Guest Opinions

Time for Idaho to recognize the role of women, and university spouses, has changed

The University of Idaho’s Administration Building in Moscow.
The University of Idaho’s Administration Building in Moscow. Statesman file

The University of Idaho is an essential part of the fabric of the Gem State, so scrutiny of its leadership is natural and welcome. I understand the recent announcement of the last year of my husband, Chuck’s, presidency offers an occasion to reflect on the presidency and what it means for the broader community.

But I’ve been disappointed by the tone – careless at best, overtly sexist at worst – in recent Moscow-Pullman Daily News editorials about U of I, my husband’s presidency and my own community engagement.

Writing for the editorial board on May 26, Managing Editor Devin Rokyta suggested Chuck was “never accepted into the Moscow community.” The first points of evidence offered are that “Staben’s wife never settled into Moscow,” and that we purchased a home in Boise, where I work as a physician. A kind interpretation here is the newspaper views it as my duty to live in Moscow and participate in community events as a volunteer – to the exclusion of a career. Is that an appropriate expectation? Would the Daily News have the same response if the presidential spouse was a husband, not a wife? Additionally, it is apparently thought inappropriate for a woman – or perhaps any spouse – to purchase a home in the city in which she is employed, even if it means that I split my time between Moscow and Boise.

My career and participation in the community have been of ongoing interest to the Daily News, judging by its May 26 opinion and fall 2017’s “If mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy at UI” editorial. So, let me offer some background. After my undergraduate education and a successful 14-year career with IBM and related companies, I completed an accelerated medical school/residency program and established a successful sole practitioner hospitalist practice in Kentucky. For some of this time, Chuck was provost several states away at the University of South Dakota. Like modern married couples everywhere, we found career options that worked best for both of us.

I left that practice to come to Idaho because – though I wanted to practice medicine – I felt I could also contribute to my husband’s work as a public university president. It should go without saying how much higher education means to both of us.

I practiced at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston before having the opportunity to continue my career in Boise at St. Luke’s, a large, multi-specialty hospital that fits well with my area of practice. I work, on average, 10 days per month in Boise and spend the remainder of my time with family and at university events, whether in Moscow, Boise or elsewhere around the state. As one would hope for our land-grant research university, U of I has a significant presence in our state’s capital, and I have always been a proud ambassador for our statewide success.

The role of women in our society, and as university spouses, has changed, and it is time the Daily News and other recognize that. I have an independent career, as do many hard-working married people in Moscow and at the university. My husband and I, like most married couples, work together to make both our careers work; one is not subservient to the other, nor should it be. We decide together how to allocate our resources in support of each other, as we should.

Because I know we all wish nothing but continued success for U of I, I hope the Daily News and others will reconsider its view of community integration and the role of the presidential spouse with up-to-date notions of work and family dynamics that many in our society have already realized. It is vital to the success of the next presidential family that modern standards are applied and the leaders of the U of I are welcomed for everything they bring to the state.

Mary Beth Staben is a hospitalist at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center and the wife of U of I President Chuck Staben.