Our View: Staben provides University of Idaho with a good fit

November 20, 2013 

There are a lot of reasons we like the choice of Chuck Staben as the 18th University of Idaho president, but chief among them is the fact that he told students and faculty during an October visit that, if chosen, he would consider this a great fit and the final fit of his career.

This is encouraging because the turnover at Idaho’s land grant school has been as dizzying as the pace at which a new president will have to commit to categorically elevate an institution that suffers from areas of underachievement.

We especially like what Staben, provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of South Dakota, told the U of I Argonaut during his visit last month: that the school needs “more students, more graduates, more research and greater engagement.”

And you can add to that the especially vexing goal of more funding to pay for all of the above.

As Idaho attempts to deal with the challenges of public school funding, a growing prison population and an expanding demand for medical support services, higher education faces difficulty climbing into the top tier of state priorities. Fortunately, Staben had experience dealing with issues related to declining funding in South Dakota. That and other skills will be put to quick work in Idaho.

College enrollments are declining in spite of the Idaho Board of Education’s efforts to increase the number of high school graduates going on to some sort of postsecondary education. Staben will be in a position to join with Idaho’s other college and university presidents in their efforts to collaboratively deal with these various challenges.

We think his background is a mutually good fit for him and U of I. He has a Ph.D in biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and has served as vice president for research as well as chair of the biology department at the University of Kentucky.

One of the University of Idaho’s many strengths is its research program, and one of its strongest research and academic area is in the biologic sciences. By bringing in new ideas based on his experiences at other universities, U of I should be able to grow in that important area.

The University of South Dakota has both a law school and a medical school. Donald Burnett, interim U of I president, has done a splendid job of guiding the university since the departure of M. Duane Nellis, who left for Texas Tech. Burnett, dean of the College of Law, led the university’s efforts to expand its legal education program in Boise. It will be good to have a new president who will be familiar with legal education to continue those fine efforts by Burnett.

Staben is also in a position, with his work with the USD medical school, to continue the expansion of the University of Idaho/University of Washington WWAMI Medical Education Program so that it does an even better job of meeting Idaho’s growing demand for doctors.

We hope Staben’s inclination to stay the course and make U of I the final and most triumphant stop of his career comes true and bears the fruit his past posts have.

Though Idahoans can take great pride in the fact that former University of Idaho presidents now preside over the entire California State University system and Texas Tech University, the university deserves some stability in its presidency as it works to meet all of the challenges of a 21st century land grant university.

We offer our best wishes and echo the support we know Staben will discover among Idahoans.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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