University of Idaho President Chuck Staben on moving to the Big Sky Conference, Part 1
Fourteen members of the University of Idaho athletics booster organization asked the State Board of Education on May 14 to remove university President Chuck Staben from office.
On Friday, the State Board announced that Staben's tenure will end after the 2018-19 school year — the last year on his contract. The board held two executive sessions to deal with personnel matters last week.
Signers of the letter to the board included the president (Mark Boatman) and first vice president (Mike Mai) of the Vandal Scholarship Fund, the booster group.
"We have lost all trust, faith and confidence in President Chuck Staben's ability to lead the University of ldaho," the letter read. "His lack of leadership, mismanagement and poor policy decisions have damaged the relationship between the administration of the University of ldaho and its faculty, students, alumni, and the good citizens of the state of ldaho. ... We believe it is imperative and in the best interests of the University of Idaho to engage new leadership that will be devoted to developing a plan to rebuild the university and help move it in a positive direction."
The State Board of Education's press release said Staben's contract wouldn't be renewed by mutual agreement. His contract runs through June 15, 2019, and pays $385,230 per year.
Staben's planned departure is the latest development in a tumultuous spring for the Vandals community.
Athletic Director Rob Spear is on a 60-day, paid administrative leave. Staben placed Spear on leave in April and hired two independent investigators to look into the way the athletic department has handled sexual harassment and assault complaints, particularly three against a single football player in 2012-13. The ASUI student senate passed a resolution in April calling for Spear's resignation.
An athlete accused of rape last fall also completed the school year as an active member of the athletic department. And on Friday it was reported that diving coach Jim Southerland has been on paid administrative leave since April because of an interim suspension levied by the U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Diving.
"(Staben) has strengthened the university’s training and response regarding Title IX issues during his tenure," a university press release said. "A review of past response to sexual assault allegations within the athletics department is ongoing and unrelated to this decision. A final report from the external reviewers is expected soon."
Staben likely will be in position to decide Spear's fate.
"Decisions about athletic department leadership will be handled at the university," said Mike Keckler, spokesman for the State Board of Education.
Staben wasn't made available for interviews. State Board of Education members declined to comment through their spokesman.
McKenzie MacDonald, who served as the ASUI president last school year and graduated this month, said she enjoyed working with Staben and was surprised by Friday's announcement.
"He brought a good vision to the university and I thought he genuinely cared about giving students a good experience," she said. "He was a pretty good advocate for us."
With Staben's planned departure, the State Board now faces vacancies at its two highest-profile universities. The board recently decided to expand its search for a president at Boise State beyond the initial finalists. The board announced Friday that it would hire a new firm that would lead both searches.
The presidential change could add to an unsettled time on the Moscow campus.
"There was kind of a lot of noise on campus toward the end of the school year," said MacDonald, who is from Bonners Ferry. "When you have a transition like this and you bring somebody new into a position like this, you're potentially bringing in a new vision, a new focus, for efforts at the university. That does have the potential to impact the student experience."
Booster complaints against Staben include his decision to move Idaho football back to the Football Championship Subdivision's Big Sky Conference, pursuing a job at New Mexico, the handling of Spear's situation, funding priorities, alumni relations and the April announcement that the Vandals may have to cut women's soccer, women's swimming and diving and men's golf if they're unable to correct budget deficits.
Some boosters wore anti-Staben hats at a recent golf event in the Treasure Valley.
Boatman and Mai provided a statement to the Idaho Statesman about Staben's planned departure.
"We agree with and appreciate the decision of the State Board of Education," the statement read. "The past three years have been filled with many polarizing issues. The time is now for Vandal alumni, fans and stakeholders to band together. There are many challenges facing our great university and its athletic department. We believe by uniting and working together they can be overcome."
Staben acknowledged several controversies while pointing out success stories in an email sent to the university community Friday. He mentioned increasing research spending from $95.6 million in fiscal 2014 to $109.5 million in fiscal 2017, fundraising momentum to build a new basketball arena and a project to build the "largest, most advanced research dairy in the country."
"While this is difficult, I want you to know I am proud of what we have accomplished together and look forward to the challenges and successes we will have in the coming year," Staben wrote in the email to faculty, staff and students. "Since I became president four years ago, we have steadily increased enrollment and our retention rate is the highest in the state. Research expenditures have grown and the impact of those dollars has flourished. The Vandal family has come together to develop a clear path forward.
"There have also been challenges. My decision to pursue a presidency at another university caused a distraction. Strategic evaluation of our programs and units during program prioritization was difficult. The decision to affiliate our football program with the Big Sky Conference was, understandably, fraught with emotion and conflict."
Staben arrived at Idaho on March 1, 2014. The university produced a strategic plan through 2025 that includes a strategy to reverse enrollment declines. Enrollment has increased the past two years and Idaho has the state's highest retention rate from freshman to sophomore year (82 percent), Staben wrote.
Staben served as provost at the University of South Dakota from 2008 to 2014. He was a professor of biology, department chair and associate vice president for research at Kentucky from 1989 to 2008.
“The board and President Staben agree this is the proper course to take and his contract, which expires next spring, will not be renewed,” State Board President Linda Clark said in a prepared statement. “President Staben has led the University of Idaho since 2014 and, on behalf of the board, I thank him for his service and I wish him the best. The board will now focus on finding the next leaders for the University of Idaho and Boise State.”