Speech to Rotary Club of Denver
January 8, 2009
Interim President Anthony A. Frank
First let me THANK Pat Grant, Ed Crabtree, and the members of Rotary for inviting me to join you today to provide an update on Colorado State University.
Partnering with the National Western Stock Show
It’s a pleasure to be here in the National Western Stock Show Complex. CSU has always enjoyed a very close partnership with the National Western Stock Show — a partnership based around our mutual commitment to Colorado agriculture, education and the western spirit that is celebrated and preserved by the Stock Show. The Stock Show provides significant scholarship support to students at CSU and the University of Wyoming, and we’re looking forward to the start of the 2009 Stock Show this weekend and hope to see many of you at CSU Day on January 17.
I find it easy to talk about Colorado State University. It is a great American university, I’m extraordinarily proud to be a part of it, and I consider it a great privilege to serve as its interim President.
Someone asked me the other day how much I was enjoying the job and I told them it was ranked right up there with graduating from vet school, finishing my PhD thesis, passing my Boards and a little behind tricking my wife into marrying me (still my greatest achievement) — but as I thought about that I realized that all of those things also had to do with land grant universities. After leaving our family farm in northern Illinois, I had the honor of studying at two of America’s great land grant universities — the University of Illinois and Purdue University — and I met my wife at UI. She, in turn, was the one who was absolutely captured by Colorado and the Western U.S. — and was the biggest factor in our settling here to raise our family.
I think part of the reason that I am enjoying the job so much is that CSU really is an exceptional university. I think whenever one takes the reins of any organization, the first question you ask yourself is about your mission: Are you relevant? And I’d like to talk about that mission for a moment.
Mission for land grant universities
The mission for all land grant universities arose in the 19th century, less than 100 years into one of the greatest human experiments — to see if individuals could self-govern.
At this point, in the midst of an economy in shambles and the most devastating war in our nation’s history, rather than focusing on what couldn’t be done because of the massive challenges they faced, part of our nations leadership opted for a second radical experiment: public education.
This second “experiment” included a great commitment to primary education, but what really set it apart was the idea that a college education should be available to anyone with the ability to attain that degree, regardless of economic status.
This experiment was based on four suppositions:
- That democracy would only succeed with educated citizens.
- That a successful economy spread across the vast physical space of America and adaptable to future changes needed an educated workforce at all levels.
- That the fabric of American society would be strengthened by inclusion of teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals in all of our communities.
- And that the best way to attain this was for everyone to contribute to financing the cost of these educations, because what is returned to us by these soon-to-be graduates is far more than what we have invested.
That mission is every bit as pertinent, alive and vibrant today as when Lincoln signed the Land Grant Act; and it is being copied with unprecedented investments in China and India because of its success.
Elements for success
If mission is intact, one needs a good strategic plan to accomplish that mission. We have that; established under the direction of an extremely experienced and committed Board of Governors.
We have the people needed to carry out such a plan.
- A competitive, talented, and hardworking faculty — the heart and soul of any university
- Excellent staff on campus and in the field — dedicated to making CSU better for the people we serve
- Our students — a group of talented, passionate young people who push all of us daily to improve, to be worthy of the dedication they bring to their studies
- And great alumni and supporters across our state.
Those elements, mission, plan and people, are what any organization needs to be the very best: and that is our goal at Colorado State University. And we are well on our way: Colorado State University today ranks among the nation’s top land-grant institutions, with internationally respected research programs in infectious disease, clean and alternative energy, atmospheric science, cancer and human health, veterinary medicine, animal science, and many other fields.
And I’m pleased to be able to report that Colorado State is in good shape as an institution. Thanks to the efforts and commitment of many good people across our campus and community, Colorado State today is conservatively managed, academically respected, and well-positioned for continued success. We are academically competitive — still the “school of choice” in Colorado, enrolling and graduating more full-time Colorado students than any other campus in the state.
CSU faces serious challenges
But CSU faces some real challenges, as well:
- We need to continue to foster vital partnerships with business, industry, state and local governments, and others in the interest of supporting Colorado’s economic health and sustained quality of life
- We need to be more open, accountable, and transparent to Colorado taxpayers to demonstrate that we’re good stewards of public resources.
- We also need to do a better job of using our outreach infrastructure and our agencies like Extension and the Colorado State Forest Service to effectively serve the people of Colorado, at all times, but particularly during times of economic hardship.
- We need to be more engaged internationally &mdash an issue near and dear to Rotarians &mdash and create greater opportunities for students and faculty in an increasingly shrinking global society
- And we do face financial challenges along with the rest of our state. As one of the few discretionary items in the state budget, higher education and Colorado State University get hit hard in years like this one, when we see a downturn in state revenues
- We’ve taken steps in the last two months to prepare for what we know will be a difficult budget year for state lawmakers &mdash just before the holidays, I announced $1.5 million in cuts to University administration to help us prepare for the reductions we expect we’ll need to make in the coming year, and I’ve advised the campus to be prepared for additional cuts over the next few months.
- But while state funding is on the decline, our enrollment continues to increase and students wind up shouldering an ever increasing share of the cost of their public education
- This creates, I think, a fundamental question for citizens in Colorado, and, indeed, across America: are we privatizing higher education? Are we giving up on the idea of all chipping in for the collective benefit of educational access? If not, what are the options because our legislators do not have any easy choices in front of them.
- This will present a very real challenge for Colorado education and for CSU over the next several years.
All of these are serious challenges, and we have a lot of work ahead.
Consider the achievements since 1870
But I doubt that any of these are more daunting than the challenges of 1870 if one could stand in that time and see the world as it looked then. And look at what has happened in those intervening years. Consider for a moment the world of 1870 and the world of 2009. What is the greatest change that has occurred in those 139 years? In medicine? In transportation? In communication? Splitting the atom? Cracking the genetic code? Whatever that greatest change was, land-grant universities like Colorado State and their graduates have played pivotal roles in making it possible.
And as I walk across the campus of Colorado State University and consider how the spirit of the University and the support of Colorado’s citizens have helped us transcend problems before, I have a spirit of optimism for our future.
We would not — could not — have that sense of optimism without the ongoing involvement and partnership of groups like Rotary and the National Western Stock Show.
And so, on behalf of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni, of Colorado State University and the society we exist to serve, please accept our sincere, heartfelt thanks — and my personal invitation to visit our campus any time and learn more about your state’s land-grant school.