The University of Idaho is heading toward a new year with a lot of change.
The school has hired several top administrators recently and plans to name new deans in five of nine positions. It’s examining proposals for five special programs that President Tim White said he hopes will become “part of the fabric of the university.” And it’s re-establishing the College of Art and Architecture, following a ruling that it was illegally disbanded in 2002.
By the time students break for summer, most if not all of those changes will be in place, White said recently.
“I was hoping, being a slightly impatient guy, that we could get this finished by January or February,” White said, referring to what he calls the UI’s Plan for Renewal – a commitment to provide $1 million annually to creative programs that fit into the school’s main mission.
The changes were prompted by different factors. White sees the new leadership and the Plan for Renewal as the upside of recent rough times at the university. The school has had to cut budgets and scores of positions. After those cuts, he said, it’s exciting to be putting money into something, rather than taking it out.
The head of the Faculty Council, Bob Zemetra, said the turnover among administrators and deans has been “greater than normal” at the school in the past couple of years, though it’s common for there to be some of that with a new president. White started in June 2004.
“There’s a feeling that change is coming, and there is the feeling that it’s going to be positive change,” Zemetra said. “But there’s a lot of uncertainty on campus because we’re not exactly sure what all the changes are going to be.”
Unscrambling the egg
The restoration of the College of Art and Architecture followed nearly three years of protests and challenges. The closure of the college was part of the reaction by then-President Bob Hoover to the collapsing finances surrounding the university’s troubled efforts to establish a campus in Boise.
Students, faculty and alumni protested, formed a foundation and pushed the issue before the state Board of Education, which ruled that UI administrators failed to get board approval to dissolve the college and ordered it restored by the start of next academic year.
Jared Peterson, a graduate student in architecture, was one of those asking for the college to be restored. Peterson said having the art and architecture programs in their own, free-standing college is important to the credibility and autonomy of the program.
“As graduate students, we won’t see the effect of this on our careers, but this will have an effect on future students,” he said in a recent interview.
The controversy over the college included protests on the lawn of the UI administration building as well as a war of words between art and architecture students and a columnist at the student newspaper, the Argonaut.
The columnist wrote that students in the new college ought to pay professional fees to cover the costs of the new bureaucracy – something they already do. But the column also touched on a common criticism of restoring the college – that it would add administrative overhead costs in an era of cutbacks at the school.
The UI has said that students, faculty members and class offerings in art and architecture have all increased in the programs of art and architecture recently, despite the administration being merged into the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences.
Before the Board of Education’s final decision Oct. 17, White predicted in an interview that the college would not be coming back.
“It’s going to be very hard to go back and unscramble the egg,” he said.
Now, he’s heading the team looking to do just that – prepare budgets, find space and handle the other details around bringing art and architecture back to a free-standing college. He said an interim dean would be hired before the end of the academic year and that the overall added costs are expected to be around $400,000 or $500,000.
Peterson called that “a raindrop in the lake,” considering the UI’s operating budget of nearly $130 million. He and other students said the professional fees they pay should be going toward a separate college, and not into the general fund of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, where the program is now.
Peterson, along with two other graduate students in architecture, talked about the process of re-establishing the college in a recent interview. They said they are cautiously optimistic about the process of restoring it and hope that it stays open to input from students.
They said there was never a good financial reason to close the college – it had operated in the black and was sacrificed to make up for losses associated with the Boise project.
“When University Place failed,” Peterson said, “it was like this black hole, and they just looked for ways to fill it in.”
Changes among White’s leadership team have been broad. In the past year, he’s hired six new top administrators – including a new provost, Doug Baker, and a new vice president for finance and administration, Nancy Dunn.
Also, he’ll be naming five new deans in the coming year, including the one for art and architecture. And the campus is undergoing an extensive marketing and branding effort, intended to inform how the school sells itself to students.
White said the change gives the UI a growing energy. When he talks about the future, he often uses the words “renewal” and “renaissance.” He’s excited about the plan to fund five special programs – nearly 30 proposals have come in, ranging from a research project surrounding the school’s work on equine cloning to developing a curriculum for teaching professional ethics.
He’s also looking ahead to partnerships with other schools around the region, as ways of creating branch campuses.
The UI has partnerships with North Idaho College and Lewis-Clark State College in Coeur d’Alene – a model that is playing out around the West as schools seek to broaden their impact and as communities try to attract higher education as part of their economic development efforts.
When he was provost at Oregon State University, White saw a similar development happen in Bend, where OSU opened a branch operation in partnership with the local community college.
Such coordination is the most effective way to expand access to higher education, White said.
“That is the way education is going to move forward in this era,” he said.