The University of Idaho community was recently introduced to its new president, Chuck Staben, who was provost at the University of South Dakota.
Staben made a strong first impression at the announcement ceremony and appeared genuine in his excitement and enthusiasm for his newly acquired position. He alleviated fears of those in attendance by confirming his long-term plans to stay at UI.
One of the most promising statements Staben made was committing to listen to university leaders. This standard is a necessity for a president that will encounter high-profile problems on day one. Deferred maintenance costs, rising tuition and decreasing enrollment numbers are just some of the difficult battles for which Staben should be prepared.
Another promising trait Staben has exhibited throughout the past two weeks is his willingness to communicate with UI stakeholders. Staben’s suggestion for open office hours would be a much-needed change in improving communication and access to the university’s top administrators for students, faculty and staff.
Staben recently sat down with the Idaho Statesman for an interview regarding the future of UI — a meeting that demonstrated he’s not the type to reel off stale public relations responses when faced with the tough questions.
In the interview, Staben was asked about the removal of “flagship” from the school’s mission statement two years ago. He said it’s a “charged” word that he wouldn’t use to describe UI.
He followed that up by saying, “What I want to (say) is that we are the research university, we are the land grant university, we are a premiere university in Idaho.”
The comments might reflect Staben’s limited experience in Moscow and the state in general, or they might be a genuine statement about academic titles and their insignificance.
Either way, they’re the type of responses that often ruffle feathers with alumni, many of whom are donors.
What we can be sure of, is that UI is in desperate need of a president unafraid to speak his mind — someone who will show clear leadership right away for a university in transition.