Scott Green picked as next president of University of Idaho
Scott Green, chief operating and financial officer of the international law firm Hogan Lovells, a 1984 graduate of the University of Idaho and grandson of Leon “Doc” Green, the athletics director who raised money for the Kibbie Dome, has been named the 19th university president.
The announcement of his appointment Thursday morning was greeted by a standing ovation and a cheer – “I-D-A-H-O” – from an Administration Auditorium nearly full of faculty, students and others associated with UI.
Green succeeds Chuck Staben, who came to Idaho in 2014 and whose term as president expires in June. Green will take over as UI’s chief administrator July 1, at an annual salary of $420,000.
In remarks to the auditorium gathering, Green said his grandfather was able to emerge from the Great Depression to attend UI and play football because of the financial support of Charlie Beck, a storekeeper in McCammon, Idaho. As a student himself in the 1980s, Green said he faced daunting financial challenges that were alleviated by an ad hoc assortment of fraternity brothers and university officials who were able to offer him work on campus, and through financial aid. Receiving a scholarship, he said, “was like an enormous sun shining on the coldest Moscow day.”
Those experiences shaped an image of UI that he wants to instill in the institution – that of a welcoming, family-like place.
“Someone was playing the Charlie card. Giving so I could learn,” he said, and he wants the UI to become “a virtuous, self-sustaining circle of success,” where students are given the opportunity to be successful, and who then embrace the responsibility to pay that forward to the next generation.
He also mused about his time at Idaho, when he headed a student committee on campus lighting that prepared a report for President Richard Gibb. “He executed on it. The administration was listening to us,” Green said, with a touch of wonder still in his voice. “I hope to return to that.”
Interim athletics director Pete Isakson said Green’s deep ties to the university are a great asset.
“The biggest thing is he is one of us, a Vandal. He has passion and energy for this place, and his grandfather is a legend at the University of Idaho,” he said.
Bridge building with other institutions to leverage respective strengths, repairing strained relations with alumni and boosters, and being an enthusiastic advocate for UI are key goals for his administration, Green said in a news conference following his campus address.
One area that needs tending is athletics, where UI is trying to wrestle an ongoing approximately $1 million operating deficit, and where there is still discontent among some supporters about Staben’s decision to return Vandals football to the Football Championship Subdivision and the Big Sky Conference after two decades as a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
“I need to get the boosters back on board,” Green said. While he said there may be an opportunity in the future for UI to return to FBS, “the focus initially is to make us competitive in the Big Sky.” Before any FBS league would consider the Vandals as a member, he said, “you’ve got to be competitive in the conference you’re in.”
UI officials are working on a proposal to address the athletics operating shortfall by adding several sports and counting the tuition money paid by those student athletes as revenue. Officials are scheduled to report on that proposal to the regents when they meet in Moscow next week. Green said he is not yet familiar enough with the financial challenge in athletics and whether it can be dealt with without eliminating sports to comment.
Increasing student enrollment and retaining students are fundamental challenges for UI, Green said, and offered an idea to make it easier for students to access Idaho’s public higher education system.
Why couldn’t there be statewide enrollment, he asked, where students could take classes from any or all of the four higher-education institutions and receive degrees from one or more of them?
Green also pointed to the fact all four schools are getting new leadership and said it could begin an era of increased cooperation among them. It could even soften the seemingly eternal tension between the UI and Boise State.
“I don’t think that tension has to exist except on the basketball court,” Green said. “Frankly, I’m looking for ways to work with Boise State.”
He also said “I very much support” expanding cooperation with Washington State University.
UI currently has “a decent relationship with the Legislature,” Green said. But it can refer to its statewide mission to improve those ties.
“We have to tell the legislators the value we are providing to their districts,” he said.
Green praised nationally recognized UI efforts, such as information security in the computer science program. “We have programs like that in every college and research center,” he said. He also noted “there is huge value in humanities” for its ability to foster critical, creative thinkers.
Although he comes from outside the academic world, Green said being the administrator of an international law firm gives him a level of comfort with the concept of shared governance with faculty that is the basis of university leadership.
“Lawyers do not respond well to a command-and-control model,” he said.
Green also pointed to Purdue University president Mitch Daniels as someone heading a land grant university, like UI, whom he admires.
“I hope I can get some time with him,” Green said.
He promised that, unlike several former presidents, he will not use the UI presidency as a stepping stone to a job at a larger school. He predicted his tenure as president of the university where he has such deep family ties will endure. He expects to be at Idaho “until the state board kicks me out or I can no longer function. I don’t know any other fight song.”