John Keiser, credited with elevating and expanding Boise State University during his controversial 13-year presidency, died Tuesday. Service information has not been announced.
Keiser was known for pushing a wide and aggressive agenda at Boise State, including the potential for a new engineering school and the growth of the football program, his battles public battles with the State Board of Education and his 1991 dismissal.
He briefly ran for Boise mayor, before taking the job as president at what is now Missouri State University. He retired in 2005 and lived with his wife, Nancy, in Boise and Pine.
Despite his large public persona and political battles, he taught classes at Boise State, had one-on-one relationships with students and athletes and promoted the phrase, “It’s a privilege to be a Bronco.’’
Keiser’s mantra, said Larry Burke, who worked under him as director of communications: “There isn’t a great city without a great university.” That philosophy guided much of his actions, Burke said.
During his 1978-1991 tenure, Boise State built the Morrison Center, the basketball arena now known as Taco Bell Arena and the school of technology, the precursor to the College of Engineering. Burke also credited Keiser with laying the groundwork for Boise State’s first doctoral program.
Keiser was fired in 1991 by the State Board, in part, because of his battles with the board over the future of the Boise State football program. He wanted to move Boise State from the Big Sky Conference to the Big West Conference, which was a more-prominent football designation and the precursor of the Football Bowl Subdivision, where the Broncos play today.
In the summer of 1991, Keiser’s bid to join the Big West was shot down by the board, which told Keiser to drop the attempted move. The board fired Keiser that September, saying it had “lost confidence” in him because he did not keep the panel apprised of key decisions.
His ouster sparked campus and community rallies calling for his reinstatement.
On Oct. 13, 1994, three years and a month after Keiser was fired, Boise State accepted an invitation to join the Big West — with approval from the State Board.
When Keiser was inducted into Boise State’s Hall of Fame in 2007, the school cited other achievements: Building the Idaho Sports Medicine Institute and the Simplot Center for Athletic Excellence; restoring the BSU Marching Band; creating the Hemingway Western Studies Center and the Frank Church Chair of Public Affairs; affiliating KBSU with National Public Radio; and constructing the Simplot-Micron Technology Center.
Bowman Funeral Home of Garden City is in care of arrangements.