Remarks to the 2016 1870 Dinner
“State Your Purpose”
Dr. Tony Frank, President
Colorado State University
February 13, 2016
The start of these speeches is always a little bittersweet for me; it’s always wonderful from this podium to see the faces of so many good friends. But I’m also reminded of the faces that aren’t here — members of our Ram family who can no longer join us at this event. Their memories remind us of how precious time is, and how grateful I am that you chose to spend some of yours with us.
On a lighter note, and again speaking of time, let us also add our wishes for a happy Valentine’s Day. Many of you know that Saint Valentine was tortured and executed in the 3rd century A.D. by Claudius Gothicus for his position on marriage, and someday maybe I’ll weave that oh-so-romantic tidbit into this speech …
And as we typically do at this event, let’s begin by thanking all of the people who made this possible — the folks who make the videos, run the lights and sound, entertain us, prepare and serve our food and make this room look so amazing.
This year, that list does not include Matt Helmer, Director of Presidential Events, whose suggestion that I deliver this speech dressed as puppy-monkey-baby doesn’t really deserve any more consideration.
It’s funny — we’ve made a mini-tradition making fun of some of the Super Bowl hoopla at this dinner, and we were chuckling in the office the other day about “left shark ” and “wardrobe malfunctions,” and in a way that made it seem like we’ve been doing this a long time. But as I was looking over the room earlier tonight, I realized it seems like yesterday to me that I was standing at this podium in this room (before the Lory Student Center renovation) preparing to give my first 1870 Dinner address in 2008. I’d been in the job less than a month. I don’t go back and read my speeches; if I liked them, I don’t after I read them, and if I felt bad about them, I feel worse because I think it should have been a good speech. But I remember I talked about Lincoln (shocking!), and I remember that I felt it was important to highlight a recommitment to the roots of our Land Grant heritage. I thought the next several years’ recession would be a trying time and that CSU was best positioned to come through that time if we rallied around our raison d’etre. In the face of simultaneous cuts that threatened quality, and tuition increases that affected affordability, no one but a Land Grant university had the responsibility to remain accountable to Lincoln’s educational dream of access to excellence; and so we were able to pick up that banner and use it as the standard around which we rallied in those stormy days of 2009, 2010, and 2011.
But that was not yesterday. Today marks my ninth 1870 address, and seeing so many of you here each year stands as a symbol of your commitment to Colorado State, embodied in the reply of my middle daughter when I asked her if she wanted to come back for this event: “I’ve already heard the speech, Dad.”
It’s my guess that you all don’t come to these for the speech — and I hope you don’t have to come in spite of it. My guess is that you come because we always have such amazing celebrations of accomplishment.
Now I want to pause here and acknowledge that everything we celebrate is built on a foundation laid by others. Many of you are here this evening — colleagues who have been faculty members for decades, former President Ray Chamberlain, former VP for Research Jud Harper; these people are all giants on whose shoulders we stand today. Let’s give all of them a round of applause.
And in the span of those eight years, some of our best celebrations surrounded the university’s first comprehensive campaign — The Campaign for Colorado State, which embodied that theme of access to excellence:
- 16,000 scholarships awarded, renewed 1st generation commitments, and the Commitment to Colorado scholarship program.
- 16 new endowed chairs and professorships to set the standard of academic excellence.
- 41 buildings constructed or renovated, and so much more.
Every announcement holding higher that banner of our Land Grant heritage and proclaiming that — come what may — Colorado State University would stand firm as a place whose doors would always be open to those with the talent and motivation to walk through them; a place where we’d stand a little straighter as we tell someone, “Yes, I am a part of Colorado State.”
And those 8 years saw far more than the Campaign. Over those years we have seen amazing successes:
- record levels of enrollment and graduation rates.
- record research funding.
- an increase in faculty size and an almost four-fold increase in the number of CSU undergraduates participating in faculty-mentored research.
- CSU not only emerged as the most sustainable university in the country, but we’ve also seen significant advances in CSU’s reputation at the state and national level — backed up by dozens of different metrics and rankings.
- We’ve invested more than a billion dollars in our campus infrastructure, almost 2/3 of that going straight into academic buildings.
- We’ve seen a renewed commitment to success in everything from athletics to the arts.
- We’ve taken a strong stand in building a diverse and inclusive campus.
- We’ve embarked on unprecedented partnerships with Semester at Sea, the National Western Center, and our first international campus at Todos Santos to deepen and strengthen ties outside the borders of this beautiful campus we call home because we know Colorado State isn’t just here — it’s wherever her alumni and faculty make a difference in the world.
- And we navigated through one of the worst budget periods in the history of American higher education without ever losing our focus. Thanks in part to your investment, 44 percent of our graduates left CSU last year with zero student loan debt, 80% had employment in their fields, and all of them enjoyed the highest economic ROI on their education since the wage gap has been calculated.
Of course, we also saw our share of challenges.
- Funding — and its impact on student tuition — remains a source of continuous concern as we see challenges not just at the state level, but also in federal funding that drives research and innovation.
- We see more and more students coming to us with complex mental health issues that strain our ability to support them.
- We’ve struggled, along with the rest of our society, with conversations about race and gender, and how we can better reflect the society we exist to serve.
- And we’ve faced some concerns — not overwhelming, but persistent — that we’re growing too fast, that we’re out of sync, that we’ve lost our focus.
Of these, most troubling to me, personally, were the charges that we expected — wanted — too much; that our priorities were misaligned; that we were chasing dreams of excellence that were beyond our reach; that we were no longer committed to land grant ideals; that we had lost our way.
I don’t say this often enough, but I’m so proud of the wonderful men and women who serve on our Board of Governors, on my Cabinet, on our Council of Deans and the servant leaders who emerge from within the ranks of our faculty, staff and students. Each of us has heard those criticisms. Each of us was stung by them. Each of us listened to them, internalized them, and pondered them. Then each of us looked at ourselves in the mirror and rejected those criticisms. And we went back to work. We continued to strive to make Colorado State the best it could be; to always be accountable; to always be improving; to always be available to the next generation; and to never settle for anything less than excellence in anything that we do.
And in that you should take pride. Because there was never any doubt of what you expected from us. And as a result we were always committed to living up to your expectations. You didn’t just have our back in those many tough days; you were our back when we might have grown weary.
And that brings us to this evening.
You’ve heard about the successes Brett Anderson’s team has had since the last campaign. You’ve heard how critically important philanthropy is to continuing the success we’ve experienced and that we envision for our future. Most of you are aware, as one of the worst kept “secrets” in the history of secrets, that we’ve aligned a second campaign around CSU’s 150th birthday in 2020. And we’re pleased to have you with us this evening as we launch the public phase of the new campaign.
The campaign is entitled, “State Your Purpose.” Its goal is simple: $1 billion. It’s time is symbolic: 2020; a gift to CSU as she begins her second 150 years. To date, we are about 55% of our way to that goal in 44% of our time; and in fact we’ve surpassed the total raised in the entire first campaign.
We will succeed because of you, and when we do, we will have raised $1 billion — ensuring that greater numbers of CSU graduates leave with a diploma and not a crippling debt load; giving our faculty the resources to continue to make groundbreaking discoveries that transform our world; expanding opportunities for student veterans and giving a hand up to students whose families are homeless or who come from the foster care system; and above all, demonstrating that excellence is built with the leadership of donors who have both a sense of purpose and the vision to lead us forward.
I’m incredibly proud of this campaign — the start it’s off to, the goals it embodies, the promise it holds, and its symbolism. Its title, “State Your Purpose,” builds on the “State of” public relations campaign that Tom Milligan’s team has used so successfully over the past couple of years. And not surprisingly to those of you who have heard my speeches over the years, I decided to dig into the etymology of the word “purpose” to guide my closing remarks this evening.
“Purpose” is a relatively young word. It comes to life around the 14th century A.D. in Anglo-French languages, tracing itself back to the Latin root of “intend”; “intendre” meaning “to strain in quest of.” And in these words rests the questions that I think we all ought to grapple with:
- What do we intend?
- What are we searching for with an amount of effort that warrants the verb “strain”?
- What is our purpose?
In one sense, the purpose of our university is clear; its emblazoned upon our seal: to discover new knowledge, to pass it to future generations, and to apply it for the good of us all.
And in still another sense, our purpose as a land grant university has always had a clarion quality: to assure that all people with the talent and the motivation to improve themselves and our world in the process have access to a world-class education.
But for all of that longer-term clarity, what are we striving, straining, questing, searching for in the next fouryears? Surely, we can put words to our efforts that bring our goals to life in dynamic, tangible ways.
I frequently stand in front of you and speak to metrics, awards, and prizes, external recognitions of accomplishments. These are important benchmarks, tangible evidence of progress, a foundation upon which we build.
But I want more for Colorado State.
It is a part of the role of the person who has the honor of serving as President that after the speeches are delivered and recorded, and the campus updates sent and read, they need to take note of the exceptions to these successes. It is part of the role of being a Dean or a Cabinet member to identify and bring forward areas in which we need to improve. It is part of who we are as members of an academic community committed to excellence that we spend less time patting ourselves on the back and more time rolling up our sleeves to build and rebuild, to save self-satisfaction for after our work is done, to redouble our quest make real the promise that Colorado State will always improve, will never be satisfied, will leave no one behind as we move ahead. And make no mistake, there are exceptions to our remarkable successes. There are those left behind. There are those we have failed.
In the 2,656 days that I’ve served as your president, we’ve graduated almost 40,000 students. But roughly 5,000 failed to cross a commencement stage; students who we judged to be academically qualified and who we committed to help attain their goals were not able to succeed. With that loss of potential, can we be satisfied?
In the last 2,656 days, more than 80 people who call CSU home sought support as survivors of rape. How many more were unreported? And while we have stood up and led in our efforts to address sexual violence, if anyone is satisfied, they should be ashamed.
In those same 2,656 days, 28 CSU students couldn’t find their way back from a mental health abyss and committed suicide. What was lost with those lives? A gifted novelist? A healing physician? A caring teacher? An inspirational leader? A loving parent? Too much was lost. The cost of the toll is simply too high.
And so we’re reminded that tonight we do not gather in this wonderful room simply to celebrate our successes or focus on our accomplishments. Of course we’re proud of those. But tonight we gather not only to celebrate — but to do more. Complacency before the job is done, satisfaction while we know others are still counting on us, failing to hold ourselves accountable for every lost opportunity — this is not who CSU is.
This campaign gives voice to the CSU spirit, hewn from the rock of the people in this room and those who went before us.
This campaign doesn’t ask us what we’d like, what we’d dream of. It demands that we strive in a quest for excellence that in one sense can never succeed because perfection cannot be attained, but in another can never fail because putting everything we have into our best on behalf of others cannot fail. It never has. It never will. It will not on our watch.
This isn’t a campaign that quietly questions our thinking about the future. This is a campaign that demands a declaration: State your purpose.
And as we do so over the next four years, each and every one of you will become — in a very real sense — a part of the keystone in the arch that is gateway to the future of Colorado State.
The keystone and arch are, to me, amazing pieces of architecture and engineering. Dating to at least the second millennium BC in Mesopotamia, the arch originally served as a method of supporting large amounts of weight across spans without beams. And at the top of each arch rests the keystone. It locks the other members of the arch in place, allows them to withstand the load without buckling, and when the keystone is placed, the arch is complete. The Romans greatly advanced the use of the arch as an artistic and architectural element, and from their building comes important modern day symbolism: that the arch is something one passes through on the way forward; a gateway to the future.
2020 represents an arch for Colorado State University; a gateway from our first one and a half centuries to the next. The blocks of the arch are laid by our successes, forming a gateway to the future for those who always have been and always will be this university: her students, as they pass through her arch, and take on their role as her alumni and guardians. Tonight we vow to build a larger arch, a wider door, a passage that beckons and welcomes and even urges and aids those who walk through — leaving no one behind. And this campaign, led by all of you in this room, is the keystone of this new arch.
At each of your places is a small memento: a paperweight engraved with an arch. Emblazoned across the arch is the motto of this campaign: “State Your Purpose.” But note that keystone — the element that holds the arch together. You — each of you — are that keystone, a keystone others will look at well into the future and know that they can never settle because the people who set this keystone of excellence in the arch to their future never did.
It has been one of the great honors of my life to stand shoulder to shoulder with all of you to help build this great university.
Together, we will State Our Purpose.