Skip to main content

Founder's Day Speech

Founders Day - March 5, 2005
Salt Lake City


I am delighted to join with you this evening to celebrate the founding of Utah State University 117 years ago this week. I offer special congratulations to those friends of USU who are being honored tonight.

  • Richard and Moonyeen Anderson
  • Jonathan Bullen
  • Bonnie Parkin

all with Distinguished Service Awards.

  • David Kragthorpe
  • Doyle "Dode" Rees

with Distinguished Alumnus Awards, and recognize the family members who have accompanied them. I also welcome our guests from the Utah State Board of Regents:

  • Jed Pitcher
  • Maria Sweeten

and our Utah State University Board of Trustees:

  • Linda Eyre
  • Richard Shipley
  • Randy Watts

our legislators:

  • Fred Hunsaker

and former Commissioner of Higher Education:

  • CeCe Foxley

I also welcome our faculty and staff, faithful alumni, students and friends from across the state who join us to celebrate the founding of this great university in 1888.

As we begin, I would like to introduce our new interim provost, Noelle Cockett. Noelle has been serving as Dean of the College of Agriculture and is most ably filling the provost role during this time of transition.

The deans and vice presidents were introduced earlier. However, let me ask them to stand, along with my chief of staff, Sydney Peterson, if they would please. This is the senior administrative team at Utah State University and I assure you that you wouldn't find a better or more dedicated team anywhere in Higher Education. Please join with me in giving them a round of applause for their wonderful contributions to our university.

I have attended many of these evenings as a dean and provost but, as you will understand, this evening is particularly special and poignant for me. I am deeply honored and humbled by the opportunity that has been given me to serve as Utah State University's 15th president. This is an institution that I love. Joyce and I extend to all of you a pledge to devote whatever talents, abilities, and energy we have to the cause of this university and all that it represents. We promise to work tirelessly over the next few years to help create, with you, a future for Utah State University that is truly worthy of that magnificent past that we celebrate here tonight.

In talking about my new appointment as president, I think it is worth recalling the tribal wisdom of the Lakota Indians, passed on from one generation to the next. That wisdom tells us that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

But in modern business, higher education, and government, other strategies are often tried with dead horses, including the following:

  1. Buy a stronger whip.
  2. Threaten the horse with termination.
  3. Appoint a committee to study the horse.
  4. Arrange to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.
  5. Hire outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
  6. Harness several dead horses together to increase speed.
  7. Declare that the dead horse carries lower overhead and therefore contributes more to the bottom line than some other horses.
  8. Or, if all else fails, promote the dead horse . . . to president.

I am reminded of President Harry Truman's definition - "all the President is," he noted, "is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking to get people to do what they are supposed to do anyway." Fortunately, with the quality of people we have at USU, this will not be one of the presidential tasks.

Founders Day provides us the opportunity to reflect briefly on our university's history, to highlight important recent accomplishments, and to describe some of our vision for its future

Founders Day provides us the opportunity to reflect briefly on our university's history, to highlight important recent accomplishments, and to describe some of our vision for its future. USU's history stretches back to its first students - 106 men and 33 women - and its first president, Jeremiah Sanborn - and the hopes and dreams they brought to the new college.

As you know, USU began as the Agricultural College of Utah in 1888... eight years before Utah became the 45th state. The first students did not arrive on Old Main Hill, however, until the fall of 1890. Students and parents here tonight will be interested to know that the first tuition bills totaled five dollars a year. At that time, the Ag College was one of two schools in Logan - Brigham Young College opened in 1877 and operated in downtown Logan until 1926. With two colleges, a railroad, seven schools, the first high school outside Salt Lake City, an opera company, industry and a booming population of 4,700, newspapers called Logan "the Athens of Utah" and later "the Athens of the West" because of Cache Valley's focus on education.

The College was the physical manifestation of a dream contained in the Morrill Act of 1862, which made possible the establishment of state colleges across the United States. The land-grant philosophy - to provide access to education for all citizens - was, and is, a central tenet of American democratic thought, and it remains the central purpose of Utah State University.

The Territory of Utah took advantage of the provisions of the Morrill Act when the Utah Territorial Assembly passed... and territorial Governor Caleb West signed... the Lund Act of March 8, 1888, which created Utah's agricultural college.

It's not difficult for us here tonight, coming off another session of the Utah Legislature, to believe reports of "considerable horse-trading," arm-twisting, "behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Cache County delegation" and late-night politicking that finally resulted in passage of a bill creating the state college in Logan.

By some accounts, Cache Valley actually "lost" in the political maneuvering: Other territorial institutions had already been parceled out - the capital and the University of Utah were in Salt Lake City and Utah County had landed the Territorial Insane Asylum (and, no, I am not referring to that other university located to our south). The last two prizes were the Land-Grant College and the Territorial Reform School, which Weber County picked because it came with a $75,000 appropriation. Cache County got what was left - a $25,000 appropriation to set up the college.

Well, with all due respect to our friends in Weber and in Utah County, I would say that we got the better end of that legislative decision.

Even before there was a college there was an Agricultural Experiment Station, and the secretary of the Experiment Station Board was a man whose name is very familiar to Utahns - John T. Caine Jr. It was Caine's job to find a president to run the college, and he found Jeremiah Wilson Sanborn, whom he hired in 1890 from the University of Missouri for a salary of $3,000 and an apartment in the south wing of Old Main, when it was finished.

Setting up and running the college wasn't easy in those early days, and even then legislative budget battles were fierce. The total state appropriation for the new state college in 1892 was just $108,000. But after an economic downturn, that amount was cut to $15,000 for fiscal 1894. That was the last straw for President Sanborn, who resigned and went home to New Hampshire.

I have to tell you that there have been a few times during the last few days of this year's legislative session when I thought about simply going home to Wayne County. But, having now gotten through my rookie session, I would like to express gratitude to the State Legislature - and especially our Cache County delegation - for an outcome that is much better than that experienced by President Sanborn in 1894. After three years of serious budget reductions to higher education, this year has been good to USU.

Essential support has been provided for faculty and staff compensation, we received much need funding for O&M (operations and maintenance) for our buildings and for fuel and power, funds were set aside to help us retain strong faculty who are being recruited by other institutions. Money was provided to move our agricultural activities from north of our campus to the Caine Dairy and South Farm, thus allowing for a much needed expansion of our Innovation Campus, and initial seed funding was provided to us and to the University of Utah for the new Economic Development Initiative, thus allowing our two great research universities to become more important players in helping driving the state's economic engine. Our climate center was funded, as were our Ag in the Classroom program, and our Vet Diagnostic Lab Accreditation. Overall, we have done very well, and we express our gratitude to those who worked through difficult issues to make this happen.

The land-grant philosophy we have described tonight provides, what my friend Ross Peterson calls an "educational declaration of independence," for the people of Utah. The heart and soul of USU's mission... is to welcome anyone who wants to learn and grow, whatever their background or socioeconomic status.

Since those Founding Days, we have said to the sons and daughters of Utah: If you have a dream... if you have intellectual curiosity... if you want to discover and explore... if you want to look beyond the current scope of your vision... then come, and let us learn and grow together.

And so we do...

  • In our teaching,
  • In our student-friendly environment,
  • Through our tradition of discovery and research,
  • Through our connection and engagement with our various publics and stakeholders both on- and off-campus... from Cache Valley to Tooele to Vernal to Blanding... from the USU campus to foreign nations like Thailand, Israel, the Dominican Republic, and dozens more.

It is our commitment to those values that causes us to renew our pledge to make academic quality our guiding theme but to combine that pledge with a renewed emphasis on access and affordability. To provide substance to that emphasis, we have announced to our students that we are reducing our request for the tier two tuition increase this year from 11% to 6.25%. We are also eliminating the discussion of a 43% tuition increase over the next three years. Whatever that figure is, it will be significantly lower than 43%.

We will remain committed to keeping the PUBLIC in PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION.

We will work hard to remind everyone that universities, and particularly the land-grant universities, contribute significantly to the public good. As noted recently by Nancy Cantor, we educate the next generation of leaders, we address critical social issues with discoveries that change our world. And, we preserve our cultural past, while laying the groundwork for the future.

These are important public goods. Additional social and individual benefits that accrue from what we offer include much higher lifetime earnings, lower levels of unemployment and poverty, lower smoking rates, more positive perceptions of personal health, lower incarceration rates, higher levels of civil participation, including volunteer work, voting, and other measures of public service.

Our history of service is as important as is our history of learning and discovery.

And I remind you again that our mission is to extend that service to every corner of our state. Our history of service is as important as is our history of learning and discovery.

For example, shortly after it was founded, our institution became the first weather station in Utah. Old Main stands high on the east benches of Cache Valley, and in 1893 was the highest structure in northern Utah - perfect for sending and receiving signals from the roof. Beginning in 1893, the College started receiving telegraphic weather forecasts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in San Francisco. Signal flags with each day's weather forecast were raised from the College flagpole, and were visible to farmers across the whole Valley. The weather reports were pretty good, too - the weather reports for 1893 were verified as 83.7% accurate - Jed, with that kind of accuracy you could do a much better job in selecting golf days. Unfortunately, this winter those living across the valley wouldn't have been able to see the flag on Old Main. That is, in part, why funding for our Climate Center was an important legislative priority - we can communicate information on the weather without the flags.

So we have grown from weather flags atop Old Main's south tower to close partnerships with NASA, and satellite imaging that not only tracks weather patterns, but maps farmers' fields and crops.

On this Founders Day we extend to you our commitment that Utah State University will continue to be a place of hope, of excitement, of discovery... a place that revels in the joy of inquiry... a campus characterized by a sense of promise and pride, purpose and accomplishment that - I believe - would astound and delight those Founders who have come before. It is their accomplishments, however, the ground they prepared for us, that has made possible the doors that are opened for our students, our scholars, and all our friends and partners in the extended USU family.

And so we will continue to emphasize our goals of academic quality, of nurturing and cultivating intellectual and cultural diversity, of providing access and affordability, of making contributions through our teaching, research, and outreach that extend across the sciences, the humanities, and the arts, and of becoming an even more important player in contributing to the economic security of our state.

Utah State University remains an extraordinary place. Let's never forget that, or take it for granted. That's why it is important for us to come together on occasions like Founders' Day... not only to remember and to acknowledge and to thank those people of vision who have come before... but to give ourselves a chance to reflect on the triumphs that take place every day on the USU campus, and in USU's Extension sites statewide and around the world.

Let's not forget the pioneering efforts of John T. Caine and Jeremiah Sanborn. But let's also not take for granted the great work that starts in a single class or with a single conversation on our campus today. Let's not forget that those student experiences extend and expand in ways and in scope that we never would have expected.

Let us not forget that Utah State University is, above all, about opportunity - just as Morrill, Lund, and others envisioned. We honored six people this evening who have accomplished much - we are proud of their service. But, let us not forget those students who are now enrolled who will, in 30, or 40, or 50 years be similarly honored.

This was the goal of the Morrill Act and is the soul of the land-grant mission, and it is a mission that - with the help of our friends and partners like you - USU continues to fulfill in ways both large and small.

Joyce and I remind you of our pledge and commitment - but we need you, all of you, to succeed.