Four years ago, Ruthie and I joined Idaho's land-grant research university. Since then, the University of Idaho has made tremendous progress despite facing numerous challenges and has seized opportunities for success that have positioned the university for an exciting future.
National economic collapse meant troubles here in 2009, but over the next three years, our university community worked together, wisely paring nearly $30 million or 25 percent of the university budget.
Despite these cuts, we were able preserve and keep our sharp focus on high-quality undergraduate education. We also stopped the shutdown of vital agricultural research centers, like Parma and Tetonia, by partnering with industry. Today, we count more than 200 such partnerships.
We used an entrepreneurial mindset to refocus the university budget to help us keep costs down, while placing the university on a more stable footing through good stewardship and growth in research grants, knowledge transfer and strategic enrollment. I am pleased the governor and Legislature have recognized our efforts through new investments over the last two years.
During my tenure, we also successfully led an effort to change the state constitution to allow tuition to be used for instructional purposes.
We've continued to build for the future too. Two years ago we created the Laboratory for Applied Sciences Research - a nonprofit corporation that benefits everyone through industry-university collaborations.
Additionally, a more diverse student body now enriches our campus community. The President's Diversity Council that I created has scored multiple successes throughout our campus by creating a more inclusive environment for our university community. This includes a student body of which nearly 30 percent are the first in their families to attend college. Yet the quality of our students remains high. For example, the university now ranks second in the Northwest region for total National Merit Scholars with 57 making us their college choice.
We've reclaimed our land-grant mission and extended our outreach to the state by creating the Office of Community Partnerships, which helps coordinate university talent and resources to benefit Idaho. Nationally, the Carnegie Foundation, the White House and others have recognized our efforts.
We've also been lauded as one of the most veteran-friendly U.S. campuses, thanks in part to Ruthie and Bonnie Amos - wife of U of I alum Gen. James Amos -who co-chair our Operation Education, a program that benefits disabled veterans.
The list continues. We've expanded our research and teaching mission through our participation in WWAMI medical education, created a third-year law program in Boise and landed initial funding for a U of I Rangeland Center.
Hard work also secured more than $80 million in public and private funds for facilities improvements across the university, including the purchase of the McCall Outdoor Science School and we're nearing completion of the largest capital campaign in Idaho history - $180 million of the $225 million goal.
Student safety also remains priority. We've been recognized nationally as one of the safest campuses nationwide. At the same time, we've implemented new initiatives that further enhance student safety in the aftermath of tragedies I will never forget. New efforts include a freshman "live-on" policy, the Katy Benoit Safety Forum and enhanced student counseling and alert systems. The two new task forces I appointed should offer further avenues for change with their recommendations on substance abuse prevention and the university's relationship with fraternities and sororities.
Ruthie and I will truly miss the University of Idaho and its wonderful students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends.
For more than 120 years, the university has been a bright jewel in the Gem State and it shines brighter every day.
Duane Nellis is president of the University of Idaho.