Fred Gittes likes the bus.
Gittes, clinical associate professor of physics at Washington State University, knows that the intercampus bus service to the University of Idaho and Moscow is important to his students and vital for their education.
“Ten of the 28 students in my electrodynamics course (Physics 541) are from the UI,” Gittes said. “Their presence helps create a critical mass for lively discussion benefiting all of us, and those students come here on the bus. I am very pleased that the bus is expected to keep running.”
Continuation of the bus service was put in doubt when the UI announced in 2005 that its annual $100,000 contribution would end this summer.
However, last month a tentative and temporary solution to the impasse was announced. The city of Moscow, the UI and the Associated Students of UI patched together a one-year commitment of $100,000 to join the ongoing financial support from WSU of equivalent size.
That solution will continue the present service contract with Wheatland Express, until the summer of 2008. In addition, the UI funding must be approved by the Idaho State Board of Education at its April 19 meeting in Moscow.
The lack of solid funding from Idaho leaves the long-term future of the bus in doubt.
To seek solutions and maintain service between the two universities, supporters (ONLINE @ www.savethebus.org) are continuing to gather information about ridership and academic impact of the shuttle service.
According to a February 2007 survey by Michael Kyte, director of the National Institute of Advanced Transportation Technology at the UI, of the 442 daily bus riders, 39 percent are UI students, 21 percent are WSU students and 28 percent are WSU faculty and staff.
Mary Sanchez Lanier, associate dean of the College of Sciences, is convinced that the bus has “incalculable value” to both universities.
“This shuttle bus service was born two decades ago when both our universities recognized that we could best achieve our goals of excellence by building programs that complemented one another,” Sanchez Lanier explained. “Cooperative classes fulfilled that vision, and the bus service was essential for transporting students to those courses.”
That spirit of cooperation has grown. Today, there are 172 WSU courses offered to UI students. The universities have one joint degree program (food science and human nutrition) and are planning another (Ph.D. in statistics). Over the last 10 years, the universities were awarded about $8 million in jointly administered grants, including a recent $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to Scott Nuismer of the UI and Richard Gomulkiewicz of WSU.
The bus, Lanier summarized, is “a vibrant link between two otherwise isolated university communities.”