The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2013-12-06

Please note: this is an archived email message and may not display as originally intended. Some images, links, and functionality may be broken or out of date.

December 6, 2013

Dear Friends,
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the concept of “place” became a focus of scholarship and public discourse on issues of social progress, human development, and education. The famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City, and whose family colleagues designed much of the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, believed that well-designed spaces could promote a sense of community, harmony, and balance in which individual minds and hearts would flourish.
Today, as visitors stroll across our picturesque Moscow campus, they sense what Olmsted intended. The gently rolling land, the forests, the clearings, and the vistas combine to inspire thoughtfulness and reflection. Interspersed among these natural features are iconic structures such as the Administration Building and Memorial Gym, giving the campus a distinct visual identity. In refreshing contrast to the modern era of standardized, utilitarian design –- what author James Howard Kuntsler has called the “geography of nowhere” -– the University of Idaho has retained a unique sense of place. Here, you know where you are, and you feel that you belong.
This is, of course, also a place of academic purpose. When you enter one of our academic buildings, you step from an external space of tranquility into an internal space of activity. The internal space is, and must be, designed to stimulate bright minds and to enable the high levels of teaching, learning, discovery, and creativity that are the signatures of a great university. Such space requires an ongoing investment in facilities -– not in buildings as ends in themselves, but rather in spaces than enliven the spirit of academic endeavor.
The connection between facilities and the spirit of the university was underscored by UI President M. G. Neale, who served from 1930 to 1937. Returning to campus as a visitor in 1961, he commented:

"The facilities at the University of Idaho have come a long way since my time.  But they are not the most significant factor. It’s the tone –- the high academic tone that has made the University of Idaho a superior institution. It was here when I came, and it’s still here today. [Former presidents] Gault and Maclean established that tone. The beginning of an institution is so important to it. Too much credit cannot be given to those early presidents, who left to Idaho a most precious history."
In recent years, resources for investment have been severely constrained; but we are making the most of what we have. This past summer, for example, we renovated -– and upgraded the technology in -- several major classrooms familiar to our alumni. The projects included classrooms of the Renfrew Building, home of the Department of Chemistry, which had not been updated since the building’s original construction in the 1960s. The projects also included a major general-purpose classroom in the Teaching and Learning Center adjacent to the Idaho Commons. These upgrades represented the first iteration of a multi-year effort to improve the environments in our large-capacity classrooms on the Moscow campus.
The second iteration, currently in the design phase, will include another venue familiar to UI graduates: the 400-seat classroom in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (Ag Sci 106).This heavily used facility has not seen significant reinvestment since its original construction in 1951. Future projects are also expected to include upgrades in the Life Sciences South (LSS) Building and the Janssen Engineering (JEB) Building, as well as the historic Administration Building Auditorium. Each of these facilities is located on the Moscow campus, but facilities at our other statewide locations will be included in future plans as well.
In addition to the renovation of existing buildings in Moscow, we are at the cusp of making a major investment in our first new academic building in more than a decade: the Integrated Research and Innovation Center. Plans call for a technologically advanced building that will house interdisciplinary teams of researchers engaged in problem-solving on issues facing our state and nation.  
What is important about these structures, as President Neale said, is the work that goes on within them. When you open doors of academic buildings at the University of Idaho, you can almost hear the hum of activity in world-class programs like the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium, the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies, the Barker Capital Management and Trading Program, and the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.
Such exceptional programs, and the facilities to house them, require not only public investment but also the margin of excellence provided by private support.  The University of Idaho’s capital campaign, launched with a goal of $225 million (more than any other Idaho institution has yet attempted to raise), has just crossed the $200 million mark. To all who have contributed, and to all who are planning to contribute, in whatever amount, we extend our heartfelt thanks.
The University of Idaho is a place of visual beauty and inspiring achievement. It is a place where hearts are fulfilled and minds grow. It is our place. Wherever we live, a part of us resides here. 

Go Vandals!
Don Burnett
Interim President

Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho
Ag Professor Rod Hill Honored As National Expert. The American Association for the Advancement of Science last month named UI animal physiologist Rodney Hill as one of only 14 new fellows nationwide. This honor recognizes acclaimed experts in agriculture, food and renewable resources. Hill, whose research focuses on feed-use efficiency in cattle, was honored “for distinguished contributions to field of animal physiology, for service to the scientific community in conveying science broadly, and for editorial and review leadership. Read more.
Graduates Ready For Commencement. A total of 925 University of Idaho students are eligible for graduation and the receipt of 969 degrees at the Winter Commencement Ceremony on Dec. 14. Alumnus Michael Kirk ’71 will also be presented with an honorary degree for his distinguished work pulling back the curtain on politics, government and culture. He has previously earned distinction as an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and he is one of the creators of the popular PBS documentary series “Frontline.” Read more.

Jazz Festival Schedule, Tickets Now Available. The UI Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival will celebrate its 47th year Feb. 19-22, 2014. Festival tickets are now on sale. Featured performers include NEA Jazz Masters Sheila Jordan, Benny Golson, and Eddie Palmieri in addition to many other professional and student performers. Read more.
See more news and features.

Ahlskog’s Affinity To University Of Idaho Grows Over Time. Since earning his bachelor’s degree in history, Howard Ahlskog ’68 has supported the University of Idaho through joining the Heritage Society and through his annual contributions supporting the Vandal Scholarship Fund. “I support the Vandal Scholarship Fund, and I think it’s very important for the athletics program to be competitive in all sports and not just football and basketball,” said Ahlskog. “Winning programs help attract quality students who, in turn, will excel not only in athletics but academically.” His loyal support totals 22 years of giving to the University of Idaho, including pledges he’s made through the Vandal Connect Call Center. “I really enjoy visiting with student callers and look forward to their phone call each year,” said Ahlskog. “My conversation with them helps to connect me back to the campus that I have grown to love more and more as the years go by.” A native of the West, this East Coast transplant continues to follow happenings at the University through mailings, emails and other University communications. For more information about making your annual gift before December 31, contact James Brownson, director of annual giving, at (208) 885-5369 or