Guest Opinions

Bob Kustra helped transform a university, a community and a state

Boise State President Bob Kustra at the dedication of Dona Larsen Park in 2012.
Boise State President Bob Kustra at the dedication of Dona Larsen Park in 2012. Statesman file

Since Boise State University President Bob Kustra announced his impending retirement, traditional and social media have been flooded with comments on the merits and demerits of the Kustra era. What has not been disputed is the fact that Kustra’s positive imprint has transformed not only BSU, but also the Treasure Valley and the state of Idaho.

I first met Kustra in the fall of 2003 when I was the grand marshal of the BSU homecoming parade. Amazingly approachable, Bob mingles and relates with people with utmost respect.

What sets Kustra apart, in my perspective, is his ability to foresee the unknown future, communicate his vision of it to others with astonishing clarity, and then align talents and resources to make that future a reality. Most of us remember when he started branding a relatively less-known BSU as a metropolitan research university of distinction. With time the university attracted talented professionals with national reputations in various disciplines.

The need for a community college in Southwest Idaho had been discussed before Kustra entered the conversation. I heard him give a very convincing speech on the need and merits of the college as well as how BSU would assist its establishment. There was no doubt it would happen. That ability to dream big was portrayed in many other areas, such as setting a goal to raise $175 million for scholarships, and to build first-class football facilities, academic buildings and top-notch student housing facilities.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go with others.” Bob has gone far by involving others and doing so strategically. It’s still mind-boggling how the idea of bringing Barbara Morgan, the nationally recognized Idaho Teacher in Space, to BSU was conceived and turned into reality. He also recruited Bruce Newcomb, retired speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives, thus having a strong voice in the arena where key issues that affect his university are addressed.

Buildings and alignments have little meaning if students’ lives are not transformed. I recall a small honors student group I used to speak to that seemed to have no prominence before the Kustra era. It has since been transformed to one that academically talented students aspire to join.

The same can be said for other programs, including sports, where the school has thrived and put our town, community and state on the map. What is not always highlighted is the above-national average level of student-athletes who complete their undergraduate programs. Very successful.

No leader worth his or her title can succeed without making controversial decisions from time to time. There was the changing of the name of the basketball arena from The Pavilion to Taco Bell. By the time the football stadium was named Albertsons, it didn’t seem such a contentious issue. Kustra has released some employees and eliminated some programs despite community opposition and frustration.

Two of the issues that I believe could have been addressed differently are pay for adjunct faculty and the elimination of football games between the University of Idaho and the Broncos.

What adjunct faculty members are paid is an insult. The last I checked, it was still less than I was paid in the early 1990s as a graduate assistant in the Statistics Department at the University of Wyoming.

When the Vandals and Broncos played, it was more than a meeting of two teams for football competition. Family members and school friends cherished the opportunity to get together. It was hilarious to see couples with one spouse in a Vandals outfit and the other wearing blue and orange. It was also an economic boom time when the two teams met. The empty stands at Albertsons Stadium would be filled if there were matches between the two teams again.

In a 670 KBOI program after the announcement, I was asked to grade Kustra’s performance. I said a B-plus, but an A-minus would be appropriate. The man has touched the soul of a people, a community and a state.

Vincent Kituku is an author, speaker and founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope.