Idaho politics: Why did the State Board sink the U of I's flagship?

In a clumsy, method-to-madness way, the State Board of Education spiced up what could have been a dull discussion about mission statements.

Just remove the word “flagship” from the University of Idaho’s mission statement, and it’s like football season all over again.

Vandal haters went online to talk smack and share a few virtual fist bumps. Vandal faithful, stunned and blindsided, looked around for a referee to boo.

A role played happily by the State Board, which started rewording the universities’ mission statements Wednesday, one day before pointing a torpedo at the U of I’s flagship. The board’s idea was to remove wording that gives one university preeminence over the others — to level the proverbial playing field.

So the State Board loves all its children equally. That’s nice. I’m sure that’s a sentiment shared by a Legislature and a governor that has shown its love for higher education by whacking 26.4 percent off the universities’ general fund budget over three years. All of the state’s institutions of higher learning, flagship or otherwise, have been taking on water.

Which makes the flagship fight a particularly pointless distraction. The State Board’s stated goal — encouraging universities to cooperate — is perfectly reasonable, but lean budgets are already forcing the universities to work together and avoid duplication. Not coincidentally, Gov. Butch Otter’s signature higher education initiative for 2012 is a high-tech university research collaboration.

But even if their intentions were good, State Board members should have been politically savvy enough to see they were starting a fight. The abrupt redlining of “flagship” reinforces all the old rivalries that divide Idaho’s institutions, outside the athletic arena. It forced, for example, the normally even-keeled U of I President Duane Nellis to go to the school’s Facebook page and play to the crowd in the grandstands. “This edit does not change who we are or how we will operate going forward. We are THE University of Idaho.”

The popular read from Thursday is that it shows that Boise State University is gaining political clout, squarely at the U of I’s expense. Never mind that the two schools serve different niches in the higher education market, and provide a very different campus experience to their students. The big problem is that the State Board chose to rekindle an old turf fight, when it does neither institution a bit of good.

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KR, you wrote "...Legislature and a governor that has shown its love for higher education by whacking 26.4 percent off the universities’ general fund budget over three years."

What makes you think cutting the budget means the L. and the Governor don't love higher education?

There is only so much MONEY available.

If you LOVE higher education so much, I am sure YOU have already sent 50% of your net pay check to your favorite university, right?

If you haven't, then you must not love [support] education, according to YOUR own writing. (Your kids tuition doesn't count).

Really,,, the constant political agenda wears thin. Try attending an Economics class (at your university of choice) instead.

Subtract the word: the sinking of a flagship

The State Board of Education has seldom been able to administer/audit/manage higher education. I would favor selling U of I to the state of Washington; ISU goes to BYU; BSU becomes a "for profit" school.

We're not able to provide jobs and keep our graduates in Idaho so why pay for it ?

We're a third-world state that grows stuff in the ground and ships it off to be processed/manufactured.

You missed the point

It was not that the State Board removed the word "flagship" from the UI mission statement, it would not let the UI add it. These were new mission statements being proposed to the State Board, after the board requested new rewrites.

UI has never had an approved mission statement that said "flagship".

a little investigation never hurts to improve reporting......

Many points are being missed

You're quite right, idahorafting, as I discovered only yesterday when the SBOE's Marilyn Whitney responded to an inquiry I sent, and answered more than I asked. (More about that on my blog today.*) It seems the U of I leadership had already decided to wave the flag, and just assumed they could have it blessed into their mission.

They doth protest too much... but Kevin's point about the state whacking the higher ed budget is by far the most important issue. All that warm palaver about "business friendly" ain't worth spit if the good old boys aren't funding what actually provides the foundation for an advancing economy.

* Hmm, sez HTML anchor tags are allowed, but... not in a "reply"? One is "too many." Here: