Boise State President Bob Kustra announces plans to retire

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Boise State University President Bob Kustra, who has seen the university though a period of strong growth and increasing prominence in Idaho, will retire after 15 years with the school.

Kustra, who joined BSU in 2003, announced the news Wednesday. The 74-year-old’s retirement is effective June 30, 2018.

With his announcement, he joins two other heads of public four-year colleges or universities in Idaho who plan to retire next year. Only the University of Idaho at this point would retain its current president into the 2018-19 school year.

“Serving as president of Boise State University has been the privilege of a lifetime,” Kustra wrote in a letter to the BSU community. “I will be forever grateful for being able to serve during this period of incredible growth and accomplishment for the university.”

He said he and his wife, Kathy, “will be Broncos for life.”

During his tenure at BSU, Kustra was at the forefront of a broad swath of initiatives and helped entwine the school with the city of Boise.

He was unavailable for interviews Wednesday — he and university leadership were in an all-day retreat, officials said. But many outside the university lauded his work. Boise Mayor David Bieter said Kustra’s role at the university “put Boise State on the path to greatness.”

“He’s accomplished much more than I could have ever anticipated in 2003,” Bieter said. “Bob has been president of Boise State since I was first elected, and it is difficult imagining someone else in that role. But his hard work leaves Boise State’s next president in a great position to take the university even higher.”

Kustra discusses his retirement with Boise State Public Radio’s Tom Michael:

Kustra oversaw the development of academic programs such as the School of Public Service and the College of Innovation and Design, among others. The university saw record first-year enrollment multiple times during his tenure.

He also was a key supporter of creating the College of Western Idaho, and helped get the community college on its feet. The fast-growing college is now the largest source of transfer students to Boise State, CWI President Bert Glandon said.

“Tell Bob Kustra he can’t retire,” Glandon said. “Bob has been amazing in cutting through the bureaucratic stuff that most universities struggle with ... And he really has done a great job of getting down to the core of the issues and saying what do we need to do [for] the community.”

Kustra led BSU’s first major capital campaign, raising more than $175 million by the time it ended in 2011. And he oversaw a building boom — the university Wednesday tallied $450 million in construction — that included facilities for environmental research, business, health sciences and BSU’s Honors College. Roughly $82.5 million was invested into major improvements to football facilities.

When Kustra arrived at BSU, fall enrollment was nearing 18,500 total students. As of October 2017, enrollment is at 24,154 students, nearly double the next closest four-year public university in the state (Idaho State, 12,643).

“Boise State has become the metropolitan research university of distinction we envisioned,” Kustra wrote, “but this is a journey not a destination, with many more exciting opportunities and challenges for Boise State.”

Kustra was part of the football team’s rise to national recognition in the wake of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, but he also presided over frayed sports ties with the University of Idaho. The two schools’ longtime football rivalry ended with a game in November 2010, a couple of months after Kustra complained to the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board about U of I’s “nasty, inebriated” culture and fans.

Most recently, Kustra took some criticism over BSU’s decision to drop its wrestling program in favor of starting up baseball — he called the latter a “pet project.”

Nevertheless, the leaps and bounds the school took in terms of its national profile under Kustra is undeniable.

“Dr. Kustra has been an advocate for Bronco Athletics since his arrival in 2003, and not just locally, but nationally. He invested a great deal into Bronco Athletics, understanding that our department was the front porch to the university, and that a successful athletic department would help raise its profile,” said Curt Apsey, Boise State athletic director. “Over the course of the last 15 years, that is exactly what has happened.”

A former Illinois lieutenant governor and state lawmaker, Kustra quickly appeared comfortable in Idaho politics — whether in meetings before the Idaho State Board of Education or dealings with Idaho’s governor and Legislature. He long argued for BSU to get more per-student funding, arguing his students essentially received less individual state support than those at other universities.

During his State of the University speech this August, he expressed disappointment with comments U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and others made about this summer’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Labrador responded by saying on talk radio that “maybe it’s time for (Kustra) to go.” Labrador’s office had no immediate comment Wednesday on Kustra’s retirement.

Linda Clark, president of the State Board of Education and former superintendent of the West Ada School District, noted Kustra’s accomplishments in a statement to the press. She highlighted the school’s improved enrollment and student retention rates, computer science and engineering offerings, state-of-the-art facilities and bolstered research funding.

“Dr. Kustra has left a lasting impression on BSU, and it is evident throughout campus,” Clark said.

Other reaction

Gov. Butch Otter said Idahoans owe Kustra “a debt of gratitude for his single-minded dedication to the university, his advocacy for students and his community involvement.”

“President Kustra has overseen remarkable change and growth at Boise State. His vision has transformed the school I attended as a junior college in the 1960s into a university whose programs, research and graduates are highly regarded across the country,” Otter said in a statement.

Idaho State University President Arthur C. Vailas was effusive Wednesday in his praise for Kustra. ISU opened the Idaho State University Meridian Health Science Center in 2009.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my colleague Bob Kustra and improving higher education in Idaho. He has a done a great job transforming Boise State University over the years,” Vailas said. “Idaho State University has and continues to enjoy collaboration with Boise State University.”

Boise State head coaches Bryan Harsin (football), Leon Rice (men’s basketball) and Gordy Presnell (women’s basketball) also shared their thoughts on Kustra.

“The leadership and guidance of Dr. Kustra will be felt by generations of students at Boise State. His vision for Boise State extended to and included athletics, and has played a significant role in the growth of our football program,” Harsin said. “As an alum, a former player and a coach, I will be forever grateful for what he has meant to Boise State, Boise State Athletics and Bronco football. I wish him the best in his retirement.”

“I’m so grateful for Dr. Kustra believing in me and bringing me to Boise State. What he has done for this university and community has been nothing short of amazing. His support and investment in athletics has been crucial in the growth of our program,” said Rice. “Although he will be missed, I wish him all the best and a happy retirement.”

“I enjoyed the opportunity to work with Dr. Kustra, whose leadership and vision have continued to shape Boise State’s bright future,” Presnell said. “His support for, and contributions to the growth of the athletic program, and the women’s basketball program, have set us on a strong path moving forward.”

Boise State President Bob Kustra explains how the concept for the World Museum, a virtual reality space inside BSU's forthcoming Center for Fine Arts building, came about.

Coming Sunday

Bob Kustra will leave a Boise State greatly grown in prominence, in students and in buildings. Plus, Idaho’s State Board of Education must now search for new presidents for three of its four-year colleges and universities.