The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2014-01-31

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 Some images, links, and functionality may be broken or out of date.

January 31, 2014

Dear Friends,

Yesterday we had a birthday party, and it was a dandy. In a festooned Idaho Commons building -- with an overflow crowd filling the main floor, and more observers elbowing for a view from three circling balcony levels – we celebrated our 125th anniversary. The festive setting resembled Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
The celebration, video-streamed from Moscow to other University of Idaho locations around the state, featured a reading of Governor Otter’s proclamation declaring January 30, 2014, as “University of Idaho 225th Anniversary Day,” as well as congratulatory communications from our Board of Regents, the City of Moscow, and Latah County. President-designate Dr. Chuck Staben, who will take office on March 1, came from South Dakota to join the celebration. The renowned Vandaleers sang, the nation’s best marching band played an imaginative blend of “Go Vandals Go” and “Happy Birthday,” the Spirit Squad exhorted the audience, and Joe Vandal danced.
History has smiled upon us. As our state’s national land-grant, founding, comprehensive, and constitutionally recognized university, the University of Idaho is the historic flagship of Idaho higher education. Today, we are members of a higher education fleet, fulfilling our statewide leadership responsibilities through collaboration with highly valued sister institutions.
In 1889, of course, we were the only ship in the fleet. Our early voyages were not without difficulty. The University moved slowly from existence on paper to full operation. In 1892, at an initial gathering of students, then-President Franklin B. Gault noted that there were no chairs on which to sit. Adapting nimbly to the situation, he said, “It is not every college which can give its students academic standing on the first day.” During an interview of a faculty candidate seeking to teach the classics, President Gault stated that the job would also involve milking cows. When the candidate inquired by what law he could be required to perform such a task, Gault replied, “By the greatest law of all -- the law of necessity.” The candidate withdrew.
Despite such resource struggles, the founders of the university had high ideals. They wrote into the territorial act, and later into the Idaho Constitution, a governance structure based upon a regent model rather than a legislative model.  By creating an independent Board of Regents, and giving it constitutional authority, our founders adopted the most forward-looking wisdom of the day about the governance of institutions of higher learning.
In keeping with the spirit of the Morrill Act (1862) that created the nation’s system of land-grant universities (described as “the people’s universities” by President Lincoln), our university became a “people’s gateway” of opportunity.  The University of Idaho’s first graduating class, in 1896, included two men and two women — Stella Allen, Florence Corbett, Charles Kirtley, and Arthur Adair.  In 1899, Jennie Hughes became the first African American graduate. Today, we are still the gateway. More than 35 percent of the students in our most recent entering class are the first in their families to attend a university.
Advancing another dimension of the Morrill Act, the University has spurred economic development. The University’s prominent role in agriculture, for example, can be traced to the confluence of the Morrill Act with the subsequent Hatch Act (1887), which created experimental stations at land-grant institutions, and with the Smith-Lever Act (1914), which provided for cooperative extension services. The University of Idaho opened its first experiment station even before it welcomed students to the Moscow campus. Today there are high-tech experiment stations around the state. The University also provides extension and outreach in all 44 Idaho counties; indeed, it opened an extension office at Boise as early as 1910. The partnership between our University and state’s agricultural industry has propelled Idaho to the third-highest level of production among western states -– trailing only California and (by a small margin) the State of Washington.
Many other colleges, institutes and centers have sprung from the University’s roots. Our Colleges of Natural Resources, Law, and Art & Architecture fulfill statewide missions. Other colleges conduct vital programs in Letters, Arts & Social Sciences as well as Business & Economics, Education, Engineering, Science, and the College of Graduate Studies. All of them contribute to our distinctive identity as both a land-grant institution and a founding, comprehensive university.
From these roots have grown academic programs with a long-standing reputation for high quality, enabling our students to find high-quality jobs. In 2012, rated the University of Idaho as the 11th best school in the intermountain region for jobs with solid pay secured by graduates. If specialty aviation and mining disciplines were set aside, the University of Idaho ranked 7th -- ahead of all schools in Utah, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, and most schools in Colorado and Arizona.
In the coming months, we will continue to celebrate the past and present in our quasquicentennial (fifth quarter of a century) anniversary observance. We’ll take our birthday party “on the road” to additional locations around the state. On each occasion, we will proudly recall our distinctive history, recommit to our collaborative leadership role in Idaho higher education, and reaffirm the familiar inscription found in the Administration Building’s arched entry: “Erected by the Commonwealth of Idaho for the training of her future citizens to their highest usefulness in private life and public service.” At Idaho’s first university, we are still moved by those words.

Go Vandals!
Don Burnett
Interim President

Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho
Avista and Water Resources Program Announce Annual Scholarship Winners. The University of Idaho Environmental Science & Water Resources Program announced the recipients of the 2014 Avista-Waters of the West Scholarship yesterday. Knut Marius Myrvold, a doctoral student, and Abigail Lute, a master’s degree student, will each be awarded $2,500 from Avista in support of their research. Avista contributes $5,000 each academic year to fund a scholarship for one or more graduate student in the water resources program whose research impacts areas served by the energy company. Read more.
Governor Recognizes University of Idaho Legacy With Special Day. Governor “Butch” Otter signed a proclamation last Tuesday recognizing the 125th anniversary of the creation of the university. At the signing attended by many Vandals, Otter called the University of Idaho the “glue that helped keep state together.” See more about the 125th Anniversary with events throughout 2014.

See more news and features.

Wilson Gives Chemistry Majors A Boost. Terry Wilson ’71 of Albany, New York has made a $25,000 pledge to establish the Terry Wilson Family Chemistry Scholarship Endowment. The scholarship will benefit juniors and seniors at the University of Idaho majoring in chemistry. ‘‘Given the right educational environment -- faculty, classmates, facilities and technology -- students can be successful with the appropriate background, interest, perseverance and hard work,” said Wilson. “I’m emphasizing the last two as reasons for the scholarship. That is, to help produce successful students.” Wilson earned his bachelor’s degree at Wisconsin and started his career in science education. He went on to earn a master’s degree in chemistry at Idaho and his Ph.D. at Connecticut. He has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years and is currently a principal at Fort Orange Pharmaceutical Consulting. He has 57 publications and holds two patents. For more information about giving to the College of Science, please contact Eric Bennett at or 208-885-9106.