledge the Board’s selection of the new President of the University of Idaho. Dr. Timothy White, who, of course, is not in Idaho yet, is a great choice for the University and for all of us who are anxious to advance the cause of Idaho higher education.

Boise State is linked at every turn in its short history to the fortunes of Boise City and the Treasure Valley. I want to thank Mayor Dave Bieter, our newly elected Mayor, for participating in our celebration today. Mayor Bieter’s ties to Boise State, which began during his father’s years on our faculty, are strong and deep. He campaigned on a pledge to work closely with Boise State and we look forward to strengthening our relationship with Boise City.

And thanks to all of you who donned robes today to represent your Alma Mater on one of the academy’s most important celebrations. I am particularly pleased about the visit of some very special colleagues from my presidency at Eastern Kentucky University. They served as Provost and Dean of Arts and Sciences respectively. Please welcome Dr. Michael Marsden and Dr. Dominic Hart and his wife Eileen.

Sometime last fall when the question of my installation first arose, I suggested that we use the installation to celebrate Boise State’s designation as a state university thirty years ago. It is an incredible story, unusual in the sense that its growth in enrollment, quality of programming and impact on state and community has occurred in the flash of an eye, compared to the history of most colleges and universities in America. Conceived by the Episcopalian Church; nurtured by the Boise community as its junior college; embraced by the State of Idaho as a state college and later a state university, it now stands ready to push the borders of its influence across the state and nation and reach its ultimate goal of becoming a metropolitan, research university of distinction in American higher education.

Former President Eugene Chaffee urged Bishop Middleton Barnwell, founder of Boise College, to return for a BJC commencement address, which he did in 1956. And in that address he said:

“Fifty years from now, I hope to be sitting on a cloud smiling down upon a great university and saying to those around me, “Just see what I started.”

What I’d like to do in these next few minutes is reflect upon what Bishop Barnwell started and what it took to accomplish this feat – political leadership, courageous and visionary decision-making, civic progress, entrepreneurial success, support of the business community and the support and confidence of the people of Boise and the State of Idaho. Then let’s take a look into our future by reviewing how we can meet the challenges we currently face on the Boise State campus.

Our History

As I worked on today’s remarks, I reflected upon what has made this institution so successful. And the answer is really an easy one. I have never seen a university – and I have seen a good number of them – that is so thoroughly woven into the fabric of the community. At some institutions there is tremendous friction – “town and gown” problems. At others, there is no friction, but neither is there much of a connection. Boise State University is special in this regard.

Indeed, it was local businessmen and the Chamber of Commerce that carried the school forward when the Episcopal Church could no longer do so. Later after the legislature allowed communities to form junior college taxing districts, Boise residents agreed to an increase in their property taxes to support BJC by a 10 to 1 margin. (Now there’s an example of the good ole’ days!) Time and again Boise leaders in commerce and industry have stepped up to the plate with their own generosity and contributed to the growth and expansion of Boise State University.

I know that much of the credit for fostering close ties with the community – and the successful nurturing of this school – goes to former President Gene Chaffee. By the time he retired in 1966, the tiny school he helped start in 1932 as a history professor, had grown into a four-year institution with an enrollment of more than 5000. His contributions to this institution are immeasurable. In his book, An Idea Grows A History of Boise College, he describes repeated successful elections for bond issues, and credits the citizens of Boise. “This area,” he said, “proved that its young people were not to be passed over in the need for a public supported institution.”

John Barnes became Boise College president in 1967, just in time to preside over the school’s transition into the state system. Under his leadership, new faculty members were hired, new academic programs initiated and the campus grew in size as President Barnes secured funding for new buildings.

President Barnes is especially important today for he led the school to the important milestone we celebrate this week, our 30th year anniversary of becoming a university. Also of great significance to this celebration is former Governor Cecil Andrus, who signed the authorizing legislation in 1974. Governor Andrus is traveling today and could not be with us, but I asked Dr. Barnes to join me on the stage today and ask that he stand to be recognized and thanked.

John Keiser became president of Boise State in 1978, coming from Sangamon State University in Illinois where he was academic vice-president and where I, incidentally, was an assistant professor of public administration. Like the presidents who preceded him, John Keiser recognized the importance of a healthy relationship between the university and community. His mantra, “There is no great city without a great university,” articulated his clear vision of what this school could become. Tremendous progress was realized during his tenure.

It was during the 18-month interim presidency of Larry Selland that the State Board approved Boise State’s first doctorate. Charles Ruch became president in January of 1993. Thanks to President Ruch’s leadership and our very capable Provost Daryl Jones, Boise State created the College of Engineering in 1996. Other accomplishments during Dr. Ruch’s presidency include the acquisition of the Boise State West Campus and state funding for its first academic building, and acceptance into the Western Athletic Conference.

Courageous leadership was evident from the very beginning. After all, Boise College was launched by Bishop Barnwell on the same week that one of Boise’s biggest banks collapsed under the weight of the Depression. Prospects for funding looked bleak and yet he forged ahead. Now fast-forward to 1986 and a more colorful example of presidential courage. The year was 1986 when the blue turf was unveiled for the first time in the Bronco’s season opener against Humboldt State. That took courage, my friends. $600,000 dollars worth! The brainchild of then President John Keiser and Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier, it marked the first time that a college football game had been played on a non-green artificial turf. Eighteen years later, BSU’s field remains the only non-green surface on which college football games are played. I think it is emblematic of the kind of bold and innovative thinking that has propelled this university forward.

And if the blue turf is a bold statement about Boise State’s football program, on the west end of campus lies another bold statement about this university’s role in the cultural life of the community. The 2000 seat Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 1984, serves as the community’s signature performing arts venue. Boise State received $5 million from the state legislature for the academic portion of the building and the Morrison Foundation donated $8 million toward the performance hall. The community responded with donations accounting for the remainder of the $15 million project, including $1 million from J.R. Simplot.

Not far from the Morrison Center lies the Simplot Micron Center, an impressive marriage of high technology and higher education. The $4 million center was made possible through the financial backing of J.R. Simplot, Micron co-founders Ward and Joe Parkinson, and seven other donors who provided all the initial funds necessary for constructing and equipping the building.

There’s a great story associated with this venture. A group spearheading the effort to build that facility-led by the late Boise State vice-president Dick Bullington, as well as business leaders Allen Noble and Ward Parkinson-hopped on a helicopter and flew to a golf course in McCall to solicit the support of Boise entrepreneur, J.R. Simplot. Although his golf game was interrupted, he later recalled the visit, “They just came up and I said I’ll cover 60% of the cost and you guys take the 40%, and we’ll just build it.”

“Just like that?” J.R. was asked? “Yeah,” he responded. “Just like that.”

Of course, we are delighted that at 95 years of age, J.R. still attends campus events on a regular basis with his wife Esther.

The library was another classic case of a partnership of the university, private sector and public sector. J.A. and Kathryn Albertson, the Albertsons corporation, and the state all combined resources to fund the addition. The Albertson CEO at the time, Warren McCain, was instrumental in securing the donations and later gave a $1 million matching gift to establish a reading room for Western studies. This addition brought our library – the heart of the academic exercise – to a new level of excellence.

Finally, just down the street from us on University Drive is the College of Engineering three-building complex, thanks to the generous support of the Micron Foundation, Velma Morrison and the Harry W. Morrison Foundation, the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation and our own Boise State University Foundation. Micron, by the way, continues to play a major role in the life of the college with its recent gift to fund the new Materials Science degree in the College of Engineering. I might add that we are very proud that Micron CEO Steve Appleton is a Boise State alum.

Students have also played a key role in building the campus. Down the street from the College of Engineering is our new $12 million state-of-the art Student Recreation Center, a shining example of student involvement and leadership. Seven consecutive student body presidents kept the project alive through periods of tight budgets and limited resources. People today may not realize that students even paid for academic buildings in the formative years – the liberal arts and business buildings are two examples. Clearly, everyone pulled together to get the place built.

Continuing in this tradition, in the next few months we will be seeking Board of Education approval for a new Health, Wellness and Counseling Services Center to be built with student fees that they approved for direct student health services, health promotion and education.

So when we speak of Boise State as a metropolitan university, we are talking about a great university being built building by building, program by program, by a community of like-minded people, leaders in the community who valued education, who wanted the best education for their children and who understood the relationship between a great city and a great university. I’d say they had it right! This list, by the way, is by no means a complete one. I wish there were time for me to acknowledge all the generous donors to this university, some of who are with us in this room today. Their generosity is deeply appreciated.

It’s not as though there weren’t obstacles in the way of this university reaching its destiny. There were obstacles every step of the way. Some just didn’t understand how there could be room in Idaho for a university of such size and influence in Boise. Still others did not appreciate the important role that Boise City’s growth would play in the University’s growth. But the visionary Presidents and their supporters in state government, business and industry forged ahead against what must, at times, have seemed insurmountable odds. Their determination is our legacy.

Where Do We Go From Here

The challenges of today will require us to muster all the visionary leadership and entrepreneurial spirit that it took to get us to this point in our history. Earlier in Boise State’s history, funding from state government represented the largest segment of its budget and is the main reason why those in the audience who attended in earlier years remember fees of a few hundred dollars. Today, as states struggle with new demands such as health care and corrections, the higher education budget receives only one third of its revenue from state aid, the rest coming from our students and private donors.

At Boise State, we find ourselves in a quandary. On the one hand, we are under pressure to increase graduate programming and respond to a growing need for research in our thriving, often high-tech economy dependent on a metropolitan university.

On the other hand, in the last few years, we find ourselves blessed with increased undergraduate enrollment, but lacking the funding to address the consequences of such growth-shortages of classroom space, laboratory space and instructors to serve the growing student body. In fact, last year we were forced to increase our admissions standards to limit enrollment. We will do the same this coming year, turning away about 1000 students in the last two years.

There is another consequence of rising enrollments and funding shortages. It is difficult to offer enough sections of courses students need to graduate on time. Even more troubling to me, we do not have the resources or physical capacity to help first year students succeed and meet the special challenges they may have in introductory courses such as math and composition. Both our retention rate from first to second year and our five-year graduation rate suffer as a result. I consider both retention and graduation rates important measures of accountability in higher education and we have a responsibility to our students and to those who fund us to improve our success rates.

So short of some windfall from the State or Bill Gates, how do we improve student success in the first year, offer more course sections to accommodate our students on the four-year plan and, at the same time, find resources to invest in graduate programming and research?

For one thing, it is not just a question of funding. It is also a question of focus. Boise State cannot be all things to all people. For example, we are not doing justice to thousands of students who seek access to two-year associate degrees, adult basic education, and other technical training programs in our College of Applied Technology hemmed in by increased university needs. Conversely, we cannot do justice to our new faculty requiring research and lab space or graduate students in need of classroom space when valuable space for expansion is occupied by the College of Applied Technology.

This is why I have suggested that we refocus our efforts in Canyon County and, with leadership and support from the State, create a community college that would give our College of Applied Technology the opportunity to spread its wings, increase its enrollment and rev up the engine of economic development for the Treasure Valley. There is no question that it could have a dramatic impact on access to postsecondary education in the Treasure Valley and it could also accommodate students with remedial needs, one of the real success stories of the community college. In the meantime, back on the Boise campus, we would free up space for undergraduate work, graduate programs and research capacity.

We must also find smarter and more cost-effective ways of teaching our students. Perhaps we can take a page from a recent project that reinvents the environment of teaching and learning, allowing for a reallocation of resources for new priorities.

Over the last eight years, the Pew Charitable Trust has funded a project to radically redesign the way our students learn. Designed to achieve cost savings and to increase the quality of the coursework, the experiment replaces lectures and the passive, note-taking role with an active learning orientation, requires whole course redesign, introduces computer-based learning resources and uses staffing models that allows for the shifting of more expensive labor to upper division and graduate programs. Preliminary results show that all thirty institutions reduced program costs by about 40 percent on average, with a range of 20 percent to 84 percent. Other outcomes include increased course-completion rates, improved retention rates, better student attitudes toward subject matter, and increased satisfaction with the mode of instruction.

This effort toward rethinking the nature of the learning process and utilizing technology-mediated instruction to serve the individual learning needs of our students will soon be expanded thanks to the State Board of Education’s approval of our new classroom building that has been appropriately named the Interactive Learning Center.

We have already begun working with consultants, with faculty input, in rethinking our campus-learning environment. One thing is for sure. We will not be building a warehouse of rectangular classrooms with the usual net-assignable square footage. Instead, we will be maximizing “learning per square foot” with ubiquitous wireless computing, Internet-based on-demand video streaming of recorded presentations for students, development of digital repositories of learning materials, online diagnostic testing for students to identify areas of knowledge deficits and web-based conferencing tools to bring community and national experts into every classroom.

The Interactive Learning Center will also be home to the Center for Teaching and Learning, a place where our faculty can explore how to create new learning environments and adjust their teaching strategies accordingly, thereby improving student learning outcomes. With so many new faculty joining our ranks in the last few years, the Center will also serve as a gathering place for faculty colleagues to meet and share their research and teaching interests across disciplines.

Winston Churchill’s quote, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us,” seems particularly apt here. There is no question that we will create a different kind of teaching facility, one that is a dynamic resource for learning. It will rest on the latest foundation of research on cognition and how our students learn. Our traditional age students on campus today have grown up programming the family VCR, playing videogames, doing instant messaging and now using text and video messaging cell phones. If we are to create the most effective learning environment for these new learners, then we must transform the learning experience into one that is interactive and experiential, one that reflects how learners today think, work and study in the real world.

Fortunately, we have at Boise State a critical mass of faculty who have prepared for this challenge. Over the last seven years, we have benefited from three major grants and evolved from technical skills training to using technology for curricular development and, finally, to a focus on integrating technology into their learning strategies.

Although our campus may not look the part, behind the facade of those traditional classroom buildings are already some significant achievements in technology-infused learning. Our Master’s degree in Instructional and Performance Technology in the College of Engineering is completely on-line, serving students in Idaho and thirty other states, as well as students from around the world in Australia, Malaysia, Canada and Trinidad. Many of these students never set foot on our campus until graduation day.

We also offer an online Master’s Degree in Educational Technology in the College of Education focusing primarily on K-12 teachers. There are 155 students from states across the nation, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Ukraine, and a native Idahoan who teaches in Kazakhstan.

The growth of our graduate programs lies at the heart of our strategy to link Boise State to its community and region in fulfillment of our role as a metropolitan university.

As Boise City and the Treasure Valley attract increasing numbers of well-educated citizens, our graduate programs must keep pace with the demand brought on by our corporate partners in the region, our own graduates who seek additional education and other students interested in graduate opportunities. Boise’s increasingly sophisticated arts community will be pleased to hear that we intend to offer a Master’s in Fine Arts with an emphasis in Dramatic Writing that will be a splendid example of a town/gown partnership — written for the stage, in this case.

We are also excited about a new weekend MBA degree we will begin offering next year. It is a perfect example of the post-baccalaureate professional credential at the master’s level that most graduate students seek today. In the Treasure Valley, if Boise State or its sister institutions are not going to offer these courses, on-line, for-profit institutions will be. Unfettered by anything academic other than meeting accreditation, the for-profit graduate education sector can turn on a dime to provide the utmost in convenience to students, but at a pricey tuition and, I would argue, oftentimes sacrificing quality. Boise State is perfectly positioned to expand its graduate offerings, in real time and on-line, thereby making professional credentials accessible to the largest number of students at an affordable price.

As a metropolitan university, Boise State also has an obligation to advance the knowledge of our disciplines and prepare select numbers of students for the terminal degree in fields that serve the needs of our students, our region and our state. Our Ph.D. in Geophysics is a perfect example of doctoral education that provides a distinctive educational experience that targets engineering and environmental aspects of geophysics not available in most geophysics programs. We owe it to those who fund us to apply a similar calculus in assessing the viability of future doctoral programs. Our graduate school must be home to a few high-quality Ph.D. programs with the resources, faculty and students to justify their existence. One such doctorate in the planning that meets the needs of our high-tech economy is the Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

With plans for more graduate programs and faculty with active research agendas, we are making remarkable progress in the growth of our research, scholarship and public service contributions to the community and state. Starting with about $7.5 million in external grants and contracts ten years ago, today we can boast a $22 million infusion of revenue to the university with significant implications for the state and local economy. This represents a growth of almost 300%, with a 72% increase in the last five years.

Particularly noteworthy to those who expect our universities to collaborate in the application of our research to the quality of life in Idaho is our participation in the Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN). Faculty researchers at the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Boise State University have been singled out as the most successful faculty collaboration in obtaining National Institute of Health funding.

Based on these dramatic developments and increases in funding over the last few years, we can set a goal over the next five years of a 50% increase to our grants and contracts and we are confident we will meet it if not exceed it.

So allow me to summarize our academic objectives as we transition to metropolitan, research status. First, increase the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the undergraduate experience. Second, add new graduate programs targeted at the increasing number of college graduates in the Treasure Valley. Third, sustain a research agenda at Boise State that reinforces quality teaching, contributes to the state and local economy and adds to the quality of life in Idaho, the region and the nation. As ambitious an agenda as this may have seemed thirty years ago when we first achieved university status, it is an agenda that is now within reach.

But it will only be realized with the support and engagement of our own campus community, Idaho state government, the State Board of Education, and our generous donor community who has played such a pivotal role in building the Boise State of today.

However, no matter how effectively higher education advocates make their case for state support, unfortunately, economic downturns and increased demands placed on state government make it difficult for states to provide the level of funding necessary to meet the educational needs of Idaho. Although there are some who question whether the so-called jobless recovery will ever return our state governments to the revenue windfalls of the 90’s, I am hopeful that better days are ahead than what we are forced to deal with in this fiscal year.

When that time comes, it is important to Boise State’s future and essential for the fair and equitable treatment of all of Idaho’s public universities that the enrollment workload adjustment be phased in as planned over five years. Here on the Boise State campus, this equity funding will allow us to be fairly compensated for enrollment growth and new graduate programming.

I pledge to do my best to frame future discussions with our state leaders in this fashion and to make the best case possible for Boise State’s share of state higher education funds, but, at the same time, I ask you to understand the tremendous competition for these dollars and the pressure that places on our elected representatives and members of the State Board.

When I interviewed for this presidency last spring, I heard many characterize the job as one requiring the new President to articulate the value and importance of Boise State to the people’s elected representatives, suggesting perhaps that the best case had not yet been made. I heard others suggest that higher education was not as valued as it should be. They pointed to Idaho’s low participation rate, with less than 50% of high school graduates going on to some form of postsecondary education. I also remember members of the media asking me why I would want this job at a time when there are obviously resource constraints throughout state government.

From my first day on the job last July, I have focused on just how I would make a difference in communicating our needs to the state, in explaining the role that Boise State plays in the region and the State and in how important it is for all of Idaho to support the higher education mission.

Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to spend considerable time at the Capitol, meeting our elected representatives and getting to know where they come from and whom they represent. I have been impressed with the gracious welcome extended to this newcomer. I’ve enjoyed swapping stories of my legislative battles with theirs and laughing often about how no matter what state you’re in, the stories seem to be the same!

I’ve thought about the challenges before them and how each legislator must establish priorities about what is most important to them during a legislative session. I thought back to my own career and remembered the tough votes. I thought about those times when I voted for what I believed in and what I thought was in the best interests of my constituents, only to return home on the weekend to find that too few constituents really cared or were even paying attention.

That’s when it hit me, as I’m sure it has occurred to others before me. This business of supporting higher education is not just the job of our elected officials. It is our job. We in higher education and our partners in business and industry across the state must make our case for state support of higher education. We must take our case to the grass roots, to the people on whom our elected representatives depend for the support they need to return as the people’s representatives.

We must become more engaged across the state. We must be able to show the people of Idaho that their investment in Idaho higher education will lead to a better quality of life for all of its citizens. Do we really have a choice? We either increase the educational attainment of our people or add increasing numbers to the unemployment rolls. Today, we can boast of Dell Computer’s decision to locate in Twin Falls. Tomorrow, if we do not act to increase the investment in education, we will bemoan the fact that Dell or others like it move American and Idaho jobs offshore. Carly Fiorina, the CEO of HP, recently warned Congress, “There is no job that is America’s God given right anymore.” She was speaking specifically about white collar and high tech jobs — jobs that require education and training beyond the high school diploma. Idaho must invest in elementary, secondary and postsecondary education if it is to keep and attract high paying jobs. And we must make the case that jobs in the Treasure Valley – or other regions — contribute to state taxes redistributed throughout the state to the benefit of every Idaho citizen.

For Boise State, whose short history as a metropolitan university is replete with examples of bridge-building both here in Boise and in Canyon County, I think now is the time to develop a statewide plan of engagement with our sister institutions.

One effective approach could be to convene alumni from Idaho institutions that are willing to get past parochial interests and rivalries of athletic competition and form a statewide coalition of alumni in support of higher education funding in Idaho.

If we are to be successful in our efforts to validate our mission and role to our elected representatives, our students must also play key roles in convincing voters and taxpayers that the state’s investment in higher education will improve the lives of Idahoans. And when their student days are over, we hope they will take their place in their own communities, continuing to plead the case for support of the higher education mission. The question is whether our students will be prepared to assume the duties of citizenship.

Earlier this morning at breakfast, I shared with the faculty some thoughts on new campus initiatives to highlight Boise State’s selection by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU for short) as a participant in the American Democracy Project. The project is designed to confront what many in higher education believe to be too narrow a focus on the outcomes of a college education, with emphasis on economic success, private self-interest and narrow careerism. It attempts to reverse trends identified in recent polling data on campuses that finds students politically disengaged and students with less social trust and knowledge of government and politics. This initiative challenges universities to build in their students a civic capacity that teaches the values, skills, and motivation, to make a difference in the civic life of their communities, state and nation.

In closing, though the challenges are great, we have a wonderful legacy of those who plowed ahead all but ignoring the obstacles. In many ways, that is the spirit on this campus today. As I have said before, we are not going to wait around until things get better – we’re going to make them better. I am humbled and grateful to serve as the sixth president of Boise State University. Governor, distinguished guests, fellow Boise State family members, thank you for being here today to help us look back and, most importantly, look ahead to all this University can be.

Happy Anniversary, Boise State and may God speed on our journey!