The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2014-02-21

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February 21, 2014

Dear Friends,
In 1950, University of Idaho President Jesse Buchanan told students in an open letter, “Attending the University is important to both you and your country. The strength of our nation is based upon a continuing production of well-trained young men and women –- well-trained in all fields of knowledge vital to progress….” 
A university underwrites our country’s progress when it provides educational rigor –- that is, when it simultaneously challenges students and enables them to post records of achievement worthy of national recognition. One of our most notable alumni, the late U.S. Senator James McClure ’50, discovered first-hand the meaning of academic rigor at the University of Idaho. “I managed to be a good student in high school,” he later told a biographer (W. Smallwood, McClure of Idaho, 2007), “but I never really learned how to study.” He eventually surmounted that challenge, yet the University demanded more. In one semester he posted A’s in all of his courses with a single exception where a professor gave him a B -- not because his work had fallen short of A quality, because the professor believed he had the ability to do even better.   
National Scholars

Senator McClure’s formative experience was what we might call “tough love” today. The teacher-scholars on the University of Idaho faculty genuinely want our students to excel, and the results are heartening. We produce a remarkable number of national scholars, especially those in the Goldwater, Udall, Fulbright, and Boren programs. Last year, for example, our University produced two of the prestigious Goldwater Scholars selected from a nationwide field of mathematics, science, and engineering students. We had one of only 50 Udall scholars chosen from a field of 488 finalists in the environmental track -– the most heavily contested of the Udall programmatic tracks. Within the past two years our University also has produced a Fulbright Scholar in both the student and faculty categories. 
Our Boren Scholar roster is even more replete with recent Vandals. This program, administered by the U.S. State Department, provides a small number of full-ride scholarships each year for American undergraduates to live and learn in areas of the world critical to interests of the United States. Recently, we have had UI Boren Scholars in China, Bangladesh, and Azerbaijan.

High Performers

In other categories of distinction, our College of Agriculture & Life Sciences has produced a winner of the National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Mathematical Biology. Students at the College of Business & Economics have placed 5th out of more than 1,600 competitors in the nationally recognized Business Plan Competition conducted at Rice University.  Members of the University of Idaho Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers swept the first three places in the Technical Research Exhibition held last fall in Los Angeles. Students in our interdisciplinary Martin Institute have won the top research award in the National Model United Nations Conference in 10 of the past 11 years. A student in our theatre arts program recently was selected as a national finalist for playwriting awards bestowed through the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and another student’s work was selected for inclusion in the National Festival. During this academic year, a UI Army ROTC cadet earned recognition as the second-highest rated cadet nationwide, chosen from a field of 5,478 students.
Licensure Exam Leaders

Further evidence of student achievement is revealed by the results of national licensure examinations. Graduates of the College of Law have a higher first-time pass rate on the Idaho Bar Exam -– a standard, uniform national examination –- than the average pass rate for first-time takers from other law schools. UI graduates had a first-time pass rate of 87% versus 81% for non-UI first-time takers on the summer 2012 uniform exam. In the summer of 2013, UI graduates again outscored non-UI takers with a first-time pass rate of 83% compared to 80% for first-time takers from other law schools. 
Last year graduates of our College of Art & Architecture posted an overall pass of 76% on the national architecture licensure exam, comparing favorably with such universities as Harvard (74%) and UCLA (70%). Especially impressive has been the success of our engineering students. Among those who have taken the national Fundamentals of Engineering Examination, the average pass rate in recent years has been 93% compared to a national average of 81%.
Want more evidence?  I’m just getting warmed up!  It is not possible, however, to present a full compendium of student achievements within the space limitations of a single “Friday Letter.” The accomplishments mentioned above are simply illustrations of the excellence of students who embrace rigor and strive mightily. We are proud of all such students. They give us confidence in our university’s enduring reputation, and in the strength of our beloved country.   

Go Vandals!
Don Burnett
Interim President

Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho
Library Releases ‘Blindfold Test’ Collection For Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. As part of this year’s Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, the University of Idaho has released the Leonard Feather Blindfold Tests Collection a new collection of recorded interviews with jazz greats such as Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie conducted by the British born jazz journalist and Bebop enthusiast Leonard Feather. They form a small, but important, part of the library’s International Jazz Collections, the premiere archive of historical jazz materials in the Northwest. The new collection focuses on a particular style of interview Feather utilized called a Blindfold Test. In a Blindfold Test, a subject is asked to listen to a piece of music by another artist. The subject is then asked to express their thoughts on the style and quality of the performance. In Feather’s interviews, the subject often asserted the performer must be of a particular gender or race, only to find that prediction to be incorrect. Consequently, these interviews helped to breakdown preconceived notions of music, race and gender in the jazz world. Read more.
Eight Awarded Sustainability And Community Outreach Grants. The Sustainability Center and the Office of Community Partnerships have awarded grants totaling more than $13,900 to five students and three faculty for the 2013-2014 academic year. The center’s student-led grant program facilitates student engagement in building campus sustainability by awarding up to $9,000 each year to student-led grants. These grants support initiative work in areas such as sustainable transportation, carbon neutrality and climate change. Prior grants have a funded UI transportation survey, climate change seminar series and sub-irrigation system for the UI Pitkin Nursery. Read more.

See More News and Features.

Hot Jazz, Bright Futures Come Here Thanks To Carl Berry. The tradition of jazz has long been about giving, including giving players the chance to learn, grow and excel through education and mentoring. These same opportunities are what Carl G. Berry ’62, CEO of Star Resort Group and University of Idaho Foundation Board member, likes to see brought to the table at the University of Idaho. “It’s important that we take advantage of the opportunity of having more than 4,000 young students on our campus during jazz festival,” said Berry. “We’ve got a great value here at the University of Idaho, and we want them to see that. They’re not all going to become jazz musicians, but their experience here can certainly influence their choice of college.” As former chairman of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival advisory board, Berry oversaw the development of the current inter-departmental workshop offerings, as well as the hiring of the current festival executive director. For nearly 40 years he and his wife, Linden, have financially supported numerous areas of the University including the jazz festival and the Linden and Carl Berry Excellence Scholarship Endowment. For more information on giving to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, contact Steven Remington at (208) 885-0112 or