‘We have to keep our eyes on the next horizon:’ Tromp addresses Boise State staff

Boise State University President Marlene Tromp used her first state of the university address to praise faculty and staff for their work so far — and to challenge them to build on it.

“Remaining on this trajectory will make us national leaders,” Tromp said Wednesday morning. “We have to keep our eyes on the next horizon.”

Speaking to a nearly full house at Boise State’s 2,000-seat Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, Tromp did not spell out any detailed new programs or initiatives. But less than two months after taking the top job at the state’s largest university, she did touch on several themes:

Affordability. Nearly 25,000 individuals and institutions donated $25 million to Boise State last year, and the university’s endowment grew by 4 percent. Tromp pledged to work on fundraising — saying Boise State, like many public universities around the nation, is feeling the effect of states’ “disinvestment” in higher education.

Partnerships. Tromp praised staff and faculty for their working partnerships with two pillars of Boise’s corporate community, Micron Technology and the J.R. Simplot Co., and pledged to work “tirelessly” to secure additional partnerships.

Facilities. Tromp praised her predecessor, Bob Kustra, for presiding over a $400 million facilities makeover in his 15 years as Boise State president. Tromp did not cite specifics, but she said Boise State still faces capital needs, and the challenges of “shrinking space in a growing university.”

Research. Tromp touted Boise State’s growing research presence. The university received a record $41 million in research contracts this year, a 64 percent increase over five years. In February, Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education named Boise State an “R2” doctoral university with a high level of faculty research. But research isn’t just a faculty “vanity” project, Tromp said. Boosting research puts students at the cutting edge of life-changing work.

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Perceptions. While Boise State continues to draw record enrollment and graduate record numbers of students, higher education is struggling nationally. Since 2010, when enrollment increased during the Great Recession, student numbers have dropped by about 2 million. As a result, 800 of the nation’s 4,300 universities face a risk of closure.

Tromp said universities need to work to shake an image problem. Too many people believe higher education is unaffordable — or believe universities try to impose a political mindset.

“The faith of the mainstream in higher education has diminished,” she said.

Tromp began her 52-minute speech by addressing the controversy that has marked her short time at Boise State’s helm: the backlash over campus diversity and inclusion programs. In July, 28 House Republicans signed a letter urging Tromp to disavow these programs.

On Wednesday, Tromp restated her commitment to ensuring Boise State accommodates all students, regardless of background, demographics or politics.

“If universities are not meant to be bringers of light, then who is?” she said, to applause. 

Coming Thursday: An in-depth profile of Marlene Tromp — her backstory, her arrival at Boise State, and her vision for the future.

 

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