Nation/World

Lobbyist’s Pursuit Of UI Job Worries Academia Boise Cascade Corporate Executive Has ‘Considerable Political Influence’

The top lobbyist for Boise Cascade Corp. has been campaigning aggressively since last summer to become president of the University of Idaho.

From the main UI campus in Moscow to the halls of government in Boise, there is an equally aggressive whispering campaign against J. Kirk Sullivan, charging that he is trying to buy the job with money and influence.

Sullivan “did a lot of work getting to a lot of influential people in the state to let them know he’s interested,” said one top university official. Sullivan “is a person of considerable political influence.”

A friend of Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, Sullivan likely helped direct campaign contributions from Boise Cascade to the governor’s election campaign. As governor, Batt appoints people to the Idaho Board of Education, which hires the university presidents.

No matter what’s happening behind the scenes, the appointment of a corporate executive to run Idaho’s top university could signal a big change in academic life.

Sullivan has a doctorate in chemistry, but he is the only one of five finalists who hasn’t worked in academia. He would take a pay cut to move to Moscow to run UI.

Some teachers and students say they fear a well-rounded education would be sacrificed for profit-oriented vocational training, that corporate influence would interfere with academic freedom.

Sullivan apparently isn’t talking to the press. Several calls to corporate headquarters were referred to Boise Cascade’s public relations office, which didn’t call back.

Sullivan worked for a mining company, FMC Corp., in the late 1960s in southern Idaho and New York. He went to Boise Cascade’s governmental affairs branch in 1971, rising to vice president of governmental and environmental affairs in 1981.

He helps direct the timber giant’s sizable political contributions. The company gave $80,000 to successful 1994 Idaho campaigns. That included $30,000 to Batt. That was the largest contribution from a single company and its officers to Batt’s campaign, according to the non-partisan campaign watchdog group, United Vision for Idaho.

Batt appointed four of the eight members of the Board of Education, which chooses the next UI president.

In February, Batt took a free ride in Boise Cascade’s jet from Coeur d’Alene to the jazz festival in Moscow and then on to Boise. Sullivan and other top corporate officials shared that flight.

Batt said there’s nothing amiss and that he’s staying out of the UI presidential selection to the point he won’t even discuss the topic with Sullivan.

Besides, “it’s not Dr. Sullivan’s jet,” said Amy Kleiner, Batt’s press secretary.

Roy Mosman, a Moscow attorney and longtime member of the Board of Education, is insulted by the talk that the fix is in.

“A good friend called me and told me that (Sullivan’s hiring) was a fact,” said Mosman, who emphasized he isn’t an advocate for any particular candidate.

“That’s kind of offensive to say you people are going through this whole hocus pocus, flying around the country, interviewing candidates” with a decision already made, he said. Mosman has had calls and letters supporting both Sullivan and former UI agricultural dean Larry Branen for the job and “the thing is not wired.”

Still, that perception could follow Sullivan to the president’s office, if the Board of Education chooses him when it meets in Moscow this week.

Rumors that Sullivan had a lock on the job started last fall, about the time bogus press releases surfaced saying the board already had chosen him. The source of the news releases has never been determined.

“The thorough job he did of getting to corporate Idaho and political Idaho may translate to (the perception) ‘he got to the Board of Regents,”’ said a top university official who asked not to be named. But Sullivan doesn’t have it in the bag, the official said.

Such explanations don’t erase the question. “If you think about it, Mr. Sullivan has much better access because of the relationships he and his company have to the governor and the governor’s appointees,” said Jim Hansen, of United Vision for Idaho.

“The unfortunate thing from Sullivan’s standpoint is (his appointment) will always be tainted with those questions,” Hansen said.

Whether or not Sullivan has the job wired, the prospect of a corporate executive coming to the UI campus is unpalatable to many students and faculty.

“What I’ve heard is all negative,” said Alan Rose, a professor of foreign languages. “I really don’t understand how somebody at that level can run the university when they haven’t been down in the ranks interacting with students, in the research lab seeking new knowledge.”

Rose and others worry that a corporate leader will try to make education into a business, and that programs that don’t show an easy profit will be eliminated. Challenging the mind doesn’t always mean a fat, corporate bottom line, they warn.

Nick Gier, president of the state and local chapters of the American Federation of Teachers, said part of the anxiety about Sullivan is “not knowing his person or character.

In addition, “I’m worried about an outsider getting in a management position and acting like a business manager, not the academic leader of a self-governing faculty,” Gier said.

The consequences could be a repeat of the battles between recently departed UI president Elisabeth Zinser and faculty over her micro-management. Some of those battles started with Zinser overturning tenure decisions traditionally made by the departments and colleges.

Many faculty prefer Larry Branen, former UI dean of agriculture, who went head-to-head with Zinser on that issue and won. “We pretty much know what he’s going to do and he’s a good administrator,” said Jim Calvert, a mathematics professor.

Sean Wilson, the former student body president who served on the presidential search committee, said he likes Sullivan. “The man doesn’t get to where he is without foresight and energy.”

A good university president “has to be more of a savvy politician than an academician,” Wilson said.

Jay Feldman, a student senator, is adamantly opposed. He questioned how Sullivan can separate himself from Boise Cascade’s political agenda, pointing to Boise Cascade giving $1,000 to former Sen. Bob Packwood’s sexual harassment defense.

“What does that say about how he’s going to treat women on campus?” Feldman asked.

A lobbyist as president doesn’t necessarily compute either, some say.

“Everything he has done is to buy influence in such a way as to have the results predetermined by corporate desire,” Feldman said. “A university exists for free and fair inquiry, so the question is, can he change his stripes?

“If he is setting the tenor of the university, is everybody’s view going to be allowed on the table, including environmentalists?”

On a personal level, Sullivan is highly regarded by everyone from corporate colleagues to people who question whether he should be UI president.

“He is an exceptionally able manager who doesn’t try to be autocratic or dictatorial,” said John Clute, who left a 26-year career with Boise Cascade to become dean of Gonzaga University’s Law School.

Sullivan has been around Idaho for a long time, knows the important players, and meets all of the requirements, including a doctorate in chemistry, Clute said. “It’s hard to think of anyone more ideal,” he said.

James “Doc” Lucas, a longtime Moscow area legislator, also has high praise for Sullivan as a man skilled at raising money and dealing with politicians. Many people agree that is becoming more important to running a university than academic credentials.

Karl Brooks, who was a Boise Cascade attorney for seven years, calls Sullivan “a fine man, and very bright, who is probably pursuing the position for good reasons.” Brooks, who said he left Boise Cascade on good terms, now works for the Idaho Conservation League.

Brooks wonders about possible conflicts Sullivan might have with the College of Forestry.

“I think many observers wonder about the impacts on the College of Forestry by a man who has spent his entire career trying to maintain or increase logging on national forests,” Brooks said, “and at the center of the timber and paper industry political strategy for 15 years.”

Brooks is uncomfortable with Idaho hiring Sullivan to run UI because it “would send a signal that major corporations in Idaho have the leverage not only to control private decision-making, but key public decision-making,” Brooks said. It also might send a signal to researchers that work unsympathetic to big corporations is not welcome, he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 5 Photos

MEMO: These 5 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. THE FINALISTS Larry Branen, professor, University of Idaho College of Agriculture. B. Hobson Wildenthal, provost, University of Texas. Robert A. Hoover, vice president of academic affairs, University of Nevada at Reno. Nicholas L. Henry, president, Georgia Southern University. J. Kirk Sullivan, lobbyist, Boise Cascade Corp.

2. LARRY BRANEN Larry Branen is more homegrown than about any other finalist to become the next president of the University of Idaho. Branen has been everything from food science professor to agriculture dean since coming to campus in 1983. Branen was a trouble-shooter for former UI President Elisabeth Zinser, stepping up to help sort out the Idaho Research Foundation in the early 1990s after its director left. He’s also been director of resident instruction and was vice president for academic affairs from 1990 to 1991. Branen is chair of the Faculty Council and is well-regarded on campus. A native of Idaho, Branen was raised on a farm near Wilder. He earned his bachelor’s degree at UI in 1967 and his doctorate from Purdue University. He was chairman of Washington State University’s food science department from 1979 to 1981.

3. NICHOLAS HENRY Nicholas Henry transformed Georgia Southern from a “small Statesboro college to a dynamic university,” according to the state’s largest newspaper, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. One of five finalists for the UI presidency, Henry came to the Georgia college in 1987 and upgraded it to university status in 1990. Since his arrival, enrollment is up 86 percent, now hitting about 14,500. Henry’s academic background includes a bachelor’s degree in government and English from Centre College of Kentucky in 1965. He has two master’s degrees, one in political science and one in public administration. His doctorate is in political science from Indiana University. He worked on the faculty at Indiana State University, University of New Mexico, University of Georgia and Arizona State University before going to Georgia. He worked as academic department chair and dean at those institutions.

4. ROBERT HOOVER Robert A. Hoover has tackled faculty teaching, student learning and academic standards since coming to the University of Nevada at Reno in 1991. He is one of four vice presidents at the institution, serving as vice president for academic affairs. Hoover is one of five finalists for the president’s job at University of Idaho. A political scientist by academic training, Hoover earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Arizona State University in 1967 and 1969 respectively. His doctorate is from the University of Nevada. Hoover’s background includes working his way from instructor of political science to dean of humanities, arts and sciences at Utah State University. He was dean from 1984-1991. His accomplishments include general education reform and establishing student-faculty exchange agreements with six foreign countries.

5. HOBSON WILDENTHAL Hobson Wildenthal would bring four years of top management experience from Texas to the University of Idaho if he is chosen. Wildenthal is provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at Dallas. He returned to his native Texas in 1992, from New Mexico, to take the vice president’s job. He was a finalist for the president’s job at UT-Dallas in 1994. His academic pursuits started with a bachelor’s degree in English and mathematics from Sul Ross State College in Alpine, Texas. Wildenthal earned his doctorate in physics from the University of Kansas in 1964. He has worked at land-grant institutions like UI, including Texas A&M; and Michigan State University. He ran the department of physics and atmospheric science at Drexel University from 1983-1987. Wildenthal was dean of arts and sciences at the University of New Mexico from 1987-1992.

These 5 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. THE FINALISTS Larry Branen, professor, University of Idaho College of Agriculture. B. Hobson Wildenthal, provost, University of Texas. Robert A. Hoover, vice president of academic affairs, University of Nevada at Reno. Nicholas L. Henry, president, Georgia Southern University. J. Kirk Sullivan, lobbyist, Boise Cascade Corp.

2. LARRY BRANEN Larry Branen is more homegrown than about any other finalist to become the next president of the University of Idaho. Branen has been everything from food science professor to agriculture dean since coming to campus in 1983. Branen was a trouble-shooter for former UI President Elisabeth Zinser, stepping up to help sort out the Idaho Research Foundation in the early 1990s after its director left. He’s also been director of resident instruction and was vice president for academic affairs from 1990 to 1991. Branen is chair of the Faculty Council and is well-regarded on campus. A native of Idaho, Branen was raised on a farm near Wilder. He earned his bachelor’s degree at UI in 1967 and his doctorate from Purdue University. He was chairman of Washington State University’s food science department from 1979 to 1981.

3. NICHOLAS HENRY Nicholas Henry transformed Georgia Southern from a “small Statesboro college to a dynamic university,” according to the state’s largest newspaper, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. One of five finalists for the UI presidency, Henry came to the Georgia college in 1987 and upgraded it to university status in 1990. Since his arrival, enrollment is up 86 percent, now hitting about 14,500. Henry’s academic background includes a bachelor’s degree in government and English from Centre College of Kentucky in 1965. He has two master’s degrees, one in political science and one in public administration. His doctorate is in political science from Indiana University. He worked on the faculty at Indiana State University, University of New Mexico, University of Georgia and Arizona State University before going to Georgia. He worked as academic department chair and dean at those institutions.

4. ROBERT HOOVER Robert A. Hoover has tackled faculty teaching, student learning and academic standards since coming to the University of Nevada at Reno in 1991. He is one of four vice presidents at the institution, serving as vice president for academic affairs. Hoover is one of five finalists for the president’s job at University of Idaho. A political scientist by academic training, Hoover earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Arizona State University in 1967 and 1969 respectively. His doctorate is from the University of Nevada. Hoover’s background includes working his way from instructor of political science to dean of humanities, arts and sciences at Utah State University. He was dean from 1984-1991. His accomplishments include general education reform and establishing student-faculty exchange agreements with six foreign countries.

5. HOBSON WILDENTHAL Hobson Wildenthal would bring four years of top management experience from Texas to the University of Idaho if he is chosen. Wildenthal is provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at Dallas. He returned to his native Texas in 1992, from New Mexico, to take the vice president’s job. He was a finalist for the president’s job at UT-Dallas in 1994. His academic pursuits started with a bachelor’s degree in English and mathematics from Sul Ross State College in Alpine, Texas. Wildenthal earned his doctorate in physics from the University of Kansas in 1964. He has worked at land-grant institutions like UI, including Texas A&M; and Michigan State University. He ran the department of physics and atmospheric science at Drexel University from 1983-1987. Wildenthal was dean of arts and sciences at the University of New Mexico from 1987-1992.



Click here to comment on this story »




Blogs

WSU lands three-star running back

San Jose, California running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio has accepted a football scholarship from Washington State over a variety of other offers. Among the schools who hoped to land Habibi-Likio were ...


Wild Card/Tuesday — 5.3.16

I'm still recovering from prolonged exposure to two grand-cats in Portland. But I'm back at my post at Huckleberries Central. I'm surviving on a mixture of cough medicine, Dayquil & ...



Behind The Lens

Covering the Susan G Komen Race of the Cure is always very emotional. I photographed Valerie Stichweh and her daughter crossing the finish line together. Two days later I received ...





Sections


Profile

Contact the Spokesman

Main switchboard:
(509) 459-5000
Customer service:
(800) 338-8801
Newsroom:
(509) 459-5400
(800) 789-0029
Back to Spokesman Mobile