The last finalist selected by the State Board of Education as the next potential Idaho State University president visited the Pocatello and Idaho Falls campuses Wednesday.
During open forums with several ISU constituency groups, Robert Marley, the provost, executive vice chancellor and professor of engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, spoke about the vision he has to thrust ISU into national prominence, how to repair fractured relationships and how to reverse the trend of falling enrollment numbers at the school.
“This is an institution that does have tremendous potential,” Marley said. “I see great national and international programs, high-quality faculty and great students. Really, (ISU) is on the verge of breaking out into national prominence.”
To achieve that national prominence, Marley said he sees a need for greater private financial support and a continued focus on building faculty and student support.
Having accelerated through the ranks with a start as an assistant professor of engineering at Montana State University in 1990, Marley said he has a track record of successful fundraising efforts. Marley said he raised approximately $30 million in philanthropic support while dean of the College of Engineering at MSU.
“Further, I led the concept development and cultivation of a donor for what eventually became the largest private gift ever to Montana State University at $50 million,” Marley added.
Marley said he is aware of the poor relationship between ISU faculty and the senior administration, adding that the lack of shared governance documentation such as a faculty senate constitution is a primary contributing factor.
“I know there is an ongoing issue relative to fully developing a constitution,” Marley said. “Because at the moment that formal relationship in terms of defining what shared governance is, something both sides can trust, isn’t in place yet.”
As the next president of ISU, Marley said he would pursue formal ways to improve the relationship, such as adding the constitution, but would also explore informal methods, including focus groups, town hall-style meetings and would host more personal meetings inside his home.
Aware of the sanctions imposed by the American Association of University Professors on ISU since 2011, Marley said he would seek expert guidance to address the sanctions but added that resolving internal strife at the institution is more the root of that problem than anything.
In terms of enrollment management, Marley said that in the market today, state institutions with increased or maintained enrollment numbers have been successful because of expert assistance.
“This is a highly dynamic and complex process,” Marley said. “The reason being is because every other institution is trying to do the same thing. Some are successful and some are not … so you have to partner with some firms that specialize in knowing where students are and knowing what it’s going to take to get students.”
Further, Marley said he is in a crowd of people that would like to expand recruitment, retention and progress to degree metrics to include more than first-time, full-time students.
“It’s going to take some investment to realize an investment,” Marley said. “I think (ISU) is a great sell, you have a great location. … You’re at the crossroads of two great areas. You’re close to recreational areas and close to major population areas.”
All constituent groups, including the public and local community, are key players in shaping the future of an institution, Marley said.
Asked by Jim DiSanza, current chair of ISU’s communication, media and persuasion department, how Marley would mend what he called a broken relationship with the community, Marley said he would attend public events and invite community members into his home.
Marley said he utilizes a servant leader approach that is inclusive, transparent and relaxed, adding that he aims to reach consensus in decision making
“Consensus is a big thing for me but consensus doesn’t necessarily mean 100 percent agreement,” Marley said. “It means that you’ve been heard. At the end of the day, we have to make a decision. I want people to feel like they’ve been heard and they can support a decision because they understand it.”
ISU has invited all members of the Bengal family — faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members — to share feedback about the candidates following the campus visits and open forums. An anonymous evaluation form for each finalist is accessible by visiting isu.edu/presidentialsearch/candidate-evaluation. The form is available until 11:45 p.m. Friday.
The Idaho State Board of Education is scheduled to interview the final candidates April 2 but does not know when it will announce the new ISU president. Current ISU President Arthur Vailas announced his retirement from ISU in August 2017. The new president will succeed Vailas in June.