Greener pastures: Sorry, New York, they’re in Moscow

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There aren’t many people who likely take a pay cut when they agree to a $420,000 a year job.

There’s only one Scott Green, though, lucky for University of Idaho.

Green has been UI’s president for a whole month, having earned roughly $35,000 in that time. But as you might already know, his UI job isn’t about the money.

Green made plenty of green helping law firms worldwide become more profitable businesses. Based in New York City, he reaped the financial rewards for years. Now he’s in torrid pursuit of what many would consider a higher calling.

In a meeting Wednesday at Harbor Center overlooking the Spokane River in Coeur d’Alene, Green recalled an important question a friend and wise adviser asked him to consider. Ten years from now looking back, would you rather know you helped make a bunch of lawyers more money or that you helped educate 100,000 students? It’s a case the lawyers lost.

The move from the Big Apple to little Moscow was actually easy. Green grew up in Moscow. His grandfather, Leon “Doc” Green, was the UI athletic director whose fundraising efforts gave Idaho the Kibbie Dome. Green’s dad graduated from UI’s law school. He might look like a Renaissance man stepping off the cover of GQ magazine, but Scott Green is still a kid from the Idaho Palouse — and he’s brazenly proud of it.

“It felt like coming home,” he said. “It was coming home.”

Now Green is charged with arming tens of thousands of Idahoans with keys that will unlock their futures. It will be fascinating to watch how some of his early-days strategies play out. For one, he’s intent on collaborating with the other three new presidents of Idaho higher ed institutions, including Boise State. Which reminds us of a story.

Green drives (and pays for it himself) a used truck that, well, can’t be mistaken for anything but a Vandal billboard in four-wheel drive. Asked if he takes that beast to Boise, he almost gleefully acknowledged that he does.

“I want people to know I’m in town,” he said. And what kind of reception does he receive in the Broncoland? “I usually get ‘Go Vandals,’ honks or a one-finger salute,” he said.

Ultimately, Green wants for his students what he received at Idaho.

“I didn’t appreciate at the time what the university had really done for me,” he said. “I didn’t understand when I left the state how prepared I was. I always felt like I belonged. In New York, I felt like I could compete with anybody.”

UI has been hamstrung by turnover at the top. Including interims, the state’s land grant university has had five presidents since 2009, each with complex plans that Green is working hard to simply and execute.

The hope here is that 10 years from now, the entire state will be grateful not just that Scott Green came back, but that he stayed.

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