Steven Feldstein has been at Boise State University for less than a year but already is proving to be a remarkable asset to both the university and the community.
Feldstein is Boise State’s Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs, the first endowed chair in the School of Public Service.
No stranger to public policy, Feldstein served as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for the State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. In addition, he was the director of policy for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and served for five years as counsel on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations under chairmen Joe Biden and John Kerry.
“Frank Church and I share a bit of a common legacy in that I served nearly five years on the senate foreign relations committee and he was the former chairman and served on the foreign relations committee,” said Feldstein. “So much of what he said back then resonates with me and is extremely relevant today; calling for accountability in government, looking for justice and equality, issues relating to civil rights, looking at environmental preservation and conservation.”
Feldstein said it’s his goal to take the ideals and principles of Frank Church and apply them to the modern political climate. Coming from more than a decade working in Washington D.C., Feldstein also said he’s chosen to work in the Gem State to get a new perspective on public policy.
“We’re looking to engage and influence discourse in the community. For a long time I’ve looked at issues with a Washington angle, thinking about the politics and the numbers and the issues, but there really is a community aspect to these issues at play.”
“Steve has made impressive strides already in his time at Boise State. His record of public service and depth of knowledge have brought insightful discussions on relevant issues to campus,” said Corey Cook, dean of the School of Public Service. “He is an incredible asset to the campus community and I look forward to seeing him continue to elevate the public discourse in the community around issues of foreign affairs and human rights.”
The Frank Church Institute, which houses the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs, aims to promote civic engagement and understanding of public policy with a focus on foreign relations. The institute is non-partisan, but seeks to provide a forum for open and informed discussion characterized by civility, tolerance and compromise.
It may be easy for those who don’t live in the American West to characterize it by stereotypes of the Gold Rush, personified by Clint Eastwood movies or gun-slinging cowboys and bandits on horseback.
But as Boise State public policy professor Dr. John Freemuth explained, “It has a history and a richness that goes beyond cowboys and indians.”
The West is beautiful in its complexity: it is home to the vast majority of our nation’s public lands (the state of Idaho alone is comprised of more than 60 percent public land). This includes awe-inspiring national parks and monuments preserved for their beauty, as well as lands used for animal grazing, mineral extraction, and hunting and recreation. In fact, the West’s beauty and complexity often unite otherwise politically polarized groups of individuals – like hunters and environmentalists – who share a common love of the land and a motivation to see it preserved for future generations.
Through his work as a professor in Boise State’s School of Public Service, and as the executive director of the Cecil D. Andrus Center for Public Policy, Freemuth educates current and future policymakers and political leaders to help ensure that western lands and communities are managed through smart, well-informed public policy. It’s quite the ambitious job – but then, his work is guided by quite an ambitious legacy.
The Cecil D. Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University was founded in 1995 and named after former U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus.
Through his work, Freemuth ensures that the Andrus Center upholds the legacy of Gov. Andrus, a man who earned a national reputation as a popular, even-keeled politician who could work effectively on both sides of the aisle. Andrus’ rare gift for building coalitions and leading collaboratively made his four terms as a Democrat governing in Idaho’s traditionally red political landscape even more remarkable.
During his life, Gov. Andrus also was awarded every major environmental award in the nation for his work. It included getting Idaho’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area federally designated and helping double the size of the national park system.
While Gov. Andrus passed away in August 2017, Freemuth said that the Andrus Center continues to honor his legacy as a coalition builder and common-sense problem solver.
The center routinely hosts public policy conversations and conferences on environmental policy and public education, and holds annual events such as the Women and Leadership Conference that empowers young women to become future leaders.
A visionary thinker who was ahead of his time, “Cecil was very supportive of having a woman on the supreme court,” said Freemuth. In fact, as governor he appointed the first (and only) female justice to the Idaho Supreme Court in 1992.
Like Gov. Andrus, Freemuth also has made a national name for himself as a no-nonsense public lands expert. Freemuth routinely is tapped by media and diverse groups to help predict the consequences of new and proposed public land policy, including U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s recent proposal to shrink the boundaries of several of the nation’s national monuments.
Freemuth and the Andrus Center also are tapped to help craft important public lands policy.
In response to the nation’s current cycle of devastating wildfires, the Andrus Center worked with federal agencies to craft the National Fire Plan. The multi-agency plan gives firefighters and bureaucrats and politicians tasked with funding relief efforts a blueprint for firefighting, rehabilitation/restoration, hazardous fuel reduction, forest health management and rural/community assistance.
“Andrus was Idaho’s governor when Boise State became a university; it’s nice to see it come full circle and have the university contribute to his legacy,” Freemuth said. “It’s important to keep perpetuating it.”
History professor Dr. Jill Gill is continuing the legacy of one of Idaho’s greatest human rights advocates.
Gill is the director of the Marilyn Shuler Human Rights Initiative, sponsored by the School of Public Service, which offers human rights education and teaches smart advocacy skills to students and the public.
“It is a brand new interdisciplinary initiative focused on advancing human rights education, unity and advocacy skills. Marilyn Shuler’s example serves as an inspiration and model for our approach, and her gift upon her death seeded the program. It seeks to complement rather than compete with programs currently in place, and help provide a backdrop about human rights as well as advocacy skills onto which other programs can layer more specialized or focused information,” said Gill.
Shuler, for whom the initiative is named, was the longtime director of the Idaho Human Rights Commission and a Boise State alumna. In addition, she co-founded, built and promoted the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, was a founding member of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, supported the development of the Idaho Black History Museum, founded the Peaceful Settlements Foundation and established the John Shuler Fund at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare in support of foster care.
Shuler earned a Master of Public Administration degree from Boise State in 1978 and was presented with an honorary doctorate in 2014.
Gill said the initiative is so new that its impact is still being shaped but she pointed to several projects currently in the works. First, the initiative soon will offer an academic certificate program that can be part of any major. The certificate will provide students with a working knowledge of human rights and advocacy skills and experiences. This will allow students to bring a human rights worldview, perspective and practical skill set into whatever career they choose.
The initiative also is sponsoring public programming and events, like open classroom opportunities, to learn practical information about current issues and talks by presenters such as Tony Stewart and Norm Gissel, two longtime leaders of Coeur d’Alene’s award-winning Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations.
Gill also is working to create a one-stop-central-shop for all human rights-related academic offerings, research and programming on campus.
“The goal here is to help point students in specialized directions, and to inform faculty of others on campus doing work related to human rights,” said Gill.
The Marilyn Shuler Human Rights Initiative and the Frank Church Institute co-hosted Boise State’s Human Rights Week during which the public and the campus community came together for human rights education, unity and advocacy.