At its most basic level politics is all about power¸who has it and who doesn’t.
One of politics' sad sights is an elected official who has been defeated at the polls but his term still has six months to go. It also applies to those appointed to a high public service position, such as a university president, or a top executive in a corporation who is asked to stay on the job until a successor is found.
Such individuals are known as lame ducks. They can no longer fly but are still expected to strut.
On May 25th University of Idaho President Chuck Staben penned a note e-mailed to the entire Vandal world making him the lamest of lame ducks. He revealed his change in status but indicated he would be there through the coming academic year. Neither he nor the board would say whether he was fired or resigned.
He went out of his way to say his departure had nothing to do with the on-going investigation by the university into the Athletic department’s handling of two sexual harassment complaints to which they allegedly did not respond. (The Moscow Police some say were the first to fumble the ball.)
A few days later though the University quietly reported the administrative leave of Athletic Director Rob Spear had been extended as the school’s internal investigation was taking longer than expected. There are those who think that regardless of the outcome Spear is toast, a victim of not what did you know and when did you know it but rather shouldn’t you have known sooner.
That question is perhaps better directed at Staben rather than Spear whom I personally believe did nothing wrong and hope the final report exonerates him.
While Staben apologized for breaking his pledge to stick around following his weird bid for the presidency of the University of New Mexico four years into his time as the Vandal leader, many felt the board left him little choice once they refused the standard one year contract extension. UNM appears to be in no better shape than Idaho but why was he that desperate to get out of Moscow unless the board had given signals of unhappiness.
Of course no one wants to work for a lame duck so what little talent that remains has to be dusting off the resume. Why the board signed off on this is a mystery. One would expect they would cut their loss, buy up what remains of his contract and send him packing.
From this vantage point the board appears culpable regarding many of the current problems.
This has to be the nadir of the University of Idaho’s decline, especially from a leadership standpoint. I used to think that day came a few years back when the ethically challenged board chair, Blake Hall of Idaho Falls drove off the talented Tim White who today just happens to be the Chancellor of the entire California State University system.
Maybe Staben faced impossible challenges but his tin ear to the politics of Idaho didn’t help. He is a decent person but no leader and in the wrong job. Declining state support and large increases in student fees have many parents questioning the value of a U of I degree. Staben has seemed helpless before the incoming tide.
Why anyone would want to succeed him is a good question. The U of I has had a few years of stability and solid leadership in the past before it became clear their “flagship” role was being supplanted by a rising Boise State.
From 1965 to 1989 two presidents, Ernie Hartung and Richard Gibb held the fort. No one in Moscow though recognized they were about to be sliced and diced by several well thought out and well executed strategic plans by Boise State capitalizing on its assets.
Today finds Boise State extending its search for a new president not yet finding the right fit. One can bet though they’ll find the right fit and he or she will be very good. In the meantime Idaho State’s board has snagged the best rising in-state talent.
Attracting BSU CEO Kevin Satterlee bodes well for their future and his resume reveals he spent six years as a deputy attorney general assigned to be counsel to the board of education. It’s a good bet he understands both the board’s politics and the state’s. He has ties to southeast Idaho as well.
His law degree is from the University of Idaho but his undergraduate degree is from, you guessed it, Boise State. It used to be the state’s GOP leadership and office-holders were Vandals: Phil Reberger, Dave Leroy, Dirk Kempthorne, Jim Risch, Robie Russell, and Brad Little. All but Little are now in their 70s and are almost off the stage.
There’s no upcoming Vandal coming off the bench. There’s plenty of Bronco’s getting ready. What do you expect though from a leaderless university drifting into mediocrity?
Cry, beloved University of Idaho. Cry.