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ISU optimism


Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee finds it encouraging that during the depths of the U.S. Civil War, when the prospects for a Union victory appeared bleak, an optimistic Congress enacted significant measures envisioning and anticipating a positive outcome beyond the war.

In April 1862, the two-day Battle of Shiloh’s 23,700 casualties in Tennessee made it the bloodiest battle in U.S. history up to that time – with the North winning it. The Second Battle of Bull Run in Virginia that following August produced 22,180 casualties – with the South or Confederacy victorious.

The Battle of Antietam in Maryland remains the single bloodiest day in the history of the United States with nearly 23,000 casualties, but U.S. President Abraham Lincoln used that Union victory as an opportunity five days later on Sept. 22, 1862, to issue a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, declaring the 3.5 million black slaves in the rebellious Southern states free.

(photo/ISU President Kevin Satterlee addresses the City Club of Idaho Falls/by Mark Mendiola)

Although the raging Civil War threatened to rip the United States asunder, Lincoln not only was determined to reunite the South with the North, he took bold steps to ensure the West would be firmly connected to the North, securing the nation’s great expanse and preventing slavery from spreading westward.

In addition to issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, Lincoln in July 1862 authorized construction of the transcontinental railroad, which was completed in May 1869, only four years after the Civil War ended, launching the nation’s industrial revolution.

In 1862, Lincoln also signed the Homestead Act, which enabled more than 160 million acres of public land, or nearly 10 percent of the total area of the United States, to be given away free to 1.6 million homesteaders or more than 300,000 families, mostly west of the Mississippi River.

In addition to the Homestead and National Railway acts, Lincoln in 1862 signed the Department of Agriculture Act and the Morril Act, which created the land grant college system by giving states title to lands for farm and technical colleges.

When he recently addressed the City Club of Idaho Falls, Satterlee emphasized that Lincoln and congressional leaders exercised great vision by recognizing the importance of higher education for advancing the nation. He emphasized that like today, the United States was polarized and government seemed unable to resolve its strife and divisive problems.

The Morril Act committed the federal government to grant each state 30,000 acres of public land. Morrill land grants laid the foundation for a national system of state colleges and universities. In some cases, land sales financed existing institutions. In others, new schools were chartered by the states.

Major universities such as Nebraska, Washington State, Clemson and Cornell were chartered as land grant schools. State colleges brought higher education within the reach of millions of students, who otherwise would be denied access, helping reshape the nation’s social and economic fabric.

“Higher education was critical to the future,” Satterlee said. “Congress was at its finest, providing hope for the darkest, most divided time in the nation’s history.”

Satterlee, who has been ISU’s president for about 19 months, said when he first assumed his office, he promised to build Idaho State University based on trust, compassion, stability and hope.

On Dec. 12, Satterlee joined his counterparts from the University of Idaho, Boise State University and Lewis-Clark State College in Boise to announce they plan to freeze undergraduate, in-state tuition and fees in 2020 at this year’s level — the first such statewide freeze in 43 years. Tuition continues to cover a larger share of Idaho’s public higher education revenue than it did previously because of state funding reductions and increasing costs.

After “the United States literally saved the world,” the G.I. Bill of 1944, which provided a range of benefits to returning military veterans, including free or low cost college or vo-tech education, “caused an economic and technical boom – the greatest in history,” enabling the U.S. to become the undisputed leader in science and technpology, Satterlee said. “It’s clear that investing in technology raised research yields.”

For 20 years after World War II, the U.S. economy grew by 4 percent on average, but in recent years that has declined to 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent, Satterlee noted.

Because of budget demands, it’s difficult to be critical of the Idaho Legislature, Satterlee said, but he noted that 30 years ago 15.5 percent of the state’s general fund was devoted to higher education, but now it’s 7.5 percent. “Student fees went up in the same proportion.” The primary reason Idaho students don’t go on with higher education is because of escalating costs, he said.

Satterlee noted most courses taken by students on campus are via online education, which ISU has been growing, “but it’s not the panacea everyone thought it would be a few years ago.”

Asked about student housing, he said dormitories are not in the condition they need to be. In October, ISU presented to the State Board of Education a plan to issue a $5 million construction bond to help alleviate the housing problem, Satterlee said, adding that the budget for ISU’s library has been systematically cut the past eight years.

Despite the fact differences in the political spectrum seem more pronounced, there remains hope for ISU’s future in higher education, Satterlee said. “Hope is one of our core principles.”

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