Thoughts on Tony Frank: ‘His influence is long-lasting’

Tony Frank shakes hand of graduate

When I think of Tony Frank, I think of lengthy and meaningful email messages that have no CliffsNotes version to reference; the teachings of Abraham Lincoln; an outstanding extemporaneous speaker who delivers a meaningful speech with such eloquence that it is remembered long after the event.  I think of someone with a sense of humor that is self- deprecating and doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of others to make people laugh; someone with a respect for the value of family and the fact that he never fails to ask about mine; someone who is loyal, and strives to live by the oath of “first, do no harm.”

And yes, I think of his contributions to diversity and inclusion on the Colorado State University campus.

I recall that many years had passed and many individuals had spoken about the need for a high-level position that would focus on diversity and inclusion. Tony created such a position at a time when the nation was beginning to address the impact of the Great Recession and other institutions were furloughing staff or eliminating positions.

Mary Ontiveros
Mary Ontiveros is vice president for diversity at Colorado State University.

As president, he authorized the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion and challenged us to be the conscience of the institution, recognizing the urgency of all that is yet to be done while not discounting the work that has already been accomplished.

Courage and commitment

He has been a president with the courage to respond to difficult situations that have occurred both on and off campus. He has responded to disasters in Colorado or around the world knowing that these too have an impact on the lives of our students and staff. I think of him as an individual with a deep appreciation for our institution’s land grant mission and what we must remember about that history.

I think of someone with a sincere commitment to elevate the positive experiences of women on campus and an individual who seeks to learn more about gender equity.

He is a leader who is unabashed in expressing the importance of diversity and inclusion, recognizing that changing demographics are altering our institution’s classrooms and exposing the importance of the skills necessary for faculty and staff intent on creating an environment where all can feel welcomed, valued and affirmed.

Through work on the Employee Climate Survey we have not been deterred from making information available to campus knowing that he believes transparency is important. For how can we move forward if we do not know where we are failing?

Respect and responsiveness

Tony values the importance of free speech and respect for individual opinions as they are essential to what we stand for in higher education. Yet he does not fail to note that hate speech and a desire or intent to harm or annihilate others is not a value to which we subscribe.

I have seen him respond to student situations and incidents of bias so that in the end we rise to become a better institution. Through the President’s Multicultural Student Advisory Committee, I have witnessed the exchange of information as he has learned from the experiences of students as they have also learned about the policies and practices of the institution from him.

Together we learned that meeting the needs of the trans community also meant addressing the needs of many others: that all-gender restrooms also aid women reluctant to send their young sons into men’s restrooms alone, couples who assist each other after serious medical situations, and individuals with medical needs who need privacy and a sink to avoid embarrassment and inconvenience.

Policy and progress

The policy to create an inclusive physical and virtual campus also has allowed for the development of standards that detail the needs of lactating mothers, provide space for reflection and prayer, and aim to address ADA requirements across campus in both the physical space and virtual realm. The policy introduced the idea that universal design could become a standard for the institution and should not be viewed simply as an add-on.

Efforts to increase the numbers of faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds must continue. We must also focus on addressing institutional culture to ensure that their retention is not compromised. Through the creation of the President’s Council on Culture last fall, it is expected that individuals in key leadership roles will hold accountable those in the best position to ensure that progress is not measured in small increments.

Tony’s appreciation for the Principles of Community has helped to elevate discussions about inclusion, integrity, respect, social justice, and service. Discussions about inclusive excellence and diversity, while oft times difficult, nonetheless now take place more frequently. Tony has helped us to understand the importance of speaking about values that define us and not divide us. His influence has been great and I believe his legacy will be long-lasting and significant.