The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2014-02-14

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February 14, 20143

Dear Friends,

A great university – shall we say Idaho’s national land-grant, founding, comprehensive, constitutional, and (therefore) flagship university? – may have many physical campuses, but it always has a single symbolic address. It is located at the intersection of thought and action.
Every year the University of Idaho welcomes new faculty, students, and staff to this distinctive address. Through a rich array of speaker programs, we also welcome eminent visitors who can share experiences and perspectives drawn from lives filled with thought and action. They inspire us to work harder and reach higher.
Illustrations abound. This spring our Borah Symposium will feature General Richard Myers, whose abundant life has encompassed careers as an airman, businessman, philanthropist, and chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.  General Myers will join nationally known scholars, in a program titled “WWI and the Making of the Modern World: 1914-2014.” Named for Senator William E. Borah (the “Lion of Idaho”), the symposium over the years has attracted Nobel Laureates Oscar Arias, Lech Walesa, and Frederik de Klerk; Irish peace activist Betty Williams; and a host of other national and international figures including UI alumnus Philip Habib, one of the most distinguished diplomats in American history.
The Sherman J. Bellwood Memorial Lecture brings prominent jurists and national leaders to Idaho. Supported by the University’s largest speaker endowment, and named for an esteemed Idaho trial judge, the Bellwood series has featured U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, who helped the College of Law celebrate its centennial in 2009. 
The McClure Lectures on Science and Public Policy, aim to strengthen the relationship between science and public policy-making. Named for another distinguished UI alumnus, the late U.S. Senator James A. McClure, this lecture series has featured Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Douglas Brinkley, award-winning journalists Mark Trahant and Howard Berkes, and UI alumnus Dale Bosworth, then-chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

This week has provided another reminder of how the University of Idaho occupies the crossroads of thought and action. The University conferred the Ernest Hemingway/PEN award for excellence in a first work of fiction upon Kevin Powers, author of the critically acclaimed novel The Yellow Birds. Powers has spent the week in Moscow, participating in colloquia with English Department faculty and students. The award was made by the University of Idaho in collaboration with the Ernest Hemingway Foundation and Society.
The University’s close relationship with the foundation, established by Ernest’s widow, Mary Hemingway, reflects “Papa” Hemingway’s bond to Idaho. Literary historians tell us that “Papa” wrote portions of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Islands in the Stream, and The Garden of Eden, and worked extensively on The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast, during his visits to the Wood River Valley of Idaho. He ultimately spent his final his days in Ketchum, Idaho, where the “Hemingway House” still stands. The annual Hemingway Festival is hosted each year at Sun Valley by the University of Idaho. The Hemingway/PEN award and the Hemingway Festival are crystals in a chandelier of luminous events celebrating the arts in Idaho.
Jazz Festival
Another crystal will catch the light next week, when the University of Idaho hosts the renowned Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, winner of the National Medal of the Arts, bestowed by the President of the United States –- the first such medal ever bestowed upon a public university. The festival, now in its 47th year, will attract thousands of music students to Moscow, where they will enjoy a unique opportunity to participate in several days of workshops with a star-studded lineup of jazz artists. And then, each night, the stars will come out, performing in a special venue created within the Kibbie Dome. If you haven’t seen this magical event, you should come; and if you can’t come this year, put it on your “bucket list.”
Human Rights
Each January, our University joins with the Latah County Human Rights Task Force  in celebrating human rights week, and in co-sponsoring a Martin Luther King, Jr., Human Rights breakfast attended by hundreds of community members. Our speakers have included state and national civil rights leaders. This year I had the special pleasure of inviting Dr. Thomas L. (“Les”) Purce
, a fellow Idaho native and childhood friend, to speak about diversity, equality, and leadership on our Moscow campus and to address the breakfast gathering.
Combining energy with a positive attitude, and bringing out the best in people around him, Les demonstrated in his remarks the characteristics that enabled him to become Mayor of Pocatello (Idaho’s first elected black public official); to serve in leadership positions at Idaho administrative agencies, Idaho State University and Washington State University; and most recently, to enter his 14th year as President of Evergreen State College in Washington. At the end of his breakfast presentation, he pulled out a guitar and sang a ballad about a child who thought she could fly, even if those around her snickered. The final lines of the ballad, as I recall, were:
She never thought she couldn’t fly,
And, so, one day, she did.
The University of Idaho is a place where people learn to do more than is expected of them. Our founders intended this place to be special, and their intent has been carried forward in our legacy of esteemed visitors. One of our first luminary speakers, Theodore Roosevelt -– the embodiment of thought and action -- stood on a platform of Idaho wheat and told the assembled crowd. “I know that the university represents that which shall count in the state tomorrow, and that it makes possible the growth in the … years to come.”  Today, we are fulfilling his prophecy.
Go Vandals!  Fly!
Don Burnett
Interim President

Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho
Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival Kicks Off Wednesday. The internationally acclaimed Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival kicks off its 47th year Wednesday with performances by National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Benny Golson as well as Ken Peplowski, Grace Kelly with the All-Star Quartet featuring Josh Nelson, Shawn Conley, Bruce Forman and Kevin Kanner, and the Lionel Hampton School of Music Jazz Band. Events continue through Feb. 22. Tickets are still available for some events. Learn more.

University Among Peace Corps’ Top Volunteer-Producing Universities. The Peace Corps announced Tuesday that the University of Idaho was in the top 10 volunteer-producing colleges and universities in the United States. This year, the university ranked ninth among medium-sized schools, with 24 alumni currently volunteering worldwide. Others in this category include George Washington, Cornell, Georgetown and Tufts Universities.  Read more. 

See more news and features.

Erstad Provides Jobs Today, Scholarships For The Future. Andy Erstad, the founder and principal of erstadARCHITECTS, is committed to the success of College of Art and Architecture graduates. Erstad serves as an active member of the Dean’s Advisory Council and is an advocate of the college’s Boise-based Urban Design Center, an office-concept studio for graduate students. Erstad hires Idaho graduates for their understanding of professional practice, as well as their ability to inform practice with academic experience. “The College of Art and Architecture’s commitment to involving students in real-world projects with practicing firms at the UDC is unique,” said Erstad. “Ultimately, graduates are prepared for seamless transition into the profession, bringing with them the energy and knowledge found in a nationally accredited graduate program.” He has also created the Erstad Architects Scholarship Endowment, which partially supports one full-time Master of Architecture student annually. The scholarship is based on academic achievement, portfolio work and acceptance to the UDC. “Andy is a talented and successful member of the Boise community whose support and investment in the future of the college paves the way for professional opportunity throughout the Treasure Valley—and beyond,” said Mark Hoversten, dean of the College of Art and Architecture. For more information about giving to the College of Art and Architecture, contact Mark Hoversten at (208) 885-5423 or