As Confucius said, "May you live in interesting times." It's an appropriate quote here, considering the recent expansion of the University of Idaho Confucius Institute. As the 18th president of Idaho's oldest public university, Dr. Chuck Staben oversees U of I facilities in Boise, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls and the 1,585-acre main campus in Moscow. When Staben sat down with Boise Weekly, it was to talk about the future: attracting the next generation of students, the fate of the university's football program and how long he expects to remain on the job.
Other than yourself, who's the best college president in the U.S.?
Thanks for wording the question that way. It's Michael Crow at Arizona State University—he authored a fairly influential book, Designing the New American University. A great research university can serve its state best by assuring qualified students have access to a transformative education.
So, let's talk about that access. I'm sure you've heard of the recent survey of Idaho teens, particularly boys, who questioned the value of a college education.
I think there were people in the study who question accessibility and affordability of a college education, but I don't think that's so true in Idaho, particularly at public institutions.
But that perception can't be ignored, especially the gender gap.
If you look at developed economies around the world, women are increasingly becoming educated and men less so.
Drill into that. Where is that coming from, particularly in western cultures?
Men might think there's an abundance of high-paying positions that don't require too much higher education; but those old middle- and higher-income blue-collar jobs at sawmills, logging camps or mines have gone away.
Idaho has spent a fair amount of time and energy on the Go On campaign, encouraging college education. Quite frankly, that hasn't been overly successful.
I'm not sure those ads are reaching the people who need to hear that message.
How might you better reach out to those male teens?
About two-thirds of our students graduate with about $25,000 in debt ... in time, the return pays off handsomely with a college degree.
But a teenager or 20-something is looking for more of a short-term return.
Instant gratification. There are things that are more effective with young males. For example, video games work really well.
Let's talk about a different type of game: football. On Feb. 15, you made a critical presentation to the Sun Belt Conference trying to convince them to keep the U of I in the conference for Division I football.
The options are whether we stay with the Sun Belt, play as an independent or possibly join the Big Sky Conference.
There is considerably less revenue from a Big Sky relationship. Can I assume that you hear as much about this from alumni as anything else?
You are correct. I take input from everyone.
Do you think the U of I should renew a regular seasonal rivalry with Boise State?
We'd love to, in football, basketball or both.
Are you talking to your counterpart about it?
Yes, I've talked with [Boise State President] Dr. [Bob] Kustra. I don't think it's very likely that we'll renew a football rivalry anytime soon.
How long do you expect to remain in this job?
I have a multi-year contract.
We've seen four different U of I presidents since 2000, seven including interim presidents.
It's my intent to stay here 10 to 12 years. We're crafting a long-term plan, 2015-2025, and that's what I'm considering to be the bulk of my presidency. I'm having a great time, and I'll do this as well and as long as I can.