President McConnell commits CSU to in-person Fall semester as Board of Governors plans budget

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At the May 6 meeting of the Colorado State University System Board of Governors, President Joyce McConnell shared plans for mostly in-person learning, events and university operations on campus this fall, largely made possible by the recently announced vaccine requirement.

McConnell also advocated for a 3% merit pool to provide pay increases for faculty and administrative professional staff, along with a 3% increase in teaching and research assistant stipends for graduate students. That degree of additional salary support would match what is planned for classified personnel across the state.

The Board will finalize the FY2021-22 budget in June and indicated it would consider backing the proposed pay increase with System bridge funds while also balancing pandemic-related budget challenges.

“I see these recommendations not only as recognition of your talent and hard work, but as an important step that brings us in line with our institutional peers,” McConnell wrote in an email to faculty and staff following the Board meeting.

Vaccine background

As CSU implements the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for Fall semester, McConnell noted more than 75% of students agree that students, faculty and staff should be encouraged to receive the vaccine, according to a recent university survey.

The Board also heard additional background for the vaccine requirement at CSU’s Fort Collins and Pueblo campuses, and acknowledged public input submitted both in support and opposition to the recently announced plan. The requirement was made in coordination with other colleges and universities across Colorado.

The vaccine requirement also recognizes that individuals may opt-out of receiving vaccines for religious, medical, and personal reasons, as they have long been able to for others, such as the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

“Vaccines work,” CSU System Chancellor Tony Frank told the Board. “This is simply the fastest and most effective way to return to normal.”

“We teach science at these universities, we create new science, and in my opinion we have a responsibility to practice that science. We also have a responsibility to follow the law around these issues and I’m confident that we are,” Frank said.

At an online town hall the day following the Board meeting, McConnell and a panel of campus leaders provided details about plans for the Fall semester to the CSU community. A second Town Hall, focused on faculty and staff topics, is scheduled for May 13.

Other items from Fort Collins

The President’s Report to the Board also included these and other items:

• The University’s Courageous Strategic Transformation draft framework is in place after surveys and feedback sessions conducted throughout March provided extensive input from across campus. That input built on visioning by a group of more than 60 campus leaders identified by President McConnell to guide the effort. CSU’s new vice president for strategy, Jenelle Beavers, will help lead the transformation.

• Fall enrollment numbers are continuing to take shape, with a recent increase in deposits following the announcement of the vaccine requirement and increased in-person plans for fall. Deposits are up more than 10% over Fall 2019, the most recent pre-pandemic comparison point. In-state student numbers are down slightly, including in traditionally underserved populations, prompting extra attention to recruitment and retention in those areas.

The Board of Governors heard reports from representatives of all three campuses that make up the CSU System – CSU Fort Collins, CSU Pueblo and CSU Global – during the bimonthly meeting, which is available for viewing on the CSU System website.

Meeting highlights

• Boulder business leader and entrepreneur John S. Fischer was introduced as the newest member of the Board of Governors. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis nominated Fischer to the Board April 6, and reappointed Fort Collins entrepreneur Kim Jordan for a second term.

• The FY2021-22 budget under consideration by the Board contains several tuition options. Current models consider a zero or 3% tuition increase ($283 per year increase for resident undergraduate tuition) and a zero or 3% increase in the salary pool to provide merit increases for employees not already benefiting from the state’s approved 3% increase for state classified employees. Last year’s pandemic budget held tuition level while reducing costs through spending reductions including 6% strategic cuts across campus, voluntary retirement incentives, a hiring freeze, and other reductions, with federal relief funds and System reserves filling the gap. President McConnell praised the System’s management of the budget during the pandemic and the current models for next year. “This budget reflects our continued investment in our people as well as our market competitiveness, and the two are integrally linked, “ McConnell said. The Board will finalize the FY2021-22 budget at its June retreat.

• The Board recognized Prof. Blythe LaGasse with the 2021 Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award. LaGasse is a professor of music therapy in CSU’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance in the College of Liberal Arts. Provost Mary Pedersen praised LaGasse’s innovative approach to developing the University’s new music therapy curriculum and doctoral program. “Her engagement of the students as well as collaborative efforts have been absolutely phenomenal,” Pederson said.

• All three CSU buildings – Vida, Terra, and Hydro – are under construction at the CSU Spur campus at the National Western Center in Denver. Vida and portions of the Terra building are to be completed in time for the National Western Stock Show in January 2022. The Hydro building is now scheduled for completion in November 2022. Details are available on the CSU Spur website.

• The Board voted unanimously in favor of a resolution stating its position on the former Hughes Stadium property, and issued this summary statement:
“The Board of Governors of the Colorado State University System is still considering its options regarding the future of the Hughes property, and has made no decision pending consideration of an anticipated offer from the City of Fort Collins. To ensure the proposed plans for the property are not further delayed should an agreement not be reached with the City, the Board today reiterated its intent to move forward with the SPAR process – to which the CSU System is legally entitled – that it initiated with the city in 2020. The Board also publicly noted its opposition to the City’s rezoning of the Hughes property as Public Open Space. While this action was required by the citizen-initiated ordinance, the City’s action denies the Board, as a landowner, the economically viable use of the property and diminishes its fair market value. The Board reiterated that it reserves any and all authority under state law to manage its state-owned property on behalf of the taxpayers of Colorado.”

• Professor Melinda Smith shared CSU Faculty Council’s strong support for increasing stipends for graduate teaching and research assistants. Smith also said the Faculty Council appreciates recent budget presentations from the administration and efforts toward faculty pay increases in the FY2022 budget, as long as they don’t come at the expense of faculty job positions, in order to keep CSU competitive with respect to peer institutions.

• ASCSU President Hannah Taylor reported that student government is providing an additional $6,000 to support summer service of the RamRide Secure program. Among a variety of ongoing efforts Taylor discussed, she shared that ASCSU is providing incentives for students to get COVID-19 testing and vaccines and is adding additional support for student mental health by funding $40,000 to provide all students with an annual subscription to the Headspace app.

Information about all meetings of the CSU Board of Governors is on the CSU System website. Final meeting materials are typically posted within a week of each meeting.