UI president turnover causes some concern


Associated Press

Posted on March 3, 2013 at 12:32 PM

MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — The apparent departure of another University of Idaho president is a cause for concern, Idaho State Board of Education Vice President Don Soltman said.

Since 2003, the school has had four different leaders. That has included two presidents and two interim presidents.

On Friday, regents at Texas Tech University selected UI President Duane Nellis, 58, as the lone finalist to become that school's president. State law requires 21 days to pass before final action is taken on the appointment.

"In a way, it is a little disappointing at the university because we desperately need stability," Soltman said. "I think that President Nellis was giving us that. It would have been nice to continue that."

Soltman said Nellis has agreed to continue at UI through June. Nellis started in 2009 after the school conducted an 11-month search.

"I am personally devastated," said Tom Bitterwolf, a University of Idaho chemistry professor who served on the search committee that found Nellis. "I grieve because he has left so much unfinished."

School officials said Nellis wouldn't be available for comment until after Texas Tech makes its decision final.

But Nellis issued several statements. On the University of Idaho website, speaking for himself and his wife, he wrote: "Ruthie and I care deeply for the University of Idaho and are so proud of Idaho's 'flagship' national research university and all the people who make it successful. At the same time, I did not expect to be presented with the unique and exciting opportunity that the presidency at Texas Tech University represents."

The use of the word 'flagship' by Nellis conflicts with the state Board of Education, which last year struck the word 'flagship' from the school's mission statement. The board said the word simply carried too much weight, suggesting a special prominence over the state's other universities. Nellis said the board's decision could have negative consequences.

In a statement released by Texas Tech, Nellis said, "Texas Tech University is one of the nation's rapidly emerging public research universities, and I am grateful to be a part of the university's exciting and promising future."

The University of Idaho has about 12,500 students, and Texas Tech more than 30,000.

Nellis initially turned down the UI job because it didn't pay enough. But the State Board of Education changed its policy to let UI's foundation contribute part of Nellis' pay, upping it to $335,000 his first year. He's now making $341,700 at Idaho.

Among the challenges he has faced at Idaho include expanding the law school in Boise. The school also had cutbacks in the recession, leading to furloughs for staff. Bitterwolf said Nellis handled it about as well as it could be handled.

"I am confident Nellis will advance Texas Tech University," said Kent Hance, chancellor of the Texas Tech University System.