This is a difficult letter to write. But I have always been upfront with our Vandal family, and I know word travels fast. In a mutual decision reached with our State Board of Education, the upcoming 2018-2019 academic year will be my last as president of the University of Idaho.
The past four years have been personally very rewarding, and I am proud of what we have accomplished together. I know that the road we’ve travelled has not been without contention. My candidacy for another position in fall 2017 caused a distraction. We’ve had disagreements about the appropriate place for our football program and other topics. Not every decision has been popular, and some issues have been divisive.
Some may wonder whether this decision is related to recent, well-publicized sexual misconduct issues in our Athletics Department. This decision is not connected to our ongoing review of such issues; that review is proceeding and a report will be available soon.
While some may focus on the more divisive issues, we have made significant progress together during these years in many key areas for the university. We’ve achieved consecutive years of enrollment increases, countering a national trend in the opposite direction, and have had student success efforts pay off with increases in retention — 82 percent last year. We’ve grown our annual research expenditures from $95.6 million in FY14 to $109.5 million in FY17 — the fuel behind innovation and discovery that makes an impact throughout Idaho and beyond. We have also set U of I records for fundraising.
In the year ahead, I am focused on continuing our university’s progress toward Strategic Plan goals and implementing key initiatives in support of those goals. These are big wins that will long outlive my time here. For instance, the ICCU Arena project continues to be a top priority – a much-needed space for student-athlete success and a showcase for Idaho wood construction. We have raised about $35 million in this $45 million project, with notable support from Idaho Central Credit Union, our student government, our alumni association, the U of I Foundation and others. Let’s work together to finish the fundraising and break ground this year to take this project over the finish line.
I also want to continue to improve our state’s college-going culture. The Direct Admissions program and other State Board of Education collaborations like Apply Idaho have laid the groundwork for bringing more Idaho students into the life-changing educational experience we offer at U of I. Higher education offers a way forward for our state’s citizens, who want to grow and learn and excel in the fast-changing, global economy. The outstanding success of our graduates — with unmatched career outcomes in our state — testifies to the importance of bringing more people into that experience. Let’s make sure we’re fighting for each and every student to grow and thrive at our university.
Innovation is another area of continued focus. Whether among our interdisciplinary teams at the Integrated Research and Innovation Center, at our Rock Creek Ranch rangeland research project, or in the humanities and social sciences, we have applied Vandal excellence to searching for solutions to critical problems and complex issues. One important initiative is CAFE, the largest and most advanced research dairy in the country. We have a chance to apply our land-grant strengths to this interdisciplinary project in service to the largest agricultural industry in the state. It is vital we move this project forward.
We achieve excellence through a united effort. In the coming year, we must stay focused on achieving collaborative success, and on continuing to serve land-grant ideals in our educational, research and outreach missions to the state of Idaho and beyond. I am committed to offering stable leadership as we carry out this important work.
It is an honor and a privilege to be the president of the University of Idaho, and to have helped write a chapter in the nearly 130-year history of this university. Transitions like this are rarely easy. Thank you for your understanding, and for your support of the University of Idaho as we write our next chapters.