As I depart in just over a week as president of the University of Idaho, I look back on a special four years. There is much that Ruthie and I will miss about this state. But in the end, what we will miss most are the people.
From our terrific Vandal alumni to the governor to so many in our Legislature, I have been fortunate to have known and become friends with many outstanding people across our great state, region and, indeed, the world. But it is the students and people working at the University of Idaho's statewide campuses and service locations - the faculty and staff - whom I will miss the most. As I depart the Moscow campus, I'd like to give Idaho's citizens a glimpse of the tremendous asset they have, and to urge our state leadership - my friends - to steward that investment wisely.
In my 35 years in higher education, I have found our University of Idaho faculty and staff as committed and as hard working as any. The faculty and staff are sincere, smart and highly productive - and they care deeply about the success of their students.
While these individuals may be known on campus as simply teachers who light up classrooms with enthusiasm and knowledge or staff members who go the extra mile, many are internationally known in their fields - and their expertise and hard work are reflected in the difference the University of Idaho makes every day for our citizens and our communities. They commit to this state because they appreciate all that it has to offer - its heritage, its beauty, its uniquely Western promise and independent spirit.
If I could give one final piece of advice to my friends in the state Legislature, it would be to invest in these people. I would hope that your highest priority next year is CEC - Change in Employee Compensation. CEC affects our teachers, police, firefighters, librarians and thousands of other Idahoans who work hard to make our state and our communities better. It is critical for a state like Idaho to invest in its people, in the expertise it has, and not let them slip away to other states that pay a bit more.
When one considers the University of Idaho's yield through that investment, the return is enormously visible. For example, farm receipts for dairy and crops in Idaho are at an all-time high - yet the number of dairy cows and the number of acres planted have remained relatively static. How is that possible? It is because University of Idaho faculty and staff - our people - have developed new strains of wheat and potatoes, for example, and new ways to feed and care for dairy cows; innovations that have increased efficiencies. This same story can be told in forestry, medicine, engineering, architecture, construction, range management, many entrepreneurial enterprises and countless others through our university research and alumni success.
As a woman said to me on an airplane the other day, "Everybody I meet from the University of Idaho is both really productive and really interesting." I couldn't agree more. And the students who graduate from the university continue to be catalysts for energizing our state's businesses and contributing to Idaho's economic development and quality of life.
Ruthie and I will miss Idaho. The places and spaces; the pioneering, can-do spirit; but most of all, the people. It is the people that make Idaho the special place it is today. They are the ones who will lead it into a very bright and promising future - those associated with our land grant university merit your investment.
M. Duane Nellis is the outgoing president of the University of Idaho.