In front of a standing-room-only crowd at the Stueckle Sky Center at Albertsons Stadium, a process that was more than a year in the making — and included a false start — finally reached its dramatic conclusion.
The result was a standing ovation and resounding applause from every corner of the room.
Marlene Tromp was named the seventh president of Boise State University on Tuesday afternoon, the Idaho State Board of Education announced at a special meeting. The vote by the board was unanimous.
Tromp, 52, formerly the provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is the first female president in the university’s history.
“It says something about the kind of ways in which the institution continues to be ready to trail blaze,” Tromp said. “They were willing to bring in a young woman president who had big ideas for the university to take its next step. And that feels exciting to me.”
Tromp will make $425,000 a year and will begin work on July 1, as the school finally has a successor to longtime leader Bob Kustra.
Kustra, who announced his retirement in November 2017, left Boise State at the end of the 2017-18 academic year, after being at the helm since 2003. The first presidential search began in February 2018 but ultimately was fruitless, as none of the five finalists was deemed “strong enough” by critics, per previous Statesman reporting. A new search began in September 2018.
Martin Schimpf has served as Boise State’s interim president since Kustra’s retirement.
In an email to the Statesman, Kustra called Tromp’s hire a “home run” for Boise State.
“Dr. Tromp brings significant leadership skills from her administrative and research experience at some of the finest universities in American higher education,” Kustra said. “She is eminently qualified to advance Boise State as one of the West’s most successful metropolitan research universities. I wish her the very best as she assumes the presidency of Boise State.”
When Tromp was announced by State Board of Education member Linda Clark, the cheering seemed akin to what one might hear when there is a game happening on the blue turf below. And such support meant the world to Tromp, a first-generation college graduate from Green River, Wyoming.
“It was really exciting to come in and hear all that excitement and enthusiasm, but I really felt like I connected with the community when I was here. And I think that was what drove that excitement,” Tromp said. “And I think people felt like the things that I had to bring were the things that Boise State needed, and I think they felt like I understood who they were.”
The other three finalists for the job were Susan E. Borrego, chancellor of University of Michigan-Flint; Andrew Marcus, professor of geography at Oregon; and Edward Seidel, vice president for economic development and innovation at University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield). Each was interviewed in March.
Clark praised Tromp’s career as both a lecturer and an administrator, referring to her as “a visionary” who “sees what can be.”
There wasn’t any single thing that made Tromp stand out above the crowd, Clark said; it was instead the culmination of an entire career that made her uniquely qualified.
“We were looking for a president who could take Boise State to the next level, whatever that is, and felt like she filled the bill on every count,” Clark said.
Tromp has a bachelor’s degree in English from Creighton University, a master’s degree in English from the University of Wyoming and a doctorate from the University of Florida.
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 that Boise State was one of the few schools with a chance to have the same sort of innovative impact as ASU.
During her speech at the presidential candidate’s forum in March, “innovation” was the buzzword Tromp kept hitting. That wasn’t by accident. Boise State is a school ready to go against the grain and try new things, which is not necessarily something all that common in higher education, she said.
“One of the things that Boise State is already known for, and that makes me really excited about coming here, is that fact that people really try to not fall into the trammels of what’s already been done,” Tromp said. “It’s the sort of place where people are open to rethinking how you would teach a class, how you would teach in a traditional field, how you are going to think about bringing fields together and marrying them so they can do something new.
“An institution that really is built on that way of thinking is an exciting place to come and work when you care about those.”