The Friday Letter Archive

A collection of the president's weekly messages to the Vandal family


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Friday Letter 2013-09-06

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Friday Letter Office of the President

September 6

Dear Friends,

Innovation and creativity have long characterized the American experience. Our nation, and the world, can thank innovators from Idaho for creations such as television, invented by Philo Farnsworth, of Rigby, among others; for vehicle back-up warning systems, from Ed Peterson of Boise; and for life-sustaining respirators made by Forrest Bird of Sagle. 

Many science-based innovations, like these, are products of brilliant individual creativity. They are also the products, directly or indirectly, of a broad foundation of scientific discovery and knowledge fostered by the nation’s research universities and private research laboratories. The University of Idaho – our national land-grant, founding, comprehensive and constitutional university -- stands tall in this distinguished company.    

Yet we face a challenge: America now has an “innovation deficit.” Consider the following facts reported by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities

  • Over the last 10 years, research and development expenditures as a share of economic output have remained nearly constant in the United States but have increased by nearly 50 percent in South Korea and nearly 90 percent in China.
  • From 1996 to 2007, U.S. R&D expenditures grew by an average of 5.8 percent annually. During the same time period, China’s average annual growth was 21.9 percent. During the first year of the economic slowdown from 2008 to 2009, U.S. expenditures decreased slightly while China’s increased by 27 percent.
  • During the 1960s the United States devoted up to 17 percent of federal discretionary spending on R&D -- in part due to the space program -- resulting in a prodigious amount of spinoff innovation; in recent years, however, outlays have fallen to around 9 percent. 
  • By 2010, fewer than 50 percent of U.S. patents were being granted to U.S. entities.

These trends threaten America’s position as the world’s innovation leader. Our prosperity has been built upon public and private investment – and today we need more of both. Even the most ardent advocates for limited government, such as columnist George Will, have expressed concern about the dwindling public investment in R&D.

Here in Idaho, Governor Butch Otter and the legislature have taken an important step toward addressing the issue, by connecting public university research with economic development through the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission program. Under this program, University of Idaho faculty and students are engaged in research on emerging green technologies such as bio-cement, aquatic animal health products, increased safety and efficiency of pesticide applications, software capable of recognizing bacterial colony growth and high-speed digital memory modules.

These research efforts will produce jobs and prosperity in the future. They illustrate the University of Idaho’s growing importance to our state and nation.

Go Vandals!

Don Burnett 
Interim President

U-Idaho Receives $3.1 Million Grant For Water Education. The University of Idaho will take the lead in training the West’s next generation of international water resources management professionals with support from a $3.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The five-year award from the foundation’s highly competitive Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program, or IGERT, will allow the university to further strengthen its interdisciplinary water resources degree program, involve faculty from numerous colleges in water resources education and research, and provide financial support for 24 doctoral students. The grant is the latest piece in the university’s expansion of water resources programs in recent years. The university introduced the water resources graduate program and Waters of the West, its research and outreach arm, in 2006. Read more.

NEA Grant To Bring Golson, Palmieri, Jordan To Hampton Jazz Festival.
 The University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival received a $15,000 grant from the NEA Jazz Masters Live grant program to support the performances of Benny Golson, Eddie Palmieri and Sheila Jordan at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in February 2014. The festival was one of six non-profit organizations to receive a grant to support performance and educational activities featuring NEA Jazz Masters, recipients of the nation’s highest honor in jazz. Read more. 

Pre-med Students To Benefit From Bengtson Gift. With more than 30 years of giving to the University of Idaho, Idaho District Judge John H. ’54 and Marilyn Pond ’53 Bengtson continued their legacy of support by completing a $100,000 charitable gift annuity with the University of Idaho Foundation in August. At the donor’s request, the charitable gift annuity will pay income at the rate of 7.2 percent to Marilyn during her life. At Marilyn’s passing, the remainder of the gift will be added to the Leslie Bengtson M. D. Memorial Scholarship Endowment to provide scholarships for pre-med students. “Four of our six immediate family members, including children Greg ’77 and Leslie ’78, graduated from UI,” notes Marilyn. “All agreed that UI was the ‘whole package’ – great on-campus living, great education, great contacts and friendships to last a lifetime in our home state!” With this charitable gift annuity, John and Marilyn have joined the Heritage Society, the University’s recognition society for donors who have made a future commitment through planned giving. For information on how a charitable gift annuity or other planned gift might benefit you – and the University of Idaho –contact the Office of Estate, Trust and Gift Planning at (208) 885-1201 or toll-free at (866) 671-7041. (Note: Charitable gift annuities are not available in all states.)