The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2016-03-25:
The Best Way to Stay Engaged

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March 25, 2016

Dear Friends,

Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. Access to libraries and the collection of scholars in one place with students were the foundation of universities in the Middle Ages, the early origins of our modern higher education system. Reading remains central to what we expect of students at the University of Idaho. It’s also central to the work of a president.

All freshmen and transfer students embark on a “Common Read,” (link) a book selection that promotes a community-wide intellectual experience around a topic of relevance. Last year I joined our students in reading “All the Light We Cannot See,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in World War II. It was a great thrill to join our university community in hosting the author, Boise’s own Anthony Doerr (link) , to give a presentation about the book.

Reading is an invaluable way to get information. I was told several years ago, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to lead.” If you’re not staying informed by reading widely, you might not be making the best possible decisions. So, aside from the inescapable world of email, what do I, as president, read?

Each day, of course, I scan the local news: the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, The Lewiston Tribune, the Idaho Statesman, The Spokesman-Review and more. The Argonaut, our student media outlet, is part of my steady diet, and I check the Idaho Business Review for a state business perspective. Our family shares a subscription to The New York Times, but most often, my expert “clipping service” of Mary Beth and our children send me articles. Facebook friends (link) also direct my attention to articles of interest, albeit at the cost of too much Facebook time.

I am a higher education junkie, so the Chronicle of Higher Education, University Business Magazine and Inside Higher Education electronic briefings are daily rituals and great entrées to timely reports on higher education policy and innovation. Higher education books are on the list: “Designing the New American University,” by Arizona State University President Michael Crow; “The Innovative University,” by Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring; and “Locus of Authority” by William Bowin and Eugene Tobin. Crow’s book, in particular, has influenced my thinking on the critical roles of public research universities in social mobility as well as in interdisciplinary research.

I don’t set as much time aside as I should for recreational reading, and my Kindle Reader reflects some eclectic interests, running from detective fiction to history – everything from John Grisham and Janet Evanovich to books like “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough. My occasional mention of the book “Warrior to Dreadnought” by David Brown has elicited some snarky comments about my tastes, but in my defense, 1865-1905 was a time of immense change in naval architecture, and the book highlights interesting engineering and change management issues. That’s reading, though – you nurture existing interests, cultivate new ones and share what you learn.

Writing this letter may give you some insight into my interests as president. It certainly increases my resolve to expand my reading. We’ll be announcing our 2016-2017 Common Read soon, and while I can’t give it away, I assure you that it looks like a very compelling book that will give us a lot to think about. I look forward to coming together as a community to read it, share our understandings, and engage with ideas that matter through reading.

Have you read any good books lately? Share them with me on Facebook. (link)

Go Vandals!

Chuck Staben


Enhancing Faculty Retention and Undergraduate Research

Carl ’68 and Kirby ’68 Dyess recently donated $262,000 to enhance the Dyess College of Science Endowment, providing additional funding for faculty fellowships, undergraduate research and strategic initiatives. "The additional gift will enhance the ability of the College of Science to further our two primary goals — to attract and retain excellent faculty and provide an opportunity for undergraduates to participate in research that has real-world applications,” said the Dyesses. “We believe that if students can see the relevance of their classroom and lab studies to life situations early in their academic careers, they will be better students and get a head start on planning their post-graduate activities, whether that is further education, working in industry, or both." Carl, an attorney and entrepreneur, and Kirby, the principal in Austin Capital Management, also donate their time on UI and corporate boards. For information on giving to the College of Science, contact Eric Bennett at (link) or 208-885-9106.

College of Law Leaps 16 Spots in Rankings

The University of Idaho College of Law climbed 16 spots (link) on the U.S. News & World Report rankings of best law schools in the nation, up to position 111. This significant rise is one of the highest in the country and puts the college ahead of other law schools in Eastern Washington, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota. The University of Idaho College of Law is the only ranked law school in the state. “While rankings can be one of many ways to evaluate the quality of a law school, this leap signifies how our reputation continues to grow in a positive direction,” said Mark L. Adams, dean of the College of Law. “Our faculty are experts in their fields yet they make themselves accessible to students. We provide an affordable and stellar education. And our career development center works diligently to help our students find jobs post-graduation.”

Idaho WWAMI Partner Best Nationwide for Primary Care

Through the Idaho WWAMI program, the University of Idaho partners with the University of Washington’s School of Medicine to educate aspiring physicians from Idaho. The UW School of Medicine was ranked No. 1 in the nation (link) for primary care education by in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 Best Medical School rankings. The school was also ranked No. 1 for family medicine and No. 1 for rural medicine. The state of Idaho recently ranked 49th among states in per capita physicians; a shortage that is particularly felt in rural areas. Through the Idaho WWAMI program, Idaho students access UW resources and expertise, spending some time in Seattle but completing most of their curriculum in Idaho. A rural and underserved track positions students to serve in rural communities upon completion of their training. The program includes established residency opportunities — an in-demand component of medical education, especially in Idaho. The WWAMI program was established in 1972, and is expanding this year to include 40 seats for Idaho students.
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