The first of five University of Idaho Presidential candidates, Donald Birx, spoke at an open forum Tuesday morning at the UI Administration Building in Moscow, giving a general statement on what his vision is for a land-grant institution before fielding questions from those in attendance.
Vandal Nation was in attendance and asked the question on what he believes a President’s role in athletics should be and what role he thinks athletics should play at the UI.
Birx is currently the Chancellor at Penn State’s satellite campus in Behrand, Pennsylvania — An enrollment of just under 5,000 and athletics that compete in NCAA Division III. Prior to Penn State-Behrand he was vice chancellor and vice president for research at the University of Houston.
“The things you do you have to do well,” Birx said. “Because everybody looks at you through athletic teams to get a perspective of what you’re doing. At least a set of people do. I think what you have to do is build an image of the university in which athletics is a part.”
Birx’s answer focused on what Idaho’s ability would be to fund its programs while maintaining competitiveness.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of programs around the United States, particularly in football, that are not doing particularly well. In which there’s a lot of funding coming from the University into those programs in which you either have to decide, are you going to be competitive within that environment, or are you going to say ‘hey, that’s not for us. There’s some other area that’s good.'”
“So I think it’s really a matter of deciding what resources you have and what you can put in to be competitive. Because whatever we do as a university we want to do it well, because everything is a reflection of what we’re doing. And I think student engagement in that process is tremendous.”
“You have a strong history in football, I’ve seen where it’s possible to turn that around and really change it,” Birx said.
Birx used the example of the Houston’s turn-around under former coaches Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin as an example of it happened at the FBS level, and the example of Penn State-Behrand’s success as Division III as an example of making it work with the resources a school is given.
“I’ve been in Division I schools and I’ve been in Division III, I think athletics plays a tremendous part in team-based spirit for the campus. They’re also great advertising. So I think they’re important.”
Throughout the month the State Board of Education will hold an open forum for the other four candidates in Moscow and the other UI campuses throughout the state.