Boise State University President Bob Kustra — the longest tenured president in Idaho’s higher education system — will retire on June 30.
Kustra, 74, was appointed BSU president in 2003. He announced his retirement plans in an interview with Tom Michael of Boise State Public Radio, and also sent a letter to university staff Wednesday morning.
“Serving as president of Boise State University has been the privilege of a lifetime,” Kustra said in his letter.
BSU has grown rapidly during Kustra’s tenure as president — in terms of enrollment, and in terms of its footprint in the state’s capital city.
As the state’s largest university, with a fall 2016 enrollment eclipsing 24,000, BSU accounts for more than 46 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in Idaho’s college and university system. BSU has also grown its graduate programs, now the largest in the state.
“Boise State has become the metropolitan research university of distinction we envisioned,” Kustra wrote in his letter Wednesday.
Kustra has also presided over more than $450 million in campus capital projects — including classroom buildings and academic facilities, an expanded student union building, new campus housing options and new athletic facilities.
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As BSU’s national profile grew — largely through the success of its football program — Kustra tried to use this platform to tout the university’s academic offerings.
“I will be forever grateful for being able to serve during this period of incredible growth and accomplishment for the university,” Kustra said Wednesday. “This couldn’t have happened without the support that I’ve had personally from faculty, from staff. The opportunity to work with our students, who are just the best in the land.”
Kustra served as lieutenant governor and a state senator in Illinois before moving to Idaho. Kustra also cut a high profile in Idaho political circles — frequently testifying at the Statehouse, and most recently serving on Gov. Butch Otter’s task force on higher education.
But his tenure was not without controversy. In a 2010 meeting with the Idaho Statesman editorial board, Kustra famously criticized what he called a “nasty” and “inebriated” culture at the University of Idaho, as the schools’ decades-long football rivalry came to a close.
Most recently, Kustra publicly criticized Rep. Raul Labrador’s reaction to the fatal riots in Charlottesville, Va. Labrador, a Republican candidate for governor, went on a Boise radio talk show to suggest Kustra should step aside.
But on Wednesday, Otter was effusive in his praise of Kustra.
“His vision has transformed the school I attended as a junior college in the 1960s into a university whose programs, research and graduates are highly regarded across the country,” Otter said in a statement. “All Idahoans owe him a debt of gratitude for his single-minded dedication to the university, his advocacy for students and his community involvement.”
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter — who was elected in 2003, shortly after Kustra’s arrival — praised the president for leading BSU on an “astounding” trajectory.
“Every great city needs a great university, and in the 15 years since Dr. Kustra has led Boise State, he has indeed put Boise State on the path to greatness,” Bieter said.
State Board of Education President Linda Clark praised Kustra’s legacy. “Dr. Kustra has left a lasting impression on BSU, and it is evident throughout campus.”
The timetable to name a successor wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday morning. However, based on other presidents’ searches, the State Board is likely to spend months on the search.
The State Board is already working to fill two pending presidents’ vacancies: Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas and Lewis-Clark State College President Anthony Fernandez are also retiring.