Today's Idaho Statesman reprinted a March 6 editorial from the Lewiston Tribune. I attempted to read it online, but it is securely ensconced behind a subscription firewall. Therefore, I will transcribe portions here for your perusal.
The editorial discusses the departure of University of Idaho President Duane Nellis, who will become the CEO of Texas Tech University ("Departing Nellis Left His Footprint on UI's Sand"). It poses the question that many Idahoans--taxpayers all, regardless of school loyalties--are asking: where is Idaho headed? It calls for a visionary to lead the university, and I agree. Idaho has the opportunity to establish a legitimate place for itself, but that place must be earned, not self-awarded by declaring itself to be a flagship and taking out regular half-page look-at-me ads in the Statesman.
The Lewiston Tribune offers an assessment of the current state of the university. The newspaper can hardly be considered to have a bias against the school, as it is located a scant 32 miles down the road from Moscow, and Lewiston is the largest city in the region. The Tribune and its readers would benefit from a healthy University of Idaho.
If Idaho can overcome its inferiority complex; if it can stop trying to keep up with its successful younger brother to the south; if its alumni base could learn to be proud of their school without feeling the need to denigrate others; if it can recognize that it is destined to remain a relatively small school in a sparsely populated state, and therefore take steps to concentrate on that which it can do well--then I believe it can attain a degree of respectability which is heretofore lacking. If athletics can help put a school on the national map, then I firmly believe that Idaho needs to carve out its niche by returning to the Big Sky Conference, where it has at least a chance to succeed.
That's my two-cent editorial. Now, here are excerpts from the Tribune's editorial:
In Idaho, the political environment toward education at all levels ranges between neglect on a good day and contempt on a bad day. Outside Idaho's college towns, higher education simply is not a priority.
During the past four years, there have been more bad days--budgets have been slashed as often as not to free up cash for tax cuts. With fewer resources from the state, the UI boosted student tuition, pricing a college degree--or at least spending four years at a remote, residential campus--beyond the reach of many middle-class Idaho families. . . .
But the bulk of the leadership team that greeted Nellis upon his arrival remains in place today. The UI's failing football team still has no conference to call its own. Boise State University, its traditional rival, is ascendant. Its politically savvy president, Robert Kustra, has parlayed all of his assets--a successful football program, corporate alliances and proximity to the state's political and population vortex--toward a new paradigm.
Meanwhile, the UI brand continues to sag. Outside its own region, the university remains best known for its failed Boise campus fiasco, the shooting death of graduate student Katy Benoit by former professor Ernesto Bustamante and the troubling spate of student injuries or fatalities linked to excessive drinking, topped off by Joseph Wiederrick's death due to hypothermia in January.
Legislative initiatives--such as seeking to launch a second-year law school in Boise when the job market for lawyers is glutted--are batted down.
Rallying the Vandals last year in defense of the UI's "flagship" status was an exercise in futility. If the sloagn was such a vital part of the UI's role and mission, why didn't Nellis first secure a majority on the State Board of Education before making the pitch? Failure further fueled the perception of a university in decline.
Nellis proved a capable manager whose indentation was shallow and imprinted on sand. But his departure offers the school a chance to seek what it sorely has lacked: a visionary with a sober assessment of the institution's present, a strategic flair for its possibilities and the audacity to seize those opportunities.