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Boise State presidential candidates visit the campus. On April 26 it was Jack Thomas.

The candidates to replace Boise State University President Bob Kustra, clockwise from left: James Lentini, Jack Thomas,  Daniel Weeks, Kevin Reynolds and Robbyn Wacker.
The candidates to replace Boise State University President Bob Kustra, clockwise from left: James Lentini, Jack Thomas, Daniel Weeks, Kevin Reynolds and Robbyn Wacker. Provided by the Idaho State Board of Education

Each of the five candidates to replace retiring Boise State University President Bob Kustra is visiting the campus between April 23-30. This file will be updated as each meets with faculty, staff, students and boosters.

Jack Thomas, one of the five finalists for the Boise State president’s position, visited BSU campus on April 26. The president of Western Illinois University, he says he can take BSU from good to great.

Jack Thomas, April 26

One of two sitting university presidents on the finalist list, Jack Thomas visited the campus in his bid to replace retiring Boise State President Bob Kustra.

"It's very different being a president and knowing what the job is, and thinking you want to be a president," he told a group of BSU boosters and foundation members on Thursday. "Boise State is a good university. If you hire me, we'll make it a great university."

Thomas, 57, is the president of Western Illinois University in Macomb. He also oversees its urban campus in Quad Cities/Moline, a campus that he helped create while he was provost. He's served on the Illinois State Board of Education and represented a group of 12 higher learning institutions during Illinois' financial crisis, which has severely cut the state's funding of public colleges and universities.

WIU is a smaller school than BSU, with 10,000 students (BSU has more than 22,000).

Originally from Alabama, Thomas was the first in his family to attend college, eventually earning his Ph.D. in literature and criticism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He wrote a book called “Within These Gates: Academic Work, Academic Leadership, University Life and the Presidency” about his career trajectory, and also about giving advice to people who want to be a president.

"As a first-generation college graduate, I value education. More specifically ... public education.," he said. "If it had not been for a public institution that offered me access, opportunities and making sure that institution was affordable, I would not be standing here."

His first focus would be to strengthen BSU's academic offerings and focus on developing "signature" degree programs, he said.

"Students come to the university mainly for academic programs," Thomas said. "We want to carve a niche with what we consider our signature programs. An institution cannot be everything to everybody, but it can carve its own niche in the academic world through partnerships with business and industry."

He pointed to BSU's existing partnerships that created the College of Innovation and Design.

He spoke with a cool, confident demeanor about his achievements, such as creating WIU's engineering major through a partnership with Deere and Co. (John Deere) when he was provost. Today that program has a 100 percent placement rate for its graduates. Deere and Co. also donated the land in Moline to build WIU's second campus.

He also said he would put a focus on building BSU's already strong athletic department, saying that if he got the job, he would want BSU's move to a larger conference, such as the Pac-12, to be part of his legacy.

Thomas defies the demographics of your typical college president — only 17 percent are minorities and the majority are older than 60.

Robbyn Wacker, April 24

Robbyn Wacker, 61, visited Boise State University on Tuesday. She is the senior campaign adviser for development and alumni relations at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

She addressed the group of boosters and community members with an open, calm and confident demeanor, eschewing the microphone and talking to people directly.

"My style is about engaging the campus community in making these decisions about how we move forward together into the next chapter of Boise State's history," she said. "When people are engaged in and have voices and a stake in what the future is going to look like, we're better off for it."

Wacker brings a big-picture perspective of university life to bear in her bid to fill the retiring Bob Kustra's position because of the depth of her administrative experience, which has put her in direct contact with students and the community, she said.

At Northern Colorado she worked her way up through the ranks from faculty to assistant dean and then dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences; as assistant vice president in charge of extended studies, research and graduate studies; and finally to provost and her current position of seeking funding from alumni.

Robbyn Wacker, of Northern Colorado University, is a finalist for the Boise State University president's position.

"I've been pretty busy," she quipped. "But that's important. I've learned all the different parts of the university and how they work together. As a president, you have to understand the whole — the systemic thinking needed to understand how to effectively work with all these divisions. It's a great way to identify how we can work together, how the systems can work together better in the service of students. Although I have not been involved in parking."

That brought laughter because parking is becoming an issue at BSU as the student population grows and the space remains finite. She also outlined the other challenges the university faces.

"After the amazing leadership Bob has provided this institution, what's next?" she asked. "There are issues around diversity and inclusion that need to be addressed ... that's one of the things the campus is ready to tackle. It's important to continue and build on the relationships Bob established. We're not going to miss a beat."

She also addressed an article in the Greeley Tribune about a leaked memo she wrote explaining to her colleagues that she had been forced by the school president to resign the UNC provost position.

"When it became known to the president that I was interested in pursuing presidential positions, she moved me into the development role," she said. "I've enjoyed that role and learning more about the art and science of philanthropy and development. I understand now the stewardship, the data, and the time it takes to work with donors. I feel better prepared and I am grateful to have had that opportunity."

Kevin Reynolds, April 23

Kevin Reynolds, the first candidate for the Boise State's President's position visited the campus on April 23. Here's a bit of what he had to say.

Kevin Reynolds, 55, is a native of Oxford, England, and the vice president for finance and administration at Portland State University, where he has been for 13 years. He also is a chemistry professor with ongoing research projects. Well over 6 feet tall, Reynolds has a calm and suave British accent.

He described his leadership style as nimble with the ability to strike a balance between building consensus when needed and making bold executive decisions. He pointed to his role in 2015 in establishing a campus-based armed police force at Portland State. It was a controversial proposal by him and his administration team in an attempt to address security issues at one of the region's most diverse campuses, rather than relying on the overtaxed Portland Police Department.

It's been deemed a success, with a security force that's sensitive and responsive to the student population.

Reynolds said he would address issues of rising tuition, growing student debt, and the "achievement gap" between mainstream students and others. He also would build on BSU's high retention and graduation rates that buck the national downward trend.

Reynolds said he would look for ways to inspire collaboration within the university, with city and state leaders, and with local corporations and other universities.

Kevin Reynolds, the first candidate for the Boise State's President's position visited the campus on April 23. Here's a bit of what he had to say.

A scientist, Reynolds said it’s important to explore how technology can keep administration costs low and to use data to ensure limited resources are used to achieve the university's mission.

“A president should advance the mission by leading with respect and humility,” Reynolds told a group of BSU boosters and foundation members Monday night. “While the president is ultimately responsible for the success of the institution, in setting direction and tone it is the faculty and the staff that are incredibly important.”

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