The University of Idaho’s next president is a longtime administrator who comes from a Western land-grant university and has experience battling larger schools in his state.
Members of the UI Board of Regents said Robert A. Hoover’s experience with the political and cultural environment of the University of Nevada at Reno make him the best of the five candidates to replace Elisabeth Zinser.
“He has an appreciation for the fact that over the last few months and last year there has been some divergence of opinion and some tension within the state,” said Board Chairman Curtis Eaton, referring to UI’s fight to keep Boise State University from taking engineering programs from Moscow.
“Translating his experience from his state to this state should be relatively easy for him.”
Hoover, 55, has been vice president of academic affairs at Reno, which has an urban rival in the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
A political scientist, Hoover has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Arizona State University and a doctorate from the University of California at Santa Barbara.
His 25 years of experience as an administrator includes a stint as dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences at Utah State University in Logan.
Much of the buzz surrounding Thursday’s decision was not around whom the board chose but whom they didn’t choose - J. Kirk Sullivan.
The Boise Cascade Corp. lobbyist ignited a wildfire of controversy over his Boise establishment ties and his company’s hefty political contributions to, among others, Gov. Phil Batt, who appointed half the regents.
Sullivan’s willingness to abandon academic affairs and act chiefly as an external fund-raiser - to the point of targeting a hypothetical 72-year-old rich widow - was cause for further nervousness.
But concerns about Sullivan dissolved so quickly with the choice of Hoover that few university officials and campus leaders were giving him much thought, at least openly.
Chris Houk, the UI student lobbyist, said naming Sullivan would have leaned the school too far toward the state’s Boise faction, just as naming Larry Branen, a UI professor, former agriculture dean and the only internal candidate, would have been leaning too far toward the Moscow campus.
Hoover, Houk said, “knows how to go down and talk to people in Boise. He’s a real quality individual and will be an excellent president for the University of Idaho.”
The voice vote for Hoover was quick and unanimous, but it followed two hours of executive session discussions in which “forceful statements” were made about all the candidates, said Regent Roy Mosman, who co-chaired the search committee.
Voting in executive session is illegal, but “everyone in there can count and as the statements come in, you can tell what’s going to happen,” said Mosman. He would not say how the early statements leaned.
Hoover, who accepted the job immediately when telephoned by Eaton, flew up later in the day to begin laying plans to start the job July 1.
“It’s one of the happiest moments of my life,” he said in a telephone press conference.
He said he will begin assembling answers to some of the questions facing UI’s changing land grant mission and research environment.
“I’m interested in collaboration - and I think the University of Idaho is as well - and how do we do that in providing the people of the state the best possible programs, often in collaboration with other institutions,” he said.
Hoover will be paid $120,000 a year.
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