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Carlson: All hail the new flagship

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Idaho media recently carried reports that the State Board of Education had unanimously voted to strip the word “flagship” from the University of Idaho’s mission statement.

President Duane Nellis appeared stunned by the move. He should not have been – even this scribe pointed out a year ago in several columns that shang-haing the title of flagship away from the land grant university was part of BSU President Bob Kustra’s five-year game plan to have the Boise State campus be perceived by the public and politicians as the real flagship in Idaho’s university system.

The apparent ease with which President Kustra pulled off the move not only is a testament to his political and p.r. skills, it also says much about President Nellis’ passive nature. Vandal partisans should ask pointedly why their president, despite all the obvious signs, failed to see this coming and did nothing to block it.

One has to ask pointedly also, where were the two Idaho board members with the most obvious connections to the University of Idaho, Bill Goesling and Emma Atchley, and why did they go along? Surely they could not help recognizing from a p.r. standpoint alone how insulting to the University of Idaho this slap in the face would be.

Looking over the horizon and anticipating what is coming is clearly art and not science. Some see various pieces of information, connect the dots more quickly, and draw pretty good conclusions about what’s coming around the bend. Then there are those who one can present with all sorts of data showing the loaded dump truck around the corner and still refuse to believe it until it is seconds from running them over. The latter is the case with Duane Nellis and the University of Idaho.

Set aside for a moment the stupidity of such a move by the board which offered up the weak rationalization that the University of Idaho should not be so singled out when course offerings and instruction were equally good (?????) at Boise State and Idaho State.

Set aside too the tier system American universities are rated by a standard which is largely a reflection of the amount of research done at a university, the dollars attracted from both public and private resources for research, and the number of Ph.D’s awarded by the school. By all these measures and by accreditation associations across the country the University of Idaho clearly predominates.

Yes, the Vandals and Bengals field lousy football teams compared to Boise State but that should not matter to the academicians of the world, and in fact it doesn’t. But to a politically appointed Board of Education, such as Idaho has, it clearly does matter.

One cannot help noticing that despite a long tradition under previous governors for selecting members of both parties for board spots so as to foster the clear impression that the board was expected to be bi-partisan and non-partisan with Governor Otter that tradition has gone by the wayside. All the members now appear to be Republicans.

That, however, easily leads to the question whether the governor and/or his staff were aware that Kustra, with the able assistance of his government affairs aide, former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, knew in advance that Kustra was going to make the move.

Someone in the daily media ought to be asking what did the governor know and when did he know it?.

What should be clear to all is that perception is reality. Removing the word “flagship” from a university’s mission statement can be seen in no other context than a demotion no matter how much lip stick President Nellis tries to put on this pig. It ain’t pretty and what the U of I lost will be seen by all others as a clear gain for BSU. Just watch now as BSU’s share of the state funding pie continues to grow.

Frankly, I loved the skillful way Bob Kustra pulled off the board vote and stuck the stiletto into Nellis (metaphorically) while smiling and looking him in the eye. Just before the surprise vote by the board Kustra granted the Statesman’s political editor, Dan Popkey, a lengthy interview in which his acute political skills shone and his ability to act ethically in the rough and tumble political world, especially that in Illinois, also was apparent.

Remember, in politics there are no coincidences!

Some folks may ask why now? The answer is easy: Kustra is declaring victory. It’s over and done. BSU as far as public and political perceptions are concerned is now the state of Idaho’s “flagship” university.

UI had ample notice and still could not avoid being run over by the loaded dump truck. It doesn’t take a fortune teller looking into a clouded crystal ball to predict they may never get the title and the public perception back.

My congratulations to President Kustra and his team; my sympathy, somewhat shallow, to President Nellis and his. All hail the new flagship!

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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