Editor’s note: President Tony Frank sent the following message to the entire Colorado State University campus community on September 30, 2018. The CSU System Board of Governors issued a release praising Dr. Frank for his extraordinary service and calling him “one of the most respected leaders in higher education today.”
September is at an end, and we’re starting to feel that first taste of fall in the air (intermingled, of course, with the 90-degree days that seem like our world just desperately clinging to one last hint of summer). Some things seem different this year (the Cubs and Rockies are still playing….), but many seem timeless. This is the time of year most rich with traditions on our campus, when the rhythms of the academic year are fully in sync and a walk across the Oval stirs that sense of being a part of something greater than yourself – something that matters and endures. We mark this every fall with some events that are touchstones for the CSU year: Homecoming and Family Weekend October 10-14, Cans Around the Oval October 17, and our annual Fall Address and University picnic, which will happen this coming Wednesday. The address is my annual chance to share a few thoughts about our year with the entire University community, and selfishly, I look forward to the opportunity to reflect on what has been – after being a husband and father – the greatest privilege of my life: a decade of service as president of Colorado State University. This event – with its opening performance by the Marching Band and the chance to gather for lunch on the Oval with friends and colleagues – is a special time to take stock of how far we’ve come as we wind up the University’s first 150 years and all the opportunities that lie ahead in the next decade and beyond.
The last 10 years have been important ones for CSU. Ten years ago, facing an uncertain future at the start of the Great Recession, we established a shared vision as a campus community – a vision of a university where all students with the talent and ability to succeed at CSU might have access to that opportunity; of a university where we refused to settle for less than excellence in any dimension of our work; of a university intimately aligned with the challenges and needs of our society and possessing the character and willingness to make a difference. Even in the face of economic devastation, we knew there would be opportunity, if we allowed ourselves to approach old challenges in new ways. So that’s what we did. And nothing has made me prouder than the way this university has relentlessly pursued excellence one day at a time for those 10 years. Never losing our attention to our fundamental role and mission, never using excuses for why we couldn’t do something, always giving our best (trying to match the determination of that first-generation student who is giving their best), and always getting up the very next day to try to do even a little better.
Those days add up, and today, looking back over this decade, I can state with confidence that so much of what we envisioned has been attained. Graduation rates are up; gaps based on socioeconomic status, race, and first-generation status are among the lowest in the nation; student debt levels have remained below the national average; student loan defaults are down and continue to decline because our graduates are finding great jobs; and student satisfaction has never been higher. We have met and exceeded enrollment goals, investing strategically in financial aid, while expanding research productivity and restoring a sense of commitment to Colorado agriculture and service to the state as a whole. We have deepened our international partnerships and commitments and articulated our Principles of Community. Our campus has been reborn in a physical sense, and we’ve established a culture of tackling thorny issues head-on – from gender equity to the balance of inclusion and free speech. We have grown strong leadership across our colleges and divisions and have focused on building and sustaining a world-class faculty and staff. Just this fall, we were able to follow through on our commitment to bring all of our full-time employees up to, at minimum, a living wage. All of this has translated into improved alumni engagement, and we’re well ahead of schedule and budget on our $1B campaign. Our budget processes have allowed us not simply to survive, but to thrive during a challenging period, and projections indicate the possibility of a period of relative state fiscal stability ahead during which further progress will be attainable. We have exciting opportunities before us, and critical initiatives underway and emerging. CSU’s reputation, in the state, nationally and internationally has never been stronger.
This is, simply, a wonderful university that has improved dramatically because we’ve stayed focused on a shared vision and worked hard, together, to bring it to fruition.
It’s now time for the next step in our university’s trajectory – and that will require the articulation of a new vision for Colorado State. We’ve been preparing for this through various activities such as Re-Envision Colorado State and our strategic planning efforts, and as we prepare to embark on our second 150 years in 2020, it’s time to bring that vision into focus. I believe the person leading those discussions and serving to articulate and lead the implementation of that vision should be someone who will be here to see us through that next decade. In short, it is time for us to find the next president for Colorado State University. I will be concluding my tenure as president July 1, 2019.
We are at a wonderful time to recruit an outstanding new president, thanks to the foundation of progress and success we have laid together. Making the transition at this time allows a new president to lead our celebration at the dawning of the university’s second 150 years – to enter into that new era looking forward, not back. We have an exceptional leadership team in place whose experience also comes with opportunities for the next president to transition smoothly into the role. And of course, the conclusion of major projects such as the campaign and the transformation of our physical infrastructure all combine to make this a moment in which new opportunities can be opened for the university with the benefit of new, full-time leadership and vision.
The Board of Governors and I have been discussing this, and they have requested that I stay on and transition into a full-time role as the Chancellor of the CSU System, a position I have held in addition to my responsibilities as president since 2015. In that full-time role, I hope to continue the work we’ve begun at the System-level in the last few years – integrating operations and leveraging opportunities across our System campuses, interacting with government at the state and federal levels on behalf of our students and faculties, and supporting the presidents of our campuses as they lead these wonderful CSU institutions. We’ve got some important work to do on large scale projects such as bringing the new National Western Center online and strengthening efficiencies and collaboration across our System in alignment with the Board’s strategic vision.
This has not been an easy decision for me personally, given that what I have always loved best about my job is the chance to interact with faculty and students as part of a community of innovative, principled, energetic people doing and discovering things that simply make our world a better place. I’ll still get to do that, but from a different vantage point. And this is the right move at this time for our campus and our System. Our campus deserves a full-time president who is deeply engaged in the life and future of this institution. All three of our CSU System campuses are on a great, positive trajectory, and the Board wants to ensure there is the support at the System level to continue to build on that momentum. I’m grateful to be in a position to continue, I hope, to add some value and move our System forward in ways that will truly benefit the people and future of Colorado and, ultimately, make it a stronger partner for our System campuses.
For some of you, particularly the Cardinals fans, this news probably comes as blessed relief. But please, for those of you who might be feeling even the slightest angst about new leadership, don’t. CSU will be in good hands. I’ll be around for the rest of this year, and then I’m just moving down the road. And I have enormous confidence that the Board will be able to attract an outstanding leader who will lead what shapes up to be an extraordinarily promising decade ahead. I can’t wait to see what that decade brings for CSU.
I look forward to continuing to work with many of you and with whomever has the enormous privilege to step into the role of president. I hope – indeed, I know – that you will give that person the same patience, grace, and support that you have always given to me, as I’ve done my best to serve on your behalf. Most of all, please remember this university has never been about any president. This university is a community, all of us, and the thousands of individual contributions that collectively push this great institution forward, step by step. We all leave at some point – we graduate, retire, move on to something new — but this community has held strong for almost a century and a half, and it endures – each generation building on the foundation laid by those who came before us. This university matters.
So on Wednesday at the Fall Address, we’ll listen to the Marching Band, I’ll keep my remarks short (well, shorter than this email anyway), and let’s have a nice picnic on what promises to be another beautiful fall day. Until then, be well.
Dr. Tony Frank