POCATELLO — After more than a decade of service to Idaho State University, President Arthur C. Vailas has announced his plans for retirement. The announcement was made to the Idaho State Board of Education during its monthly meeting Wednesday, Aug. 9.
“It has been my great honor and privilege to serve the Bengal community,” said Vailas. “The future of our University is secure, and ISU will continue to successfully prepare our students to take hold of tomorrow’s opportunities. I have spent more than 10 years working tirelessly to make ISU a better place for our students, faculty, staff and alumni. In planning for my retirement, I wanted to give the state board sufficient time to carry out a seamless transition.”
Vailas will continue serving as president of ISU through the end of his contract on June 17, 2018.
The State Board of Education will oversee the search for a new University president, and a search committee will include board members, ISU representatives, alumni and community leaders. The search process for Vailas’ replacement will begin immediately, and the State Board of Education hopes to have new leadership announced by the end of March 2018.
Vailas, ISU’s 12th president, came to the University in 2006, and during his tenure has overseen several expansions in student services, health sciences, research and economic development.
“Over the past decade, President Vailas has been at the forefront of many of the remarkable and positive changes, not only at Idaho State University but also throughout our higher education system,” said Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. “Through Dr. Vailas’ vision and leadership, ISU has championed numerous programs and opportunities including one that holds great promise for the future, the creation of Idaho’s first medical school. By any measure, Dr. Vailas’ many accomplishments secure his legacy as not only a great educational leader, but also a builder of a great university.”
Vailas has often stated that students come first at ISU, and under his leadership, several new student-focused programs have come to fruition.
In 2010, Vailas created the Career Path Internship program to offer students paid internships in their field of study. The program allows students to graduate with relevant work experience, and has grown each year. In the first year, 245 students took part, and today, ISU has 904 participants. Under Vailas’ leadership, the Early College Program also expanded, offering dual credits to high school students around the Gem State.
Vailas and his wife Laura have also worked to make education more accessible to students through the creation of programs such as Benny’s Pantry, a food pantry for students in need with locations in Pocatello and Idaho Falls. The Vailases also focused on expanding Veterans Student Services, cementing the University’s status as a “Military Friendly School” since 2008.
Also, Vailas was instrumental in a number of facilities upgrades focused on students, including expansions to the student recreation center, substantial housing renovations and a complete remodel of the Pond Student Union. ISU has also seen a number of beautification efforts on campus during his tenure, namely the Martin Luther King, Jr. landscape project, which was entirely funded through private gifts.
Over the years, Vailas also focused attention on enhancing athletics facilities at ISU. Upgrades included a new softball field, practice football field, new football turf and improvements to the Holt Arena. Athletics also saw an increase in the academic progress rate, gender equity and funds raised to support student athletes.
In March 2016, Vailas joined Governor Otter in unveiling a pilot program to lock base tuition rates for degree-seeking Idaho freshmen enrolled at ISU for four continuous academic years. The goal was to make higher education more affordable and encourage students to complete their degrees in a timely manner. The tuition lock program is now entering its second year.
Vailas oversaw the opening of the Meridian Health Science Center in August 2009. Today, the Meridian campus serves more than 1,000 students and working professionals. ISU-Meridian now offers 25 graduate and undergraduate programs, including all four years of the Doctor of Pharmacy degree. The campus houses full-service dental, speech/language and counseling clinics, as well as patient simulation and medical science laboratories. In 2015, the L.S. and Aline W. Skaggs Treasure Valley Anatomy and Physiology Laboratories in Meridian opened, providing more opportunities for advanced health-science education and research.
As the health sciences leader for the state of Idaho, Vailas furthered ISU’s mission through the creation of rural pharmacies. To date, ISU has Bengal Pharmacy locations in Challis, Arco and Council. Later this month, ISU will open a new pharmacy location in Kendrick. Additionally, over the last decade, ISU opened more than 10 clinics across the state.
In Pocatello, Vailas’ commitment to growing the health sciences at ISU also paved the way for a $10 million upgrade to the Gale Life Science Building in 2017, and the project is currently underway.
Under Vailas’ watch, ISU partnered with the private Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2016 to create Idaho’s first medical school at ISU-Meridian, with the goal of helping ease Idaho’s critical shortage of primary care physicians. ICOM’s leadership team is leasing the land for its academic building from ISU. Construction began in May 2017, and the college is on track to complete construction next summer. The first class of medical students is set to enter in August 2018.
Beginning in 2006, Vailas established a solid financial plan for the University, ensuring long-term sustainability. ISU has substantially increased its financial reserves and decreased debt, while investing in current and future needs. Recent years have also included record low tuition and fee increases.
ISU has grown to be a leader in research and innovation. Last year, ISU received more than $28 million in research funding. The University has or is participating in multiple research centers across Idaho, including the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, Family Medicine Clinical Research Center, Idaho Accelerator Center and Institute of Rural Health.
During his tenure, Vailas also focused on expanding ISU offerings in Idaho Falls. Improvements to ISU-Idaho Falls included the addition of a 55,000 square-foot building for the Center for Advanced Energy Studies. CAES was formed through partnerships with the other Idaho universities, the U.S. Department of Energy, Idaho National Laboratory and private entities. Recently, Vailas and the University cleared a major hurdle in moving forward plans to create a proposed Polytechnic Institute at ISU-Idaho Falls. The proposed institute will be a collaboration with the Idaho National Laboratory, and ISU secured $1.8 million from the Idaho Legislature earlier this year for the project. The institute will offer degree programs and graduate-level classes centered around science and engineering.
Prior to joining ISU in 2006, President Vailas was vice president for research and intellectual property management for the University of Houston, and vice chancellor for research for the University of Houston System. Earlier, he held faculty and leadership positions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of California-Los Angeles. An accomplished biomedical researcher, President Vailas is also the author of numerous peer-reviewed scientific publications, national grants and honors and has held leadership positions on national boards and scientific committees. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa, where he also completed a three-year National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship in biochemistry and a research fellowship in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery of the University at Iowa College of Medicine.