Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
– George S. Patton
Volume 75 | Issue 6
November 2007

Union Spotlight: Idaho Commons & Student Union at University of Idaho


Built in 1936, the Student Union has undergone several reconstructions over the years, most recently in 2000, when the food court and small meeting rooms were eliminated to create space for the relocation of enrollment services.

Along with the Student Union, the professional staff oversees the functioning of the Idaho Commons, built in 2000, and the Teaching and Learning Center, renovated and permanently attached to the Idaho Commons in 2005. According to Debbie Huffman, administrative services manager, the three facilities are a joint operation, and "the funding for these facilities is co-mingled and professional staff shares responsibility in all of these areas for increased efficiency."

This unity of the buildings and services is due to former University of Idaho President Bob Hoover who wanted the university to become "the northwest residential campus of choice," Huffman said.

Unique features

At the geographical center point of the university’s property, the Idaho Commons has the highest traffic count on a daily basis. According to Huffman, two unique features of this area are the three-story rotunda at the entrance of the commons and artwork displayed throughout.

"The Idaho Commons is pursuing distinct art features for public display, which include a wall-hung water feature, custom art produced by artists living within the Hurricane Katrina-affected area, and other art from local artists," Huffman said. In the Student Union, Huffman believes a hallmark feature is the international ballroom.

Students also enjoy other features that the Idaho Commons and Student Union have to offer. The food court in the Idaho Commons is a "five story atrium where students gather for study and social purposes," Huffman said. She added that for the last five years, the Idaho Commons has been voted the "best place to study, gather, and meet friends on campus" in the student newspaper.

The commons also offers the Cedar Grove Lounge with soft furnishings and a fireplace as another popular place for socializing and studying.

Another three lounges are located in the Student Union, as well as the Borah Theatre, "a vintage house-style movie theater with 175 seats," Huffman said. The theater is home to a films program that shows movies six nights a week and matinees on Sundays.

In addition to what the Idaho Commons and Student Union offer, the Teaching & Learning Center houses 35 classrooms, Diversity Center, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Academic Advising, Dean of Students, Information Technology Services Help Desk, and Information Technology Classroom Support.

Students’ role

In addition to 60 part-time student workers at the union, throughout the year, hundreds are employed for various reasons, including "desk staff, sound, production, and lighting technicians and staff for events, event and security staff," Huffman said. In addition, students are the primary volunteers for all events.

Students also serve on the union board and other boards advising the operations and programs for recreation, student activities, and student organizations as well as the Center of Volunteerism and Social Action "which plans activities based in volunteerism for over 1,000 students each year," Huffman said.


The Idaho Commons and Student Union provides a variety of programming for students. Concerts have included The Roots, Death Cab for Cutie, Step Africa, and many others. Guest speakers have been another big part of programming; some include Martin Luther King III, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg, and The Color Orange. Comedian performers at the university include Buz Sutherland, Brad Lowery, and Last Comic Standing champion Josh Blue.

Outside of the usual programming, the Idaho Commons and Student Union organizes trips and special events, such as alternative spring breaks in Mississippi and New Orleans, international trip to Peru, Camp Darfur Genocide Awareness Week, Kaboom playground build, and the Annual Slam Poetry program.

University of Idaho
Four-year, rural, public, Hispanic serving
Full-time enrollment:  8,700
Location: Moscow, Idaho

Idaho Commons & Student Union 
Director: Gregory A. Tatham
Size: 192,970 sq. ft.
Floors: 4
Built: 1936
Operating budget: $2.69 million
Student staff: 60 (part-time)
Nonstudent staff: 39 (full-time);
15 (part-time)
Web site: http://www.sub.uidaho.edu