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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: University of Idaho

Mumps outbreak hits University of Idaho

A mumps outbreak at the University of Idaho has prompted the state Department of Health & Welfare to advise students to use their winter breaks to make sure they're caught up on vaccinations, including the MMR vaccine, which is for measles, mumps and rubella. More than 30 cases of mumps are being investigated at the Moscow campus, including 10 that already have been lab-confirmed. Click below for the full announcement from the state Department of Health & Welfare.

Of democracy, fundamental rights, and one key U.S. Supreme Court justice…

Tom Perry, attorney for Gov. Butch Otter, said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the author of the Windsor decision, has “sort of carved himself out as the swing vote, and we’ll see which side he goes on.” Said Perry, “This is a question of state authority, a question of the democratic vote in 2006 where Idahoans nearly 2-1 voted to retain the benefits of man-woman marriage. Justice Kennedy, as an advocate for gay and lesbian rights, is also a big proponent of democracy and federalism. So that’s where you’ve seen kind of the push and pull here.”

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the couples challenging Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, said, “If we are discussing a fundamental right … then that is not subject to the will of the majority, and we all don’t get to decide what the fundamental rights might be of a minority group. That is not the American way.”

She said, “There is the question: Is this a fundamental right? That’s our due process argument. The other is our equal protection argument. These are laws that discriminate against a group of people. … So does the government have a legitimate reason to discriminate against that group of citizens? That’s the equal protection argument I think in a nutshell.”

The attorneys are speaking at the University of Idaho's Constitution Day statewide panel discussion, with audiences in Boise, Moscow and Coeur d'Alene. Craig Durham said he agreed with Ferguson on democracy and fundamental rights, but also agreed with Perry that Justice Kennedy likely will be the deciding vote on the nation’s highest court.

‘Never seen access to the courtroom so tightly controlled’

The first question posed to the lawyers from Idaho’s gay marriage case was about the atmosphere in the courtroom at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals when the judges heard arguments in Idaho’s case earlier this month. Deborah Ferguson said the arguments were in the San Francisco courtroom that’s normally used for en banc arguments, when larger panels are convened. “It’s a very beautiful courtroom of marble and mosaics,” she said. “The building predates the great earthquake in San Francisco.” She added, “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen access to the courtroom so tightly controlled, and every seat was spoken for.”

The arguments were streamed live on YouTube, she noted. “Personally, I’d rather not be videotaped, although you forget about that very quickly as they start asking you questions, the judges, that is.”

Craig Durham said, “I had the unfortunate revelation afterward that I was on YouTube sitting behind whoever was speaking.” Tom Perry said, “I share Craig’s perspective – you would turn on your phone and you’ve got 300 texts, ‘Hey, I see you,’ as you’re pawing through your briefs trying to respond to an argument.”

Asked to rate the 9th Circuit judges’ questions compared to those from other circuits, the attorneys declined. Durham said he was a bit surprised that the 9th Circuit judges didn’t ask the lawyers any questions about Baker vs. Nelson, an early 1970s case that’s been a topic of questions at arguments in some other circuits.

Perry noted, “A lot of times, judges take you to places that really aren’t the principle thrust of your case.” He added said, “For degree of toughness, I really thought Judge (Candy) Dale, on both sides, she was really pretty tough on both of us.” Dale is the U.S. magistrate judge who overturned Idaho’s ban after hearing arguments this spring in Boise.

Lawyers: Marriage law debate offers chance to see ‘cutting-edge’ constitutional law arguments take shape

Deborah Ferguson, the attorney who made the arguments in the 9th Circuit this month against Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, told the UI’s Constitution Day crowd, “It’s been sort of a remarkable turn of events in how quickly everything has developed … in a period of just 14 months.”

Tom Perry, attorney for Gov. Butch Otter – who’s on the other side of the case – agreed. A UI grad himself, he told the law students participating in today’s statewide discussion, “There aren’t really very many opportunities as a student to learn constitutional law from a real-live example,” but the marriage debate is just that. “The briefing in these cases is really quite good across the nation,” Perry said, advising law students to read it. “You’re reading cutting-edge equal protection (arguments), from both sides.” He added, “From both sides, we’re really seeing some fantastic advocacy, and it’s really worth a look to get a better flavor.”

Attorneys from both sides of marriage case address Constitution Day event

In honor of Constitution Day, attorneys from both sides in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case are gathered at a University of Idaho event in Boise today, in which students, lawyers and others are participating from Boise, Moscow and Coeur d’Alene. Here, the attorneys are Craig Durham, left, and Deborah Ferguson, center, who represent the four Idaho couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage in federal court; and at right, Tom Perry, attorney for Gov. Butch Otter, who is thumbing through a pocket version of the U.S. Constitution, an item that’s been provided to all the attendees here in Boise. Otter and the state appealed the federal court ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where it's now pending.

Shaakirrah Sanders, University of Idaho law professor, said, “This case still very much is in the litigation phase, and so to that extent … we are not expecting any of our panelists to really discuss the merits of the case. Our goal is to help provide a broader understanding both for the public and for the attorneys in the room on how our Constitution applies under these circumstances, and the fact that this is very much an issue that is in the public’s interest.”

Ferguson is starting with an overview of what's happened thus far in the case.

Lawyers on both sides of Idaho’s gay marriage case to speak at UI event

In honor of Constitution Day this Wednesday, the University of Idaho will sponsor a statewide panel discussion on constitutional questions surrounding same-sex marriage. The discussion will start at 4 p.m. MT, 3 p.m. Pacific, at the Idaho Water Center in Boise; students and faculty in Moscow and Coeur d’Alene will participate through video links, and the program is free and open to the public. Speakers will include Deborah Ferguson and Craig Durham, the attorneys for four Idaho gay couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, and Tom Perry, attorney for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who is defending the state law.

Shaakirrah Sanders, UI associated professor of law, will moderate the panel in Boise, and Michael Park, assistant professor of journalism and mass media, will moderate questions and provide commentary in Moscow. There’s more info here. Past Constitution Day observances at the UI have covered free press and fair trial issues, leaks of government secrets, violent images in video games and federal drug laws.

South Dakota’s Chuck Staben named new president of U of I

Chuck Staben, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of South Dakota, has been named the new president of the University of Idaho; the state Board of Education voted unanimously today in favor of the choice. Staben’s salary will be $350,000 a year, and he was appointed for a term of three years, starting March 1. Asked how long he plans to stay in the position – at a university that’s seen considerable turnover in its top position in recent years – Staben said, “Longer than three years,” to loud applause from a crowd gathered for the announcement in an auditorium on the U of I campus in Moscow.

Staben, 55, said, “What I was really looking for as I looked at this opportunity, was the opportunity to have what I call … one last good job for me. I can work 10 or 15 years more. … My wife hates to move. It turns out she’s enthusiastic about this move, but she may not have any more in her, and that’s OK.”

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Staben cited increasing the number of students who both enroll and graduate, and strategic expansions in university research as among his priorities. He is a biochemist with a Ph.D from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois. He's been at South Dakota since 2008, and previously served as a vice president and professor at the University of Kentucky, from 1989 to 2008. His wife, Mary Beth, is a physician; they have three grown children, all in college or graduate school. Among Staben’s successes at South Dakota has been managing through a series of state budget cuts.

UI to help research how to turn beetle-killed trees into liquid biofuel

The University of Idaho is among a group of research partners, led by Colorado State University, who have been awarded nearly $10 million in USDA grant funds to study how to convert insect-killed trees into an advanced liquid biofuel, right on-site in the forests. The project would explore “recent advances in scalable thermochemical conversion technologies,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in an announcement today. The hope is that this kind of processing of beetle-killed trees could generate highly usable biofuel, while avoiding the harvest and transportation costs otherwise present in salvaging the logs.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “Infestations of pine and spruce bark beetles have impacted over 42 million acres of U.S. forests since 1996, and a changing climate threatens to expand the threat from bark beetles on our forest lands. As we take steps to fight the bark beetle, this innovative research will help take the biomass that results from bark beetle infestation and create clean, renewable energy that holds potential for job creation and promises a cleaner future for America.”

He also took the opportunity to note that the research effort, made possible by a provision of the 2008 Farm Bill, points up the “critical need” for passage of a new farm bill this year, something that’s been stalled in Congress. “I urge Congress to achieve passage of a new, long term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible,” Vilsack said.

The research project also includes the University of Montana, Montana State University and the University of Wyoming; it’s led by Colorado State’s Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies. The grant, which covers five years of research, comes under a program for research that contributes to reducing dependence on foreign oil, has net positive social, environmental and rural economic impacts, and is compatible with existing agricultural and forest production systems.

Five finalists named for president at University of Idaho

Five finalists have been named for president of the University of Idaho, hailing from Kentucky, South Dakota, Florida and Pennsylvania. “The search committee was impressed by the number of outstanding applicants for the position,” said state Board of Education member Emma Atchley, who is chairing the search committee. “We are looking forward to having the final five candidates visit Idaho and tour University of Idaho sites across the state.”

Former UI President Duane Nellis left this year to become president of Texas Tech University, which is more than double the size of UI. Law school Dean Don Burnett is now serving as interim president, but said he didn’t plan to seek the permanent position. The five finalists named today are consultant James Applegate, formerly with the University of Kentucky and the Lumina Foundation; Donald Birx, chancellor and professor at Penn State Erie; Laurie Stenberg-Nichols, provost and vice president for academic affairs at South Dakota State University; Jack Payne, senior vice president, agriculture and natural resources, University of Florida; and Chuck Staben, provost and vice president for academic affairs, University of South Dakota. You can read the state board’s full announcement here.

State Lands Dept. under fire over family burial ground auction, land swap…

Idaho’s state Lands Department is under fire from two different directions this morning: In a new lawsuit that charges it’s about to hold a conflict auction on a family burial ground, and from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who say an inadequate appraisal allowed a private party to benefit to the tune of $1.6 million on a state land exchange, instead of the state endowment’s beneficiaries.

The new lawsuit over Priest Lake state-owned cabin sites charges that two cabin-site lessees who will face conflict auctions in late October haven’t been allowed to challenge their appraisals, as all other lessees at the lake were allowed to do after big concerns were raised over the newly set values; that the two weren’t allowed to go into land exchanges to avoid the conflict auction, though the department had indicated earlier that would be allowed; and that one of the cabin sites has been held by the same family since its inception in 1933, and five family members' remains are located there, including scattered ashes and permanent memorials. “The earliest of these human remains has been on the property since at least 1939,” says the lawsuit, filed in Bonner County.

Lands Department Deputy Director Kathy Opp said she knew nothing about the graves and hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit; she confirmed that lake cabin lessees who were targeted with conflict bids this year – there were four, including three at Priest Lake and one at Payette Lake – aren’t being allowed to appeal their appraisals or join land exchanges until the conflict auctions have been held.

The land exchange issue involves the University of Idaho’s McCall Outdoor Science School Campus, which had been owned by the state endowment, but last year was traded for commercial property in Idaho Falls that houses Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC, the operating contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory. Both properties came in with identical appraisals of $6.1 million; after the swap, the private owner of the Idaho Falls property, IW4 LLC, sold the newly acquired McCall property to the university for $6.1 million. That left the university in control of the site, which had been the source of increasing tensions as the Lands Department considered big rent increases to match its constitutional requirement to maximize income from endowment lands.

But House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, and House Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, have joined a new group with former GOP Rep. Bob Forrey and attorney John Runft, the Tax Accountability Committee, that commissioned its own review appraisal on the Idaho Falls property, and it came in at just $4.5 million. If that’s right, the private owner in Idaho Falls profited to the tune of $1.6 million, at the expense of the state’s endowment, something the TAC group dubbed “a travesty.” Vander Woude and Burgoyne, who held a Statehouse news conference this morning, say they’ll bring legislation requiring review appraisals in all future endowment land exchanges, along with more legislative scrutiny over such transactions. You can read the TAC letter to the Land Board here.

Opp said the department stands by its appraisals, and hasn’t routinely ordered review appraisals in addition. “It can be costly – you’re paying another appraisal fee,” she noted. Opp said the Idaho Falls property has been “performing as expected” as an endowment investment; it earns annual rent of $538,312, more than double the annual rent from the McCall science campus lease of $248,000. The series of transactions was approved by both the state Land Board and the State Board of Education.

UI looks at building new mansion for its next president

The University of Idaho is asking the state Board of Education for approval to demolish its current president's mansion and build a new $2 million one, as part of its efforts to attract a new UI president, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports. It would work with the UI Foundation to fund the project, after determining that renovating the existing 1967 structure wouldn't be feasible or cost-effective. Click below for a full report from the Daily News via the AP.

U of I names interim law dean

The University of Idaho has named Michael Satz, associate dean in the College of Law, to serve as interim dean of the college, effective June 1. Satz succeeds Don Burnett, who was named interim president of the University of Idaho. When Burnett accepted the interim university presidency, he said he would neither return to the dean's position nor apply for the permanent presidency; he will retain his faculty status after his interim presidency. Satz joined the U of I as an associate professor in the College of Law in 2006; he was appointed associated dean for faculty affairs in 2012. The university said it will begin a national search to identify candidates for permanent College of Law dean; click below for the UI's full announcement.

State Board of Ed meeting in Moscow today, considering higher ed tuition increases

The State Board of Education is meeting in Moscow on the University of Idaho campus today, and considering tuition and fee increase proposals for state colleges and universities. The U of I is requesting a 5.9 percent increase in tuition and fees next year; BSU, 8.6 percent; ISU, 4.5 percent; Eastern Idaho Technical College, 4.9 percent; and Lewis-Clark State College, 4 percent.

Since fiscal year 2009, state funding for the four-year institutions, UI, BSU, ISU and LCSC, has dropped by $41.1 million, while total tuition and fee revenue has increased by $74.7 million. So far this morning, U of I officials and student leaders have spoken out in support of the proposed increase; you can watch live here. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, “I don’t think we talk much about what a bargain it is to go to our universities here in Idaho, when you look at even the surrounding states, what they charge.”

With the proposed increases, full-time resident tuition and fees for a year at the U of I next year would be $6,580; at BSU, $6,392; at ISU, $6,344; at EITC, $2,122; and at LCSC, $5,784.

Law Dean Don Burnett named interim president of U of I

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho State Board of Education has named Donald Burnett as interim president of the University of Idaho. Burnett is the dean of the College of Law at the Moscow-based university. The board voted unanimously on Wednesday to place Burnett in charge while it searches for a permanent replacement for Duane Nellis, who is leaving to become president of Texas Tech University. Burnett will be paid $240,000 a year and his new position becomes effective on June 1. Nellis took over UI's top administrative post in 2009 after an 11-month search. Since 2003, UI has had four different leaders, including two presidents and two interim presidents.

UI President Nellis tabbed for president at Texas Tech

University of Idaho President Duane Nellis has been named the sole finalist to become president at Texas Tech University, signaling he'll be leaving the U of I after four years. Nellis called the Texas post a “unique and exciting opportunity.” Click below for the full announcement from the U of I; and a full report from the Associated Press.

McClure Center offers free symposium on federal fiscal mess Tues. at Capitol Auditorium

The University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research is inviting the public to a Symposium on Federal Fiscal Issues on Tuesday evening, with panelists including Sen. Mike Crapo, Congressman Mike Simpson, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, retired Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The free symposium will take place from 8-10 p.m. in the Capitol Auditorium and will be streamed live online; those who would like to attend are asked to reserve their free tickets at www.uirsvp.com.

State sues feds over UI fire after ROTC BBQ

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state of Idaho is suing the federal government for nearly $1.6 million because state attorneys say members of the U.S. Navy's Reserve Officer Training Corps negligently caused a fire at the University of Idaho. The lawsuit was filed in Boise's U.S. District Court earlier this week. Deputy Idaho Attorney General Mike Gilmore says members of the Navy ROTC program at the University of Idaho caused serious damage to a World War II-era building when charcoal briquettes were left smoldering after a BBQ last year. The state contends that that the federal government was responsible for the upkeep of the ROTC building, and that Navy ROTC officers and students should have known that dumping briquettes in a flowerbed would pose a fire risk. Click below for a full report.

UI, WSU officials looking into repeated student falls from frats…

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) ― University officials are trying to figure out how to respond after a series of falls from buildings that have injured students at the University of Idaho and Washington State University campuses. But they also acknowledge the challenge of changing student attitudes on alcohol and dangerous behavior. Washington State University Dean of Students Melynda Huskey says more needs to be done to help educate students on risky behavior. But she also says males in their early 20s aren't always the best judges of personal risk. Since September, the Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/TvTIVM ) there have been five cases of students suffering injuries after falling from buildings at both campuses. Alcohol was a factor in four of five falls. WSU has created an alcohol and drug task force as part of its response.

Click below for a full report.

Albertson Foundation gives $5M to UI, NNU for teacher training on tech

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation is giving $5 million to two Idaho universities to better equip and train teachers. The grant announced Monday will be divvied up between the University of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene University. The money will be used to create two new centers for innovation and learning. The centers ― scheduled to open early next year ― will focus on developing new teaching methods for incorporating technology in the classroom and studying the latest hardware and software available for teachers and students. University of Idaho President Duane Nellis says he's hopeful the research that emerges will help the state make better choices for bringing technology into classrooms in the future.

The grant actually totals close to $8 million over three years; in the first year, NNU will get $4.6 million, and UI in Moscow will get $983,000. UI then will get subsequent payments in the second and third years of $962,000 and $1.1 million, respectively.

Land Board unanimously approves land swap for UI outdoor science campus in McCall

Idaho's state Land Board has voted unanimously in favor of a land exchange to trade the University of Idaho's McCall Outdoor Science School property for a 32,138-square-foot office building in Idaho Falls that houses Battelle Energy Alliance, the contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory. The office building, known as Education Research Center 1, has an existing lease with Battelle that runs for another seven years, and annual base rent is $538,312. That compares to the $248,000 that UI is currently paying to lease the McCall property, which is adjacent to Ponderosa State Park.

The university plans to buy the McCall property from the office building owner for its appraised value, $6.1 million. UI has leased the McCall property from the state endowment for 65 years; this year, the annual lease payment went up fivefold. Land Board members had several questions before their unanimous vote, noting that the two properties being exchanged have equal value and the rate of return to the state endowment will substantially increase.

“I want to thank the staff for the background information that they provided that showed the impact this would have on the property tax base in Bonneville County and also historically the impact that state owned lands has had on the property tax of Bonneville County,” said state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna. “It was helpful for me, it answered my questions.” Lands Department staff reported that Bonneville County collected $36,000 in property tax in 2011 from the office building, and once it becomes state endowment property, it'll generate no local property tax, meaning the rest of property taxpayers in the county make up the difference. However, since statehood, 64,669 acres of endowment land has been sold to private parties in Bonneville County, an estimated $45 million in property value that generated nearly $550,000 in local property taxes in 2011.

Click below for a statement from the University of Idaho about the transaction involving “one of the most beautiful and pristine settings in the world,” its McCall outdoor science campus.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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