Colorado State University President and CSU System Chancellor Tony Frank on Wednesday recalled past challenges – the 1997 flood and 2008 recession – to provide a roadmap for the CSU community as it confronts the latest issues facing higher education: conflicts over hate speech, the First Amendment and civil discourse.
Frank, addressing a sun-warmed crowd at CSU’s historic Oval on the 20th anniversary of the first President’s Fall Address and University Picnic, talked about issues facing the University as it negotiates challenging times. He reminded attendees of the death and destruction caused by flood waters in July 1997, and hailed the way the campus rallied from the devastation to become even stronger.
“In the face of everything the last 147 years has been able to throw at our society, the community that is Colorado State University has stood strong – rooted like an oak able to withstand destructive winds,” he said. “I have no doubt that we will emerge from the current storm unified and with our commitment to free speech, to civil engagement, and to an inclusive and healthy community fully intact.
“Decades hence, others will debate new topics and face new storms – under the protective shelter of the oak that we now strengthen and grow.”
Frank, recognized earlier Wednesday by the National Western Stock Show as its 2018 Citizen of the West, cited a long list of accomplishments for the crowd, which included city officials, members of the Board of Governors, faculty and staff, and hundreds of students:
- A decade of consecutive record enrollment as Colorado’s School of Choice.
- One in four students is first generation, and CSU is enjoying record levels of student diversity.
- Retention and graduation rates are up, and gaps based on race and gender and socioeconomic status are down.
- Awards, markers of scholarly impact, and research funding all continue to be strong.
- CSU is delivering services again in every county in Colorado and re-opening an Agricultural Experiment Station on the Western Slope.
- The University is surging ahead in student satisfaction and alumni participation rates as the national trends decline.
- It is a physically renewed campus that will serve the University “well long after our time to care for her has passed.”
- CSU is nearly two years ahead of schedule in completing its second campaign, the $1 billion State Your Purpose campaign, designed to launch CSU into its next 150 years.
“All of this is due to the hard work of all of you. Thank you,” he said. “This is a great university because you have made her so.”
‘We can improve’
At the same time, Frank cited ongoing issues that need to be addressed, including racial tensions and divides nationwide and the challenge of how to allow “morally repulsive” ideas to be expressed while also standing up in solidarity to reject those ideas. He encouraged spirited and intellectual, yet civil, debate, refusing to ever give up First Amendment privileges passed down by people who sacrificed everything – including their lives – to preserve free speech.
Armed with the core values of a great land-grant university, he said, “We can tackle cultural change – we can improve how we treat each other, making progress on everything from living wages to non-tenure track faculty to racial and gender equity to sexual assault to suicide prevention.”
He added: “I hope that you will join me over this next year in helping to take that next step in greatness, in making sure that the primacy of free speech is upheld, and the critical nature of civil discourse is every bit as much a part of this campus, refusing to accept that one of these must be weighted in favor of the other.”