The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2014-12-10

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January 10, 2014

Dear Friends,

I hope this first “Friday Letter” of 2014 finds you enjoying a happy new year. At the University of Idaho, this new year will bring a celebration of our 125th anniversary as Idaho’s founding, land-grant, comprehensive institution.  It will also bring –- as every year does -– a reminder of a perennial challenge:  pursuing excellence with constrained public resources. In 1954, one of the University of Idaho’s finest presidents, Dr. Donald R. Theophilus, wrote to the faculty:

This afternoon I leave for Boise for a review of our budget needs…. Our requests are based on a level of expenditure that will assure appropriate standards and quality of instruction and research controlled by judicious management. The anticipated operations are, we believe, within the means provided by the wealth and income of Idaho to support. Our job in making an adequate and convincing presentation to the Legislature of the University’s needs will be materially supported and aided by a high level of job performance on your part [the faculty].
Six decades later, the “job performance” of our faculty has made the University worthy of its flagship heritage, of continued public confidence, and of elevated public investment. I am pleased to report that Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has made education the principal theme of his 2014 State of the State address, and he has released budget recommendations to the Legislature that would underwrite substantial improvements in support for education at all levels in Fiscal Year 2015.
With respect to post-secondary education, the Governor has emphasized the synergy between education and economic development, recommending investments in higher education and professional-technical programs that are “measured, manageable and within our means.” His recommendations include:
  • Additional funding for high-demand academic programs at each of Idaho’s four-year colleges and universities, in support of the State Board’s “Complete College Idaho” initiative. This would bring approximately $1.05 million to the University of Idaho for more instructional capacity.
  • An increase of $1.5 million for our university’s Agricultural Research and Extension Service, which has contributed significantly to the success of Idaho agriculture. Idaho’s agricultural earnings have doubled in value over the past 15 years, making agriculture as the largest single sector of the state’s economy. Farm revenues have increased for three successive years, enabling Idaho to become the third largest agriculture state in the West, following California and nearly equaling Washington.
  • Increasing by $1 million the State of Idaho’s investment in the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls. This center –- a collaborative undertaking of faculty at the University of Idaho, Idaho State University, and Boise State University, in cooperation with the Idaho National Laboratory -– has produced breakthrough, high-tech research with a high multiplier effect upon economic development.
  • Adding $400,000 to our legal education program in Boise, giving students an opportunity to take second-year courses along with the existing third-year curriculum in the state capital. This curricular enhancement, authorized by the State Board, would enable students in our Juris Doctor program (which entails three years of graduate-level study), to pursue upper-level specialties in Moscow and Boise based on the comparative advantages each location offers. In Moscow, these advantages include natural resources and environmental law, Native American and tribal law, and dispute resolution.  In Boise the advantages include business law, economic development, and certain forms of regulatory law. The overall program design embodies a “Moscow plus Boise” approach, utilizing complementary locations that maximize student opportunities and fulfill our university’s statewide mission.
  • Increasing by approximately $1.1 million the funding available for the employer’s share of the rising costs of health insurance provided to University of Idaho faculty and staff.
  • Investing approximately $252,000 in the second cohort of students filling last year’s five-seat enrollment expansion in our WWAMI (Washington-Wyoming-Alaska-Montana-Idaho) medical education program. This program enables Doctor of Medicine (MD) students to begin their studies in Idaho, take advanced classes at the acclaimed University of Washington Medical School, and participate in clinical experiences throughout the WWAMI area. Students receive a lower-cost medical education and graduate with less debt than they would incur in conventional medical education programs, thereby making it feasible for them to devote their careers to lower-paying specialties and under-served communities.
  • Providing approximately $2.4 million as an inflationary adjustment to funding for scientific equipment, information technology, media devices, etc., at the University of Idaho. This is the first time in recent years that such an adjustment has been recommended.
  • Setting aside $29 million in the Public Education Stabilization Fund, and $7 million in a recently created Higher Education Stabilization Fund. This would improve higher education planning and administration by minimizing the need for disruptive holdbacks during budget periods if and when state revenues fall short of projections.
The university is grateful for the Governor’s recommendations. Needless to say, we did not receive everything we requested. The recommendations do not include a requested additional five-seat expansion of the WWAMI program, support for certain wildlife and geological survey faculty, or –- most notably –- a general salary adjustment (known in budget parlance as CEC, or change in employee compensation) for faculty and staff as well as other state employees. The Legislature has convened a previously dormant CEC committee, however, and it appears that the Legislature may consider some kind of independent CEC action.

President Theophilus concluded his 1954 missive to the faculty on an aspirational note that resonates today: “May I … express the hope that our united efforts combined with a faith in the future will make possible the achievement of the tremendous possibilities of the University of Idaho.”

Go Vandals!
Don Burnett
Interim President

Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho\

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Decrease On UI Campus. As the uncertainty regarding future climate change looms overhead, the university is doing its part to curb greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, emissions during 2011 on the UI campus decreased 12.5 percent compared to 2005.  The university conducts an annual GHG inventory in accordance with the requirements of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment – a Carnegie initiative in which most U.S.-based colleges and universities participate. The UI signaled its commitment to climate neutrality by signing the Talloires Declaration in 2005. The UI joined the Chicago Climate Exchange and ACUPCC in 2007. The Talloires Declaration and ACUPCC both call for the higher education community to provide leadership in addressing climate change. Read more.
Prof Works with International Team To Study Plants Adaptation To Cold. A team of plant researchers including University of Idaho biologist David Tank has assembled the largest dated evolutionary tree, using it to show the order in which flowering plants evolved specific strategies, such as the seasonal shedding of leaves, to move into areas with cold winters. The results will be published Dec. 22 in the journal Nature. Early flowering plants are thought to have been woody — maintaining a prominent stem above ground across years and changing weather conditions, such as maple trees — and restricted to warm, wet tropical environments. But they have since put down roots in chillier climates, dominating large swaths of the globe where freezing occurs. How they managed this expansion has long vexed researchers searching for plants’ equivalent to the winter parka. Read more.

See more news and features.

Donors Leave A Legacy Of Help For International Studies Students. Thanks to the foresight of the late Victor H. Skiles ’40 and his wife, Ruth Nay Skiles, the University of Idaho Martin Institute continues to help students seeking Foreign Service careers. After graduation, Skiles worked for several federal government agencies, but much of his career was spent in the U.S. Agency for International Development where he led U.S. assistance efforts worldwide, including Israel, Africa and South Asia. In 1973, he was appointed as the USAID Representative to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. He retired in 1978. In 2006, Victor and Ruth established the Skiles Endowment for International Affairs to provide scholarships for students in the International Studies Program. Because of the impact international experience had on the Skiles, a preference is given to students studying abroad and those seeking to enter the Foreign Service. While Victor passed away in 2011, Ruth continues to support the couple’s scholarship. In 2013, Ruth notified the university that she had provided for a gift to the Skiles Endowment in her estate plans, and in December, she made a generous gift to the scholarship for immediate use. For information about establishing your legacy at the University of Idaho, contact Sharon Morgan at (208) 885-5760 or