I stand here tonight with you, in this amazing renovated ballroom, in my 10th year as President of CSU.
Think about where you were 10 years ago. My oldest daughter had started college here at CSU. Our middle daughter had just gotten her driver’s license. Our youngest had just become a teenager. Now they are all these wonderful young women.
In those 10 years, CSU changed too.
We had 10 consecutive years of record enrollment as Colorado’s school of choice for new high school graduates. We graduated 71,119 people, including 2,260 doctoral degree holders. We provided more than $332 million in CSU grants and scholarships. We launched Commitment to Colorado, providing more than 7,500 full- or half-tuition scholarships to students whose families make less than the state’s median income. And because of all this support, more than 9,600 young men and women became the first in their families ever to graduate from college, forging a direct link in the chain started by Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, when his pen – to switch presidents and paraphrase Jefferson – freed everyone with the talent and motivation to earn a college degree from economic tyranny over the mind of man.
We had 10 years in which annual research funding exceeded $300 million every single year; indeed we deployed more than $3.2 billion in research over that decade – a decade in which CSU scientists and researchers unlocked one of the key puzzles in the global fight against tuberculosis and helped launch a new TB vaccine; created a completely recyclable, biodegradable polymer that paves the way to sustainable plastics; discovered a previously unexplored city built by a lost civilization in the Honduran rainforest; invented a new battery technology to revolutionize electric vehicles; custom-built a microscope that – for the first time – let us observe the process of RNA translation, the final step of gene expression; and created the first mass-spectral imaging system in the world that allows scientists to watch how cells respond to new medications in three dimensions, at the nanoscale.
We entered into new partnerships outside our campus, with universities as far away as China and Ethiopia and as close to home as Adams State and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. We’ve extended our work in sustainable agriculture through newly established facilities in Todos Santos, Mexico, and at the new National Western Center in Denver.
We’ve worked alongside our sister institutions – supporting the extraordinary emergence of CSU-Global Campus as the first and only 100% online, fully accredited public university in the United States, and the renaissance of CSU-Pueblo as a driver of economic advancement and career preparedness for Southern Colorado. Together, we’ve worked hard to increase the efficiency of all of our operations, collaborate strategically to meet the diverse educational needs of Colorado, and improve the quality and performance of the CSU System at every level.
Our reputation in Colorado, nationally and internationally has soared. That has translated to six straight years of increased alumni participation, making us one of the most rapidly improving universities in the nation in this regard. And that, in turn, has translated into philanthropic support. This decade saw a string of six consecutive years of record fund-raising, including the completion of our first campaign – the Campaign for Colorado State, the launch of our second campaign – the $1B State Your Purpose campaign – where we now sit at $880M with just over two years to go.
We have reinvested in our campus with nearly $1.5B in construction and renovations over the last 10 years. We’ve recommitted to excellence in every single thing we do, from the performances in the Griffin Concert Hall at the University Center for the Arts to those on the new Sonny Lubick Field – right here on campus where it belongs.
And, appropriate for this evening: We launched Founder’s Day as a way of staying connected to our roots as a Land Grant University. We’ve honored people with names like Monfort, Mosley, Morgan, Sutherland, Stryker, Withrow, Albertson, Everitt – and now Scott. Names of which we’re proud, because we understand that we ARE the company that we keep – and we’re proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these giants.
We re-envisioned our university. What did we need to do to prepare her for her next 150 years? How do we work more efficiently, more effectively, more in concert with each other and our partners?
I recall vividly my first public Q&A session after becoming president. The first question I was asked was what I wanted my legacy to be. Honestly, I had never thought about it. We were in the heart of the Great Recession and, honestly, we had no idea then where the bottom was – or if that abyss had a bottom. I had been so immersed in the operational aspects of the university that when I found myself rather suddenly in a more strategic position, the list – the long list – of things I hadn’t thought about was topped by any question of legacy. I recall thinking, “Legacy? I hope we have the doors open in 12 months. I hope I’m not the first president to shutter the doors of a Land Grant University.”
Not exactly inspirational goals.
But the person who asked the question actually was giving me a gift, although I didn’t realize it at the time: the gift of advice to keep our eye on the longer-term horizon. That advice turned out to be a blessing, and there were many others. I was surrounded by wonderful people. The faculty, staff, and students of this university rolled up their sleeves with what I have come to love as the spirit of this great place. They picked each other up, and they carried each other forward. My team – Cara Neth, Blanche Hughes, Mark Gill, Pat Burns, Lou Swanson, Kathleen Henry – most of us had worked together for a decade already – leaned into our work. We added some critical new pieces: Rick Miranda moved up into the provost’s role; I talked Amy Parsons out of the general counsel’s office and Lynn Johnson out of Sponsored Programs. We brought Tom Milligan back from the wilds of the east, and convinced Brett Anderson that he really didn’t want to be retired, at least not yet. Jim Cooney and Robin Brown breathed new life into international programs and admissions; Mary Ontiveros became our first ever vice president for diversity. Bill Farland, Alan Rudolph, Jodi Hanzlik, Dan Bush, Kelly Long, Alan Lamborn, Paul Thayer, and so many others played critical roles.
Those early years forged our team’s philosophy: focus on fundamentals. Focus on continuous improvement. Focus on the students – our role and mission. Focus on our people – our greatest asset. Focus on what we can do for others – our highest calling. And never settle. Never grab any of the excuses that continuously drift past us, offering an easier way if only we’d lower our standards … just a little. Never show up ready to put in anything less than what that first-generation kid working two jobs is putting in to see if they can make this dream come true. And never be distracted. After 10 years in this role, I can tell you that there is always a crisis ready to scream at you from the headlines, and that crisis rarely has anything to do with role and mission or the longer-term horizon.
We did those things. We did them on Day 1. And we did them the next day. And the next. And we did them again. And again. And – over time – as a university, we rose.
And now, 10 years – a decade – later. Look back. It’s quite a view.
But what catches my eye is what isn’t seen as we look back.
What great research ideas weren’t we able to fund? What opportunities did we miss? Did we say enough about sexual violence? Did we fight racism as hard as we could have? Did we stand with our most vulnerable while never turning our backs on free speech – even as some abuse it? In those 10 years, around 6,400 students who sat in seats at convocation didn’t cross a graduation stage. In fact, 200 of them are no longer alive – 53 by their own hands. What dreams were lost? What potential unfulfilled?
10 years from now, what will we look back on? What will we wish we’d leaned into? There will be moments of great pride, of course, but when the moments of pride are over, and we lie in bed at night and minds turn, as they do, to what we did not do in time that we will never again hold in our hands, what will ache and burn within us?
My belief is that we should lean into those moments. Because just as the sun rises with the new day, so will we. And with that day we can rededicate ourselves. Redirect ourselves. Recommit ourselves.
We often tell the next generation that their time has arrived, that this is their day. But our time has not yet finished. While we feel that ache, we can soothe it. While we feel an itch, we can scratch it. While there is breath in our lungs, we can use our voice. There is work undone that need not be left undone, and it is not our way to turn away. It is our way to roll up our sleeves. To lean in. To strive.
It is our way to rise.
It is our time –
- to build our scholarship base to such a level that our access mission is never in danger or doubt – and we can be more competitive in recruiting the most talented and promising students in Colorado and the country. As much as we’ve achieved through our campaign to date, we’re still only at 70% of our scholarship goal.
It is our time –
- to ensure we can recruit and retain the best faculty in the country – and this means we need to be able to offer endowed chairs and positions that are competitive with the national marketplace. To date, we’re only at just over 30% of our campaign goal in this area.
It is our time –
- to build an endowment that will ensure stability and excellence no matter what the future holds – and yet, with all our progress, we’re still more than $130 million away from where we hope to be on our endowment by the end of this campaign.
It is our time to stand for what and with whom we believe in.
The past decade? A wonderful addition to our heritage.
The next? A chapter yet to be written. It is – as it has always been – up to us what we will write to finish our story.
To paraphrase my friend, Walter Scott, we – Colorado State University – are pleased – but we are not satisfied. While there is work to be done, we are not ever satisfied. We are that way because that is who you – our alumni and donors – have empowered us to be. And that is a great gift for which we thank you.
Because of you, because of who you have allowed us to become, it’s time again, CSU, to rise.