UPDATE (March 11): Four finalists for the Boise State University president position will interview with the State Board of Education on Wednesday, the board announced Monday. Darren Dawson of Kansas State University withdrew from consideration, according to the State Board press release. The board intends to name a new president by April.
The remaining finalists are Susan E Borrego, chancellor of University of Michigan-Flint; Andrew Marcus, professor of geography at Oregon; Edward Seidel, vice president for economic development and innovation at University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield); and Marlene Tromp, provost and executive vice chancellor at University of California, Santa Cruz.
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The five finalists in the search for Boise State’s new president were on campus this week one day after another, and in public forums each one was sure to hit on some of the touchstone topics: growth, innovation, athletics, research, enrollment and fundraising.
The candidates — three men and two women, none of them a minority — come from a diverse set of backgrounds and from all over the country, but all of them praised the potential of a university that has gone from an enrollment of around 13,000 to 24,000-plus in 20 years; seen its athletic programs gain national exposure with plenty of success; and seen state-of-the-art buildings erected to further academic options.
Boise State is still looking to replace former president Bob Kustra, who retired last June, the end of the 2017-18 academic year, after being at the helm since 2003. The first presidential search ultimately proved fruitless, as none of the five finalists was deemed “strong enough” by critics, per previous Statesman reporting, and so the process started anew.
Martin Schimpf has served as Boise State’s interim president since Kustra’s departure, and now the focus is on the second round of finalists.
Below is a look at each candidate and what they discussed while meeting with the public at the Boise State Alumni and Friends Center:
Susan E Borrego: chancellor of University of Michigan-Flint
Borrego is a Detroit native who first came to Idaho in the 1970s and attended Northwest Nazarene University. She has helped to build the University of Michigan-Flint into a brand that is separate from the university’s Ann Arbor campus, and would be arriving at a university that has been all about growth the past 15 years.
- Under her leadership, U of M-Flint added 65,000 square feet to its science facilities and added a School of Nursing.
- She helped the university raise $57 million and create “academic partnerships” in Spain.
Borrego said she didn’t apply for the BSU president’s job when it first came open in 2017, as she said she did not want to abandon Flint during the peak of that city’s well-chronicled water crisis.
“I thought it was chumpish to apply (back then),” Borrego said.
Borrego “threw her hat in the ring” this time for a number of reasons, she said. Among them was the chance to be part of a university with a Division I athletics program, as Michigan-Flint plays in the NCAA’s Division II.
“There are multiple front doors to a university … I just have always been somebody who believes athletics are part of the university,” she said. “I know when athletics are running well, they create oxygen. And when they aren’t, they suck up oxygen.”
Borrego also advocated for increased financial aid for students, particularly as tuition rises. She also stressed the importance of continuing to build Boise State’s brand — and, in doing so, figuring out what percentage of the student body should come from outside of Idaho.
Borrego also advocated for increased campus diversity training.
“(We need to be worried about) creating a culture that allows everyone’s best … that allows them to make their best opportunity,” Borrego said.
Darren Dawson: dean of College of Engineering at Kansas State University
Dawson believes that the most important attribute for a university president is “financial acumen.” As such, he laid out a few ways the school could raise its financial profile, including taking advantage of a well-known athletic department to recruit out-of-state students, who would pay a higher tuition.
Currently, 27 percent of Boise State’s student body is from outside Idaho.
As dean of Kansas State’s engineering school, Dawson has helped the college raise $150 million, he said.
“Division I football … is really the window or the door to the university. What that means is, you can use DI football to build national reputation,” Dawson said. “You have to figure out a way to pay the bills. And one of the ways you can do it is to recruit out of state. That’s one of the ways to make the formula work.”
Boise State, which currently has an endowment of about $100 million, needs to be closer to $400 or $500 million due to its size, he said.
Dawson, who worked at Clemson University prior to his tenure at Kansas State, manages 160 faculty and more than 4,000 total students as the dean of KSU’s engineering school. The school has hired 50 faculty in five years, he said, and added a 100,000-square-foot building to its campus. The school also increased its Ph.D. candidates from 164 to 233, and his faculty has doubled its number of research papers, Dawson said.
As an engineer, Dawson puts a high emphasis on research. Boise State’s desire to continue increasing its research portfolio is a selling point, he said.
“I capitalize research. I’m interested in research,” Dawson said.
There were a few other reasons Dawson said he is interested in the presidential job at Boise State:
- Increasing enrollment
- Boise State’s innovation (ranked No. 45 by U.S. News and World Report)
- The university being “student-centered”
- Division I athletics
Dawson summarized his academic philosophy as being centered on integrity, open communication, scholarship, innovation and mutual respect. He pointed out the computer science program as one that could be a game-changer going forward.
Dawson also mentioned that it’s important to inform the state Legislature of scientific matters so they can make informed decisions.
“Educating your state Legislature is of paramount importance, because you are funded by (by the state),” he said.
Andrew Marcus: professor of geography at Oregon
Marcus teaches at Oregon after nearly five years as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Marcus was initially set to be the interim dean for four months, he said, but stayed in the position from 2013-18. He left the post due to differences with the university’s president, he said.
- As dean of Arts and Sciences, he oversaw an operating budget of more that $150 million and 750 total faculty.
- He has worked at Oregon for 15 years in various roles, including senate president, department head and dean.
Marcus, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a self-proclaimed sports fanatic and believes that the advancement of sports only helps a university.
“I believe in athletics as part of what a university really brings to a community,” he said.
Marcus said he also believes strongly in development and in building relationships to advance the university’s goals. One of his goals would be to meet with every legislator in each district of the state, he said.
Marcus sees Boise State as one of the few universities in the nation prepared to embrace the new digital age of education, due to its “flexibility and agility.”
“This place is poised to be in this transformational moment,” Marcus said. “This place is about to go for a moonshot. And I want to be on that rocket crew.”
Edward Seidel: vice president for economic development and innovation at University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield)
Seidel’s mantra is one of community building. Specifically, he believes that relationships with key benefactors in Boise would lead to “economic well-being.”
“You have the need for partnerships, and you have the need to attract them. You already have relationships with Micron and Albertsons,” Seidel said. “(You have to) grow Boise State directly with the community.”
At the University of Illinois system, Seidel has:
- Been responsible for working “closely with the president of the university ... university chancellors and leadership, government officials, business leaders and universities across the state to engage potential public and private partnerships to strengthen the links between higher education, research and business and stimulate economic development across the state.”
- Helped oversee the three campuses’ more than 85,000 students (Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is ranked No. 46 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.)
Seidel previously worked at Louisiana State University under now-NCAA president Mark Emmert, who was then the LSU chancellor. Seidel also worked at the National Science Foundation. Seidel said he later helped start a university in Russia in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of his main projects there was persuading companies to “buy in” to a school that didn’t even have faculty yet.
As far as fundraising is concerned, Seidel once again placed an emphasis on building relationships, particularly with companies that do not currently have a footprint in Boise.
“A lot of my efforts would be with private donors or corporate partners,” Seidel said. “It should be possible to attract companies far from here … who doesn’t want to live here? They just have to know about it.”
Seidel stressed the importance of creating relationships with other universities in the region as a way of growing, and said that a university’s athletic programs are a great way to “advance the entire university and community.”
“The community is engaged and participates and comes to the events ... it’s an entrée for a deeper integration between the university and community,” he said. “Building a strong sports program has many, many benefits.”
Marlene Tromp: provost and executive vice chancellor at University of California, Santa Cruz
Innovation is the key word for Tromp when relaying her message.
Prior to joining UC Santa Cruz, Tromp worked under President Michael Crow at Arizona State University, which has been named the most innovative university in the country the past four years, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Upon learning of the opening at Boise State, Tromp said she got in contact with Crow. He told her Boise State is one of the few schools that has a chance to have the same sort of innovative impact as ASU.
“That ‘can do’ spirit, that hunger to do something new … you see that everywhere you go on this campus,” Tromp said. “With that kind of energy and that kind of openness to growth, I think it’s possible for Boise State to go to some exciting places.”
Tromp said there are two necessary questions to ask when ensuring a university’s success: How can specific groups on campus thrive, and how can the school achieve its greatest excellence?
“Those questions are surprisingly intertwined, because when people are thriving, they are doing their best work,” Tromp said.
Under Tromp, UC Santa Cruz:
- Has an operating budget of more than $700 million.
- Was ranked No. 70 in 2019 by U.S. News and World Report.
Tromp mentioned several innovative ways to help students, particularly those with monetary restrictions. UC Santa Cruz features an on-campus organic garden, where the produce goes to needy students. The school also has a free cafe for students.
“If we only educate privileged students, this country will not succeed,” Tromp said.
Tromp addressed athletics as well. Boise State is the rare school where “values of the athletics programs here match the values of the university” and mirror the school’s desire to push the envelope, she said.
As far as research is concerned, Tromp said it is important for faculty to “take intellectual risks to try new things”; staff at UC Santa Cruz are also offered internships so they can learn more about other departments.
Such innovation is important with fundraising, too. Rather than just going after boosters and alumni, the school needs to reach out to “people who believe in your mission.”