New U of I president speaks out

He discusses college drinking, paying for school and being the 'flagship.'

broberts@idahostatesman.comNovember 27, 2013 

New UI President

Chuck Staben

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Chuck Staben, the provost at the University of South Dakota, will take over at the University of Idaho in March. He had a wide-ranging discussion with the Statesman on Tuesday on everything from the Vandals' football team to the pressures that students face.

What's the proper role for U of I in Boise, the state's capital city and largest metro area?

I know they have the law school and a research site (Idaho Water Center). It is probably those more specialized and niche programs that are appropriate, because they have a community college down there that is growing very rapidly and meeting basic education needs. And then you have Boise State, a big and growing university.

U of I has pushed to create a full three-year extension of its law school in Boise. What do you think about having the law school extended?

The Boise market is a pretty important market for the state of Idaho and for those students. Realistically, I think we know there are students who want to go to law school there and law firms that will want to ultimately recruit them there. I think that is a fairly realistic thing to have happen.

A couple of years ago, U of I staff, faculty, alumni and students kind of got miffed when the Idaho State Board of Education decided to take the word "flagship" out of the mission statement. There was a sense the school was being taken down a notch. Do you consider U of I the flagship university of the state?

I think flagship is a pretty charged word. I think that's not a word I really want to use. What I want to (say) is that we are the research university, we are the land grant university, we are a premiere university in Idaho.

The university community, boosters and fans across the state are not happy with the direction of the football program, which is suffering high-profile and sometimes embarrassing losses in games for the opportunity to pick up some revenue. What direction will you give?

Idaho is in a tough situation. Their football league sort of disintegrated and they became an independent. Independent is essentially an untenable position for a bowl subdivision team. There is a new coach. He's got great experience prior to coming to Idaho. I would hope he would be able to turn the program around.

Do you think the program ought to be going up against these vastly superior football franchises for the money it gets them? (The Vandals lost 80-14 at No. 2 Florida State on Nov. 23.)

I was a swimmer, but not a great one. ... I swam against a kid who swam in the '72 Olympics in the 200-yard freestyle and he beat me by 25 yards. You know what, I am still pretty pleased I was in the pool with an Olympian. There were two (Idaho) kids in the (Florida State game) who scored touchdowns. Those kids 20 years from now are probably going to say, 'I scored a touchdown against two guys that went to the NFL.' That is actually more positive than you are crediting the experience for those students. To play on a big stage is actually the dream of most athletes. There is more positive there, I think, than people in Idaho are probably crediting. We got a good guarantee (payment for playing) and that is helpful to the budget.

There is a growing feeling that Idaho universities are pricing themselves out of the market with tuition increases for residents in this low-wage state. What can you do about that?

Accessibility is kind of a problem nationwide. I haven't looked at ... our financial aid and net pricing for every student. That's a pretty complex calculation. I think it is important that state universities remain accessible to people of the state. I look forward to doing a little more awarding of financial aid beyond strictly merit, which is what we are limited to in South Dakota.

I often think price is not a big issue for a lot of people. ... If you know the payoff to you personally, professionally and probably monetarily is going to be sufficient, then you will invest. You will do what it takes.

In recent years, U of I has seen alcohol-related deaths and a murder-suicide. Were safety issues raised with you during your meeting with the State Board of Education? How do you intend to address those?

I was aware of some of those difficulties and they are, unfortunately, not unique to the University of Idaho. We discussed it a little bit. Clearly everybody expects a university is going to be a safe place. College drinking is really a difficult problem. A lot of students are starting to drink in high school pretty heavily. Student are literally coming to college with drinking problems.

We need to (support) students and make sure they get through challenges. And yet there are some behaviors that can't be tolerated at a college campus. ... Therefore there is a little bit of tough love and yet real love.

Let's talk about tough love.

Let's take a situation of a student who is clearly disengaged from a university, not attending classes, failing their classes and clearly has a drinking problem. This is not a positive person to have on campus, in my opinion, and probably needs to be not allowed to re-enroll or encouraged to leave.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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