“A Great and Generous Legacy” Inaugural Address
September 17, 2009
President Anthony A. Frank
Thank you, Chairman McConathy, Chancellor Blake, Professor Eykholt, and President Gearhart. I’m honored by your words, and proud to be installed today alongside my friend and colleague, Joe Blake, whose passion for education, knowledge of our state, and unflagging commitment to service are tremendous gifts to this institution.
In setting the context for my remarks this morning, I want to draw your attention to the monuments that have been installed in front of us. The importance of these monuments is embodied in the mission highlighted on the center plaque, and in the names of the men and women on each brick laid beside them. Together, they pay tribute to Colorado State University’s founding purpose and to those who have served on our institution’s governing board throughout its history. Several current and past members of our Board of Governors and the State Board of Agriculture are here with us today, and I hope you will join me in honoring their service to CSU and to the people of Colorado.
And for an inauguration theme, it is tempting to dwell upon the progress that was made under the guidance of these past leaders. And make no mistake, our state and world have been transformed by the tremendous work and the accomplishments of our predecessors at Colorado State University.
The legacy behind us and the challenges that lie ahead
But today our attention is distracted by the challenges that face us. This is not a simple time for our university, our state, our nation, nor, indeed, for our world. Today, we stand at a time of great economic difficulty, still in the midst of war, still trying to assimilate a century of nearly unfathomable technological progress, and faced with an uncertain future. It’s a time that can be puzzling and disconcerting, when those values and beliefs that have seemed constants throughout our lifetimes — compassion, civility, civic responsibility — sometimes seem up for debate; when we have more ways to communicate than ever before but we struggle to sustain a dialogue that’s more than 140 characters long. Burdened with debt, with major industries dissolving out from under us, growing environmental threats, a deepening divide between the “haves” and “have nots,” the persistent tribalisms of racism, sexism and now even the return of religious intolerance, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges before us.
And make no mistake, these challenges do not exist only in the abstract outside the walls of our beautiful campus; our university’s challenges are also great. Unwillingly at the vortex of a downward and unsustainable fiscal spiral created by the unintended consequences of statutory and constitutional changes, pollsters and tax policy experts struggle to even postulate a way out. We face these extraordinary budget challenges with the realization that our historical fiscal safety net of tuition now combines with our economic circumstances to threaten the very access foundation on which our university has rested since its creation. Each budgetary choice we consider seems to take us further from the quality our students deserve, from the facilities our faculty need to transform our world, and from the manner in which we know we want to treat our employees. With each step, the vision of excellence dims and flickers as our own vision is shortened by our burdens, our challenges, and — if we admit it — by our personal fears in the face of this uncertainty. In the face of such great obstacles, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
In fact, we wonder if we are up to the challenge.
New monuments remind us of predecessors’ challenges
But perhaps the message of our new monuments on the Oval is not a pleasant reminiscence of past successes that stands in stark contrast to the present time. Perhaps these monuments would draw our attention instead to a commonality: the challenges faced by our predecessors — people who, like us, faced their challenges without the benefit of knowing the outcomes that would eventually be recorded by history.
- Consider the challenges faced by Lincoln when, confronted with a civil war and a devastated economy, he looked far into the future and placed a seemingly hopeless, long-shot bet on education for everyone with the talent and motivation to aspire to make a difference.
- Or the obstacles faced in 1870 by the first black person in America allowed to cast a vote — the same year our trustees were trying to build a college with no budget and very little legislative support.
- Think over the challenges faced by the average citizen in the first decade of the 20th century, who made $13 for working a 60 hour week while not expecting to live past the age of 47. Against this backdrop, our faculty struggled to build the college’s academic foundation, fighting for the creation of a new school of agriculture and a groundbreaking program for women.
- Are our challenges more daunting than those of the 1930s, when one-tenth of our state had been wasted by erosion in the Dust Bowl, the economy of the state and nation were near collapse, and the college had to slash salaries to stay afloat — even while our faculty and Extension staff struggled to get disaster relief and food supplies to devastated rural communities?
- The demands of soaring enrollment from the GI Bill, the explosion in research expectations that accompanied the rise of the Cold War, the era of economic stagflation and a crisis of national leadership and identity — each of these challenged our campus in their day.
- This picnic itself is a reminder of the challenges faced just over a decade ago when we confronted a devastated library and student center, wrecked classrooms, and the loss of years of faculty work following the ’97 flood.
Against this perspective, our challenges — containing costs, being good stewards of the public trust, determining affordable tuition rates, and making the case to our fellow citizens that it’s worth preserving the world’s greatest system of higher education — one that produces nearly 5 jobs for each created here, one that returns nearly $10 into tax coffers for every dollar used to support it, one that has served as an escalator, stabilizing our society against class divisions, one that looks into the face of the challenges of our day and answers them with hope in our future generations — suddenly these challenges don’t seem so daunting.
A vision of excellence for our university
And as the burden of our challenges lifts, we return our focus to a vision of excellence for our university; and we realize that the attainment of this vision is linked far less to complex plans than to simple attention to our fundamentals.
For my administration, the fundamentals means that the university’s entire support infrastructure — from the people who care for this beautiful setting, to those who will cook our food, to the staff who keep us all organized, to everyone who interacts with a visitor to our campus, to the President — has a single role: to enable our faculty who strive to transform our world and to support the education of the students who entrust their passion and their futures to our care.
For our faculty, the fundamentals demand that we never allow ourselves to become distracted from excellence in everything we do.
And for our students, the fundamentals require that you never cease to question, challenge, strive, learn and, indeed, inspire us.
So long as we remain focused on these fundamentals, despite the challenges and distractions of our day, our vision of a university capable of enabling powerful transformation is within our grasp.
The fact is, transformation in the face of challenge is our university’s legacy. It’s the legacy of Willard Eddy, of Bill Morgan and Al Yates, of Ainsworth Blount and Maury Albertson, of Inga Allison and Eliza Routt. It’s the legacy of every name on the bricks before us and every face here in the crowd.
It’s the legacy of a great American land-grant university — Colorado’s university — providing access to a world-class education, with its roots deeply planted here in the West and its vision focused on the horizon of our future.
It is a legacy of enormous achievement and breathtaking possibility.
It is now our legacy; and this is our time to nurture, protect and advance it.
I am humbled by your trust and confidence, I am honored to accept this presidency, and it is my hope to live up to the great and generous legacy that is Colorado State University.