The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2014-02-07

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February 7, 2014

Dear Friends,

In more ways than one, Dr. Donald R. Theophilus is a towering figure in our University’s storied history. While serving as president from 1954 to 1965, he became famous for insisting on high standards of academic performance. He did not mince words about it. At the beginning of each academic year, he would bluntly tell the incoming undergraduates, “For you to achieve less than your full ability is a disgrace to you.”
Yet he was also warmly supportive of students who applied themselves. During his presidency, the University broadened its financial aid offerings, established an advanced placement pathway for talented high school students, and –- perhaps most memorably –- created the precursor to our current University Honors Program. Today, Theophilus Tower, the tallest building on the Moscow campus, provides a home for newly arriving Honors Program students.    
Center For Excellence

Our “crested hill", as the Moscow campus has been called, is not the geographical center of Idaho; but it emphatically is, and has long been, a premier center of excellence in Idaho higher education. As regular readers of the “Friday Letter” know, Newsweek magazine in 1947 published a study showing that the University of Idaho had produced more Rhodes Scholars up to that time than any other university -– public or private –- west of the Great Lakes. 

In recent years our students have earned national recognition as Fulbright, Goldwater, Truman, and Udall Scholars. The University of Idaho is home to one of the highest proportions of National Merit Scholars in the Pacific Northwest. The best and brightest college-bound students of Idaho, and of surrounding states, are attracted by the reputation of our faculty and by our Honors Program.
Students With Talent And Motivation

The Honors Program embraces students with high potential; it is not limited by formulaic credentials. As noted in the program’s inaugural announcement, published in 1959, the program “is intended to provide the student with more intensive training, and/or research experience, than is ordinarily available to the undergraduate.” Students who aspire to high challenges, and are ready and willing to meet them, can apply. Some honors students are the first in their families ever to attend college, but they have a history of personal achievement and they take a back seat to no one in talent and motivation. Currently, the program boasts more than 400 extraordinarily hard-working participants. They span the academic disciplines; indeed, many have double, triple and even quadruple majors.
“This is one way you can receive a private college education at a public institution,” says Professor Alton Campbell, program director. “It’s not about the tuition or the buildings, it’s about the nature of your peer group, and these students are exceptional – they’re exciting.”  Tom Drake, an active supporter of the program and English instructor, has observed: “Decades ago, when I was an undergrad, a friend of mine who’d attended Stanford pointed out that … [education is] is not a function of where you are … but who you are, and how hard you work at making the most of your opportunities.”
Comparable To The Ivys

Honors Program students have an exceptional work ethic.  Professor Tom Bitterwolf, a 25-year faculty veteran of the program, puts it this way: “The Honors Program allows us to educate … at a level that I would put up against any of the Ivys. Many [of our students] could have gone to an Ivy League school but the realities of finances and family obligations made that impossible. We challenge them, stretch them, demand too much of them and they come back for more. Not all students are able or willing to seek excellence; but for those who are, the Honors Program is here for them.”
The program provides three primary components: a robust academic emphasis, unique living arrangements, and a wide array of extracurricular activities that promote growth and community. The program’s emphasis on the “whole person” reinforces a Vandal ideal for all students, and it pays a lifetime of dividends.
Alumni agree. Melanie Coonts Samuel, Ph.D., who graduated in 2002 with majors in microbiology, molecular biology/biochemistry, and English, before going on to do postdoctoral work at Harvard, has written: "In Freshman Honors Chemistry, I met friends … who I believe will be friends for a lifetime. Honors Program classes excite and stimulate. They have defined my university experience and helped me see the world from new and varied perspectives."
Again, Professor Bitterwolf: “The Honors Program is a beacon on the hill. It is what higher education was meant to be -- intellectually vibrant, challenging and exciting, educating the leaders of tomorrow. The UI Honors Program is justifiably one of the brightest jewels in the university's crown. I'm proud to be a small part of it.”

High Ambiitons
When President Theophilus welcomed our incoming students, he challenged every one of them – within and beyond the Honors Program -- to fulfill their individual potential. “[Y]ou have sufficient native ability,” he said.  “What you will have to prove is that you have motivation –- the kind of motivation which will make it possible for you … to develop an appreciation of individual responsibility, an ability to evaluate events, a sense of judgment in human affairs and an ability to enjoy the good things of life.”
“We should cultivate our souls as well as our minds,” he would say. And then in closing, he would add, “Don’t forget: Write the folks at home who love and cherish you and whose ambitions for you are so high.” 
As we enter our University’s 126th year, we still hear President Theophilus’ words of challenge and warmth -- and our ambitions for our students remain high.    

Go Vandals!

Don Burnett
Interim President

Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho
International Studies Director Discusses Abundance Of Politics At Olympics. While the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are focused on international sporting competition, the underlying political tensions between countries are playing themselves out. Anti-gay legislation and resulting protests and terrorism threats are already grabbing headlines. Director of the Martin Institute and the International Studies Program, Bill Smith, has been discussing with the media about the Olympics and its impact on the United States and the international community. “While the Olympics promote international sporting events that are not political, by their nature, they become political when you include so many nations in direct competition in front of a global television audience,” said Smith. “In addition to sport, the Olympics provides a whole multitude of avenues of cross cultural, cross-country interactions.” Read more.
UI Team Studies Narco-deforestation In Central America. A group of UI researchers found something unexpected during their work in Central America:  drug trafficking is leaving deep scars on sensitive landscape. The research team, including Erik Nielsen, a UI alumnus, and Spencer Plumb, a UI doctoral student, were focused on sustainable practices, geography and earth sciences when they noticed signs of “narco-deforestation.” In a Jan. 31 Science magazine entry, they noted drug traffickers are slashing forests, often within protected areas, to carve clandestine landing strips and roads, and to establish cattle ranches through which drug money can be laundered. Read more.

See more news and features.

Terry Armstrong -- A Vandal Pillar Of Giving Passes. Two weeks ago, Terry Armstrong ’64, ’69, a monumental legend in the College of Education, died peacefully following a short illness with cancer. He was professor emeritus and a long-time friend and inspiration to many generations of Idaho alumni, friends, and colleagues. Terry earned his master and doctoral degrees from the University of Idaho, at which time he began his 40-year career with the institution. Terry’s legacy will live on through the many people he inspired, his lifetime service to education and his now-famous Found Money Fund. Started with just three pennies the fund has grown to more than $333,000 thanks to the help of many Vandals. Terry and his wife Patricia have faithfully given to the university for 30 years, including the endowment of a scholarship in the College of Education. At the request of Terry and his family, memorials should be made to the Terry Armstrong Classroom for Science Education fund. This classroom will be dedicated to science teaching innovation and excellence after the upcoming College of Education Building renovation. For more information on honoring Terry through a gift to the College of Education, contact Tammey Boston at (208) 885-7476 or Gifts may also be mailed to the University of Idaho Foundation at 875 Perimeter Drive MS 3147, Moscow, ID 83844-3147.