Speech to the Green & Gold Gala
April 28, 2012
Over the span of any given year, a president gives a lot of speeches. You hope for some positive feedback; some sense that your remarks made an impact — that they had a lasting impression. Four of you, this evening, have asked me to retell last year’s story of the ram and the buffalo.
I am so proud that this is what you remembered from last year’s Green & Gold Gala.
For those of you who weren’t here, I had just returned from a trip to Greece where — in a meeting with some CSU alums — we had been discussing the impact of Greek language on today’s words. After that dinner I’d looked up the roots of the word “Ram” and found connections to strength and virility. That, in turn, made me wonder about the origins of other college mascots and I discovered that “buffalo” has an old Slavic origin meaning, and I quote, “That stinking animal.” Apparently, that made an impact.
Symbolism of green and gold
This year, I intend to dwell on CSU symbolism. We are a university rich in heritage, and embedded in that heritage are symbols that go beyond words. Things like our former A&M colors of pumpkin & alfalfa, and our current colors of green & gold — for which this event is named.
Gold symbolizes wealth and wisdom. Green symbolizes life and youth. What a wonderful combination.
And that got me to thinking about the symbolism of the colors of other universities …
Oh, for example, black & gold. Now, gold is the same, but when you pair wealth & wisdom with youth & life, its different than when you pair it with black … which symbolizes — and I quote again, “evil and death” …
So, not finding that approach very productive, I turned to the theme of this year’s Gala: “10”
And I went on the internet to look up the symbolism of “10.” I found some interesting symbolic and mathematical connections to “10.”
- 10 is rich in ancient and Biblical symbolism, perhaps holding an anatomical origin.
- 10 is a tetrahedral number, the 1st triangular number with a central vacancy
- 10 symbolizes ordinal perfection, the Pythagorean symbol of completeness
- Nothing lacking or in excess
So I wrote Matt Helmer and I said, “What an amazing theme! What caused us to pick that?” And he replied, “This is the 10th year of the Gala.”
So I decided to go back to my previous Green & Gold Gala themes and see if I could identify a thread of themes that I might build on. Lincoln, Lincoln, Land Grant universities, Land Grant universities & Lincoln — these things are all the same! I tell a CU joke, give an update on the university, talk athletics and end with Lincoln. Every year the same! So this year …
CU joke — check.
Next up: updates.
Your university is in great shape. Another consecutive year of record enrollment, enrolling more Colorado high school graduates than any other university. 1 in 4 of our students is the 1st in their family to attend college, we beat our projected graduation rate, and we have the lowest race based graduation rate gap among our peers. Another year of record research funding, with the world’s best comparative oncology center, the world’s most powerful laser, and one of the country’s most productive faculties. By almost any measure, the reputation of CSU around Colorado has never been higher, and we have already surpassed the goal for the 1st campaign in the history of Colorado State at more than $1/2B with this year projected to be the best fund-raising year in the history of the university. This campaign funded more than 15,000 scholarships, 16 faculty chairs and built or renovated 39 buildings.
This is a university marked by excellence; marked by never settling for less than our full potential.
Updates — check.
Athletics. Nothing new here …
Well, maybe a couple of small changes. We hired Jack Graham as our new AD. I said I wanted to hire someone who would push us, whose vision would make me gulp. Jack’s hired Jim MacElwain as our football coach. He was last at some school down south as I recall — where they play football after Christmas — I assume because of the warm weather? Larry Eustachy is our new men’s basketball coach. Great gentleman. Both of these men know a lot about winning. But more importantly, they know about character development and clean programs and student athletes who are students first.
And some things haven’t changed. Tom Hilbert quietly goes about running one of the best women’s volleyball programs in the nation, and our golf program continues to excel under Jamie.
Now there was one other thing I was going to mention about athletics … what was that? Oh, the stadium!
Look, the stadium is an important discussion, with big potential advantages and significant risks and concerns. I’m confident we’ll sort through all of that — we’ve got a good track record of getting those things right more often than not. But the stadium has raised a broader issue that I think is far more important — an issue of focus and what that means.
Focus of excellence
For the past several months, I’ve been listening to people suggest that maybe I’ve lost my focus on what matters to this university. Now, I’ve had the honor of serving as the president of this university for 3 years, 5 months and 24 days, and I can tell you with certainty that the only thing that matters in this position is keeping your focus: a focus on excellence.
Excellence, yes, in teaching, research, service and extension — as written on the seal of the university. But excellence as well in how we demonstrate our words with actions, how we demonstrate our passion and values.
Excellence in the education we offer to anyone with the talent and motivation to earn it — excellence in accord with the American tradition of meritocracy, with Jefferson’s eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man, and with Abraham Lincoln’s ideal of educational equality as put to paper when he signed the Morrell Act that created Land Grant Universities 150 years ago this year.
In fact, a focus on excellence is what brought this university through the crisis of the past 3 years with such a bright future.
But it takes a university — not one person — to hold that type of focus. And a university is a complicated place. If you value the academic freedom that creates the questioning and challenging environment that leads to these great discoveries and teaches these young men and women how to think critically, then you need to value colleagues you respect questioning and challenging your values — and your judgment — and your focus. And you owe it to them to take a serious look in the mirror and ask whether or not you’ve allowed your compass to drift.
I’ve done that. And here’s where it leaves me as I look to Colorado State’s future:
American public higher education has serious challenges that it will take all of us to solve — and great opportunities that it will take all of us to take advantage of: issues related to food, water, energy and the environment, access, debt loads, and graduation rates — to name a few — that can only be met by the resolve and ideas of the next generation — properly armed with the knowledge of ours.
Serious challenges … and great opportunities.
And I can assure you that no matter what the greatest challenge or opportunity you see is, it won’t be solved by settling. It won’t be solved by accepting anything other than excellence in everything we do. That’s never been the way of this university, and I don’t see it as a path forward because I see settling as a cancer that, once it starts, spreads to everything and it needs to be fought at every turn, in every conversation we have.
So if anyone wants to talk about education for veterans, the privatization of American public higher education, the role of universities in energy and food security, or the importance of opportunity for every member of the next generation, just tell me where and tell me when, and I’ll show up. But that conversation better not include a discussion about where we strive and where we settle.
This is a university marked by excellence, forged in a focus of excellence — and that focus cannot have blind spots where we settle for less. That hasn’t been our history, it isn’t our present, and it should not be our future.
I hope you’re proud of your alma mater. There’s much to be proud of. And it remains my great honor to serve as the president of your university. Thank you.