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S.D.’s Staben picked to head University of Idaho

Chuck Staben (U of I)
Chuck Staben (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, selected from among 70 applicants and five finalists.

Idaho’s state Board of Education voted unanimously today to hire Staben; he was appointed for a term of three years, at a salary of $350,000 a year.

He cited increasing the number of students who both enroll and graduate, and strategic expansions in university research as among his priorities.

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.”

Staben 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. “South Dakota actually has sort of an average level of state support for higher education – it’s not a particularly high level of state support, but it’s been adequate to grow several very good universities,” he told the Moscow audience. “We had some of the same experiences you had, when the recession hit us in 2008 – universities were one of the places that state legislators could look for cuts.”

He said, “So I’ve had some experience advocating for funding at the state legislative level.”

Don Soltman, president of the state Board of Education, praised Staben’s background in research and higher education administration. Since he arrived at the University of South Dakota, Soltman said, “The university has increased enrollment, retention and graduation as well as research grants. Dr. Staben helped guide the university through state funding declines.”

State board member Emma Atchley, a UI alum who chaired the 16-member search committee, said, “We had a gratifying response to the opening.” She said, “Idaho is very fortunate to have attracted such a strong advocate for higher education to lead the university.”

The other four finalists were physicist Donald Birx, chancellor and professor at Penn State Erie; higher education consultant James Applegate, formerly with the University of Kentucky and the Lumina Foundation; Laurie Stenberg-Nichols, provost and vice president for academic affairs at South Dakota State University and a University of Idaho professor from 1988 to 1994; and Jack Payne, a senior vice president at the University of Florida and former conservation chief for Ducks Unlimited.

The U of I’s last president, Duane Nellis, also said he intended to make Moscow his final post when he arrived in 2009, but he left earlier this year to become president of the much larger Texas Tech University. Timothy White was the UI’s president from 2004-2008; Robert Hoover from 1996-2003; and Elisabeth Zinser from 1989-1995.


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