By Martin Hackworth
Fiasco (fee-as-koh) noun: a thing that is a complete failure, especially in a ludicrous or humiliating way. â€śHis plans turned into a fiasco.â€ť
Rumors have circulated for a while concerning the potential resignation of Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas.
During this time ISU reported that hard evidence of improprieties at the RISE Complex have surfaced and calls from the athletic booster community have come for President Vailas to resign or be fired.
Then on Wednesday came the word that President Vailas had decided to retire but will be with us for another year.
Thatâ€™s very disappointing. The last thing that Art Vailas deserves is a victory lap for what heâ€™s done to ISU and this community. Most everyone else just wants him to go. Itâ€™s not overly difficult to discern why.
Letâ€™s go down the list of accomplishments racked up during the Vailas era. Since 2006 weâ€™ve seen a clumsy reorganization of the university that disenfranchised and angered a variety of stakeholders, dissolution of the Faculty Senate (twice), sanctions by professional organizations, bungled lawsuits, alienation of donors, faculty layoffs, punitive workload policies, proliferation of administrators, dismissal of critics, unusual fluctuations in ISUâ€™s Carnegie Classification, an opaque attempt at spending a half-million dollars on a new presidential estate, paying administrators for lengthy amounts of leave and headlines in the national press for all of the wrong reasons.
But worse and most obvious the RISE Complex which, in an ironic twist on words, did nothing but sink the career of its director at ISU and somewhere between $3.6 million and $20 million in public funds.
Iâ€™m still agog over this. In a state that can barely afford K-12 education how, exactly, does one get away with a boondoggle on this scale? And even now, with facts about the degree of impropriety involved at RISE emerging for all to see, there has to date been no real accountability for any of it. And the guy ultimately responsible for it just got a raise. Can anyone explain that to the rest of us?
Students have arguably suffered most of all. Over the past decade ISU students have experienced routine tuition increases far beyond anything rationally related to the cost of education in Southeast Idaho. Further, in my opinion, theyâ€™ve endured frequent attempts to strong-arm speech, the recruitment of thousands of unqualified and unprepared international students for the purpose of treating them like ATMâ€™s, the outsourcing of many health science programs to the other side of the state, reduction of faculty, increases in teaching loads of those faculty left and the myth that the cost of attendance at ISU is a bargain (tuition costs at ISU belie the actual cost of attendance by a lot â€“ a variety of fees present a substantial additional financial burden on students).
Our community, as well, has been ill-served by the Vailas administration and its surrogates â€” from the alleged 50 burglaries at the residences of international students (a number the police said was highly inaccurate) to accusations of our intolerance in the national press to the promise of jobs that never appeared in a â€śGallium Valley.â€ť
One could argue, I suppose, thatâ€™s all water under the bridge. What about the future? Well as far as Iâ€™m able to glean the future consists of a questionable osteopathic medical school, competition from a community college in Idaho Falls and a very painful investigation into alleged wrongdoing at the RISE.
In times of tough decisions itâ€™s very common for people to vote with their feet. The verdict on Arthur Vailas has been in for a long time.
Upon discovering that their president was, in my opinion, a petty, mean-spirited bully the faculty left (in droves) followed by nearly every able administrator. Next donors, dissatisfied with the general competence level of the entire enterprise, said sayonara. The Carnegie Foundation promoted ISUâ€™s research classification but then downgraded it at the next opportunity. The majority of able researchers showed some leg and stuck out a thumb.
Itâ€™s not like there are people lining up replace any of the above either. Positions with attractive salaries across the university go unfilled because no one wants to go come to a place well-known for turmoil and dysfunction.
Students too. Having figured out that ISU, with its crowded classes, limited course offerings, high fees and predilection for populating courses with individuals who make a mockery of academic integrity, is not quite the bargain advertised, those with options have begun to seek greener pastures.
In my opinion whoâ€™s left in the Vailas camp? Well letâ€™s see â€” President Vailas enjoys the support of students? (nope), faculty? (nope), administrators? (not if you ask most of them on the sly), staff (nope), alumni and donors (no), community members? (not anymore). Well then who?
That would be the State Board of Education â€“ the sole reason Vailas will still be with us for another year.
Before I left ISU I used to imagine that the SBOE had found in Vailas a sort of wrecking ball to dismantle ISU in a manner that they could have never gotten away with through policy. ISU has never enjoyed the support that it deserves in Boise and appears to be the red-headed stepchild among Idaho institutions of higher education. That was true my entire career as a member of ISUâ€™s faculty. I rarely shared this opinion because it sounded completely paranoid. Well now it is apparent to me that just because youâ€™re paranoid doesnâ€™t mean that theyâ€™re not actually out to get you. I might not have been paranoid enough.
Members of the State Board, I challenge you right now to publicly explain why you support Arthur Vailas and his dismal record of accomplishments. What is the greatness that the rest of us just donâ€™t see? Donâ€™t call ISU to lean on the Journal regarding this column either. Show some stones and respond to it.
Iâ€™ve been a little unfair to President Vailas in that there are a couple of other groups that at least tacitly support the status quo at ISU.
The first are local lawmakers. Evidently they think that in a time when K-12 budgets are getting hammered, school athletic programs for kids are disappearing and basic services are taking a hit, itâ€™s OK that ISU wastes money on RISE, two presidents for the price of two, many terrible athletic programs, presidential estates and leave for administrators to look for other jobs. Please lawmakers, tell me why Iâ€™m wrong and why you think that the status quo at ISU is acceptable.
Finally to one of the few remaining supporters of the Vailas administration, the Idaho State Journal. Can you please explain to myself and everyone else why this newspaper has never called for President Vailasâ€™ resignation? Please explain why this man is worthy of anyoneâ€™s support?
I have long maintained that there were two groups of people in ISUâ€™s general orbit: those who already want President Vailas and his administration gone and those who soon will. Just in case you are still wondering the former is far and away the largest group. And â€śsoonâ€ť cannot be soon enough.
Associated Press and Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer and retired ISU faculty member who now spends his time happily raising two sons, llama farming, and riding mountain bikes and motorcycles