Idaho State University has a king at its helm

Commentary by Leonard Hitchcock
Printed in the Idaho State Journal on Sunday, April 29, 2012

Idaho State University has a king at its helm  Each of Idaho’s institutions of higher learning is unique. For each there is a list of distinctive programs and initiatives that sets it apart from its peers. Idaho State University’s list includes, for example, the possession of a College of Pharmacy and a College of Technology. Recent events on the ‍ISU campus make it clear that we must add a new distinguishing characteristic to that list. ‍ISU‍’‍s sister institutions all have presidents; ‍ISU has a king.

Though there had been no public coronation upon his appointment, it became apparent soon after he arrived at ‍ISU that Arthur Vailas believed himself to have ascended to a throne. When his plans for the reorganization of the colleges and the alteration of promotion and tenure criteria met with opposition from disgruntled factions of the faculty, he did what a king would, and must, do: he implemented those plans by edict. It is no doubt disappointing for a monarchto discover that there are naysayers within his realm, but when this occurs, firmness and discipline are called for. King Arthur found it necessary to banish an obstreperous

– ing department. The royal patience was also stretched to the breaking point by the surly obstructionism of the faculty senate and ultimately it was necessary to follow the example of Charles the First and dismiss that body. Then, in a generous and gracious gesture toward his subjects, the king permitted the seating of another, temporary, faculty senate, but it, too, set its face against the sovereign’s will and ended its days in royal disfavor.

In the manner of his namesake, King Arthur has governed by means of a coterie of close advisors, a Round Table of nobles that owe their statusto his beneficence and have sworn fealty to the Crown. It is generally these courtiers who deal with the commoners of the realm, for the king must maintain a proper distance from hissubjects. That is not meant to suggest that the king isn’t as filled with bonhomie as the next man, but when those over whom he rightfully rules show a tendency to kick over the traces, when the spirit of rebellion spreads through the kingdom, when there is seditious talk of political rights and faculty governance, the king must adopt a stern aloofness and wield his authority without hesitation. A king must never dignify the complaints of the rabble with a response, and so our king seems to have concluded that it would be demeaning for him to argue with those faculty who presumed to question his wisdom and leadership. Afterall, to do so would have been to suggest that those faculty were his equals and not, as God has willed it, his vassals.

The peace of King Arthur’s kingdom was ruffled, this past year, by the State Board of Education’s unexpected command that the faculty should assist in the formation of a novel form of university governance: a constitutional monarchy. The intent of this command was hard to fathom. Historically speaking, constitutional monarchies have always limited, to a greater or lesser extent, the power of the king, yet the SBOE has demonstrated again and again that it has granted Dr. Vailas carte blanche. The inconsistency may be illusory, of course. Had the king been assured by the State Board that he would have the right of final approval on a constitution, any limitations imposed upon him would be of his own choosing and hence not onerous?

As it turns out, the actions of the king, and the board, bear out this supposition. King Arthur rejected the constitutionproposed by the Provisional Faculty Senate and, with the board’s approval, promulgated his own version of it as the operative rules for the kingdom. Though there will be another faculty senate that will continue to work on the constitution, it is now an established precedent that if a constitution displeases the king he may simply refuse to accept it. Moreover, though new faculty senators will be elected, his majesty has created a rule whereby many of those faculty who had most resolutely opposed him in senates-past will be ineligible to serve on the new one. The board has concurred.

Every prudent monarch must guard against the possibility of popular revolt. King Arthur took a significant first step in combatting such uprisings by demonstrating that the SBOE, at his behest, will dissolve the Faculty Senate. He has provided for further protection in his self-authored constitution. Having already experienced an affront to his royal authority through the traitorousmachinations of senatorial malcontents, he has altered the senate’s rules so as to ensure that his subjects’ political representatives will never again succeed in engineering a vote of no confidence.

All in all, it seems clear that those who anointed Arthur are in full accord with his overarching principle of governance, which might be summed up in the maxim: “The faculty proposes; the king disposes,” or, as the king himself might put it, “L’Université, c’est moi!.” Nonetheless, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Divine favor has been withdrawn, and kings dethroned, ere now.

Leonard Hitchcock, of Pocatello, is a professor emeritus at Idaho State University’s Eli M. Oboler Library.

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36 Responses to Idaho State University has a king at its helm

  1. Faculty Supporting ISU says:

    Well Leonard, Dr. Vailas is the CEO of ISU and the faculty have lost so they should be quiet and get back to work teaching.

    The existence of those with the above mentality is more dangerous than having a King at ISU’s helm. History is filled with examples of how organizations that limit the fundamental freedoms our society tries to instill in its children end up either bankrupt or overthrown. Those who support Vailas’ rule and tell the faculty to shut up may as well be telling Pocatello that the end of ISU is near. You can find those people at

  2. Tyler says:

    It is easy to sit and judge Mr Hitchcock. President Vailas has a tough job with thousands of different opinions. Let him do his job. Crass evaluations does nobody any good. I suppose you would do it better. It is easy to attack the top man. Go after the top position because he should be a magician and wave his magic wand and make YOU happy. We should look at you and your work and decisions and see what we can publish for the world to see! President Vailas is a man with feelings and a heart. With that heart he wants the best for ISU and Pocatello!!!

    • PeepStone says:

      Dr. Vailas decided with his big heart to fire a tenured faculty member who has awards as an outstanding teacher and public servant.

      He also decided to eliminate associates degrees so Idaho students have less choices. The degrees cost ISU $0 to offer them.

      He decided to increase tuition even though ISU is reporting $12 million in cash reserves.

      He decided the Lutherans could not have the Ballard building so he bought it.

    • Poor Tyler. It’s nice of you to think so, but with the cold-hearted, disconnected, ruthless things I’ve seen the King and his loyal huntsmen do, it is impossible that the king is anything resembling a compassionate, intelligent, insightful human being. It’s about power and he can tell everyone that he’s “won.” But at what cost? The quality of an ISU degree diminishes with every second he remains as the tyrant. Just about anyone who knows anything about leadership could’ve done better. But someone who insists on ruling with an iron fist would do just as Veilus has done, and destroy personally and professionally anyone who stands in his way. Veilus and the SBOE are to blame for the mess here and until someone else with more power steps in and cares, ISU will continue its downward spiral in prestige, integrity, enrollments, and research. The king continues to get fat and the subjects are fleeing or dying.

      • Tyler says:

        So quit. Move away to a perfect place. There must be so many perfect places you could be. Maybe looking in the Mirror and pointing fingers would suit you better.

        • PeepStone says:

          Why leave when this is a good opportunity to discover the true nature of each faculty member. We can document which faculty/administrators believe in the principles America was built on and the price some faculty are willing to sell themselves for.

          • John Barleycorn says:

            I totally agree with you. I remember some years back when the issue of the legality of flag burning came up. Unlike some of my fellow Republicans, I was totally in favor of letting people burn the flag. Quite frankly, I want to know who is who. If my neighbor wants to burn the flag, I want to know about it. Here at ISU, we have a wonderful opportunity to see who believes in what. Maybe you are a Herb Maschner, a Jack Wolf, a Laura Woodworth Nye, a Mike Lineberry, David Beard, George Imel, a Candy Turley Ames, Cindy Wilson, or Linda Hatzenbuelher. On the other hand, there are a large number of faculty, many of whom I didn’t previously know and some of whom I did not even particularly like, who have shown enormous integrity and selfless dedication to ISU.
            In the face of all this profound administrative incompetence, I see reason for inspiration.

  3. Dog Catcher says:

    ISU is in serious trouble, thank largely to King Arthur. Don’t believe the lies he is spinning. The positive news mainly come from accounting tricks. (The recent claims of increased grant dollars are the result of just such an accounting trick).

    Faculty are leaving. High quality faculty, many of whom never even considered looking elsewhere because they liked Pocatello and ISU, are easily finding jobs elsewhere. What’s interesting is how many lateral moves are being made.

    Recruiting new faculty to ISU is exceptionally difficult. In addition to a poor salary structure, faculty now have to explain to a recruit that ISU is a monarchy without any semblance of faculty governance or academic freedom. Biology is in its second year of a search for a chair. Multiple candidates have turned down offers. Other departments are experiencing the same problem. The best people, those that can get work elsewhere, turn ISU offers down flat. Nobody knows how to sell ISU to a faculty recruit.

    The Ballard Building is empty.

    The Provost’s office is an information black hole. Incompetent people who are in their positions only for their fealty to King Arthur are sent reports and asked for guidance. Nothing ever emerges from the event horizon.

    The Development Office is a nightmare, run by incompetent people whose only reason for being in the position is their fealty to King Arthur. Large potential donations have been lost, the atmosphere at ISU makes others less likely to give, and nobody can admit there is a problem because to do so would threaten their jobs.

    Faculty are checking out from their emotional investment in the university.

    A steep slide is inevitable. King Arthur and Prince Fletcher will continue to spin their numbers and tell their lies, but ISU is not a good place to work or take classes.

  4. Skylight says:

    Tyler, Fingers should be pointed when abject incompetence is allowed to prevail. Doing so is the only way to make things better.

  5. Jack Wolfe says:

    The same handful of nobodies complaining like children and creating a reality that simply does not exist. It’s sour grapes because you lost–as you always have all your lives! And as for LH’s piece, I’ve seen less sophomoric writing from freshmen!

    • Nobody, I guess says:

      Faculty didn’t lose: everybody lost.

      Faculty expertise was ignored, leading to a botched reorganization (although that was also tainted by its hidden agenda) and botched installation of the Banner software. Faculty are no longer allowed access to the tools needed to teach and advise. Faculty are no longer able to speak freely about university policies or to point out that some program (e.g., the new Computer Science curriculum) the administration is pushing is poorly conceived. Faculty are no longer able to ask the hard questions about money or enrollments. With the dissolution of the Faculty Senate the workload policy was dismantled. Faculty have already succeeded in research efforts despite being asked to make bricks without straw: the administration gutted sabbaticals and seed grants and kept the money in the bank.

      Faculty are now being asked to serve on sham councils that can only pretend to perform their duties.

      As for leaving, many faculty members have spouse and family obligations that make leaving less palatable than staying. Those who can are leaving.

  6. June says:

    I couldn’t agrre more with Jack. I am so tired of this assinine behavior from about seven failed faculty. Tyler had a great suggestion–they should leave, and leave us in peace–but the problem is, they can’t. They have zero credentials.

  7. Skylight says:

    Maybe the seven can’t leave, but the other good ones are leaving. . .and in large numbers. Perhaps the seven will turn out the lights when everyone else is gone. ISU is a failing institution and it will become more clear as time goes forward.

  8. fred says:

    Leonard – I understand you and your tiny hard-core crew are very angry and want to lash out ad hominem. However, you still don’t seem to grasp the situation. Your problem is not with Vailas but with the entire state of Idaho. When Vailas eventually leaves, the SBOE will replacement him with someone even less to your liking.

    For the citizens of Idaho, ISU is becoming much better. From your prospective, it will only become worse.

    • Wilford says:

      I agree Fred. There is only one way to fix the problems at ISU: fire a certain Bio teacher and close down the physics department. They can all go teach high school science. It’s a better fit all the way around.

    • Professor says:

      ISU is better? In what sense? The football team won TWO games?

      Tuition is up.

      Fees are up.

      Library budgets are down.

      Classroom supply budgets are down.

      Class sizes are increasing.

      Student classroom performance has declined. There are many more students enrolled in remedial course.

      Enrollment numbers are cooked.

      There is no objective measure by which ISU is a better instituion than it was 10 years ago.

  9. Wilford says:

    That’s my point! The strife will never end!

  10. academic nightmare says:

    Funny someone would mention physics and biology faculty. Those two units bring in half the research funds to ISU. Why is is that no one notices that the most research-active units are actively opposed to the so-called “research-supporting” president? Anyone?

    A university without free speech is not a university. It is a factory.

  11. Fred says:

    Right. 20 hours a week period!

  12. Mike McDonald says:


    You really have no clue. Working for Dell was a 40 hour/week job that almost bored me to death. I worked for a University as a change. Every day was different, thanks to the students. I also received funding to work on the things that interested me. Even though I spent more than 40 hrs/week, it was really motivating to have a job that let’s you work like an entrepeneur.

    There is no way I would be motivated to do these things given what I see from the Vailas administration. The way you think of and treat faculty is similar to Vailas and results in faculty who just do their 9-5 job and become entrepeneurs outside of ISU. It is rather short sighted to have over 350 disgruntled faculty working to keep Vailas from destroying ISU instead of helping Vailas to make it even better. This type of leadership leads to bankruptcy in the real world.

  13. Matt says:

    As a non-traditional ISU student who is not from southeast Idaho it is very easy to see the failed system of what is called ISU. People like “Fred” are very ignorant and closed minded. I personal know several professions who work well more then 40-50 hours a week because they care for the students, most of these professors and instructors work their butts off because they believe in the students and a better University for us.
    This University is a wreck, you have personnel from the Provost Office who are involved in scandals which include several levels of the administration, Directors of certain Departments are violating state and federal laws, tuition, fees are going up while the services are going down, highly qualified professors have left and are planing to leave, the list goes on and on.
    If I could leave I would but because of family reason I can’t so I am doing what I can do as a student to help make changes. I support all of ISU faculty and staff members who speak up because they want a better University for us.
    ISU is very controlled by local dominant religion and good old boy system, the masses of mindless sheep who blindly fallow do not realize what goes on here is not the norm…… there is a whole world outside of ISU which do not operate in this manner.
    In closing…..hats off to all my fellow comrade’s who are fighting to make the change that needs to happen.

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