Tromp admonishes faculty to take on hard questions and ‘intractable problems’

Boise State President Marlene Tromp delivers her fourth state of the university address Wednesday. (Photo by John Kelly, Boise State University)

Marlene Tromp touted a pair of big-money records Wednesday.

The Boise State University president used her fourth state of the university address to thank faculty and staff for their efforts during a turbulent time for higher education. And acknowledging one source of the turbulence — a polarized political climate — Tromp said faculty cannot afford to shy away from “intractable problems” and hard questions.

“Because that is the work of higher education,” Tromp said.

The work at Boise State, the state’s largest four-year school, included several significant milestones:

  • Philanthropic contributions reached $56.5 million, a one-year record.
  • Research contracts totaled $68 million, also a record.
  • The university administered 113,000 COVID-19 tests and 14,600 vaccinations as it navigated in-person learning during a school year marked by several coronavirus surges. “There wasn’t a roadmap for that work,” Tromp said.

And Tromp shared another significant number — although it isn’t set yet.

She said Boise State is on pace to see a 20% increase in first-year, in-state students this fall — which could translate to an increase of roughly 300 students. This comes a year after out-of-state students made up the majority of Boise State’s first-year students for the first time in school history. While Boise State eagerly welcomes out-of-state students, who often stay in the state after graduation, Tromp said the university has tried to provide more support for in-state students.

“We want to serve young people in Idaho,” said Tromp, to applause.

Tromp also spotlighted another campaign to attract students: a joint marketing campaign with Idaho’s other four-year schools. The Education For Idaho campaign is designed to combat some of the skepticism about higher education, Tromp said; its first commercial features students from across the state.

“That was a story we wanted to tell, with our students, all across the state, united,” she said.

Tromp did not address the conservative political backlash that has been directed at her, and at Boise State, in her 37 months as president. But she acknowledged that higher education is operating “in a period of deep polarization and skepticism,” one that requires listening to critics. And she thanked faculty and staff who have not been deterred by the politics of the moment and have stepped forward to serve the campus community.

“It’s a very difficult time to do that.”

Wednesday’s 59-minute speech — interrupted by applause on several occasions, and punctuated by a standing ovation — brought Tromp full circle.

Three years ago, she delivered her first state of the university address to nearly a full house at Boise State’s 2,037-seat Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts. Due to the pandemic, she has delivered subsequent speeches online and at Albertsons Stadium.

This year, she returned to the Morrison Center for an in-person and virtual event, and turnout was down somewhat. There were a number of empty seats in the center’s lower level, and only a smattering of attendees sat in the balcony.

But Tromp and fellow administrators didn’t lack for enthusiasm.

For a few minutes, she shared the stage with several newly hired administrators, who talked about their move to Boise State.

New College of Education Dean James Satterfield recounted his recent move from Auburn University, a 2,258-mile trek. “And it was worth every mile,” he said.

New Albertsons Library Dean Tod Colegrove didn’t have as daunting a move; he came to Boise State from Carson City, Nev. A former administrator at the University of Nevada, Reno — one of Boise State’s traditional on-field rivals — Colegrove said Boise State’s innovative nature was a draw.

“There is no more thrilling place to be,” he said.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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