Annually the U.S. president delivers a State of the Union Address, and in the states, governors do the same. Sometimes by law, sometimes by tradition, sometimes to promote policy or just themselves, mayors, commissioners and chancellors do it too.
Often the addresses are ghost written, and the ghosts most generally try to capture what the “author” really thinks and would like to say. But not always; sometimes speakers write their own script and sometimes the ghosts promote their own message, irrespective of what the person on stage might want to communicate.
In any case, CSU President Larry Edward Penley will soon deliver one of these institutional messages. I don’t know if he has a ghostwriter or, if he does, who that might be. Nor do I presume to know what is in his mind. But that aside, were I to write his speech, here is how it would read.
“Students, members of the faculty and staff, fellow administrators, members of the Colorado public, welcome. This is an extraordinarily important moment in the history of Colorado’s Land Grant University.
“I am here today to tell you, regretfully, that the “Stretch Goal” path upon which we embarked just a few years ago, unless corrected, may well lead to . well . if not disaster, certainly serious trouble.
“Our goals included expansion of the student body and the addition of 450 professors. We aimed to put our football team in the Bowl Conference Championship series within five years. We resolved to ensure high quality education for our students and ‘spin off’ scientific research to the private sector in the form of new businesses. We resolved to ‘brand’ the place – to advertise a lot.
“In pursuit of these goals we have, over the past few years:
1. Hired a significant number of new administrators (we have 15 vice presidents by last count and plan to add another, and maybe a vice chancellor);
2. Increased aggregate administrative salary expenditures at a rate well in excess of that in the faculty and classified staff categories;
3. Increased spending in athletics;
4. Spent millions to create “Superclusters,” which are administrative overlays on top of high quality research programs which have been productive and marked by excellence for decades without the additional bureaucratic expense;
5. Spent $12 million to compete with existing online schools such as the University of Phoenix;
6. Put an expanded and expensive public relations effort in turbo-mode;
7. Dramatically increased lobbying spending;
8. Spent instructional funds to scout for private research money;
9. Built an expanding Denver-based CSU-System bureaucracy;
10. Borrowed heavily for construction, anticipating a growing tuition revenue stream for bond repayments;
11. Raised tuition and some fees by more than triple the rate of inflation;
12. Relied increasingly upon low paid adjunct and temporary teachers for our 25,000 students and
13. Centralized university decision-making under our enlarged administrative apparatus.
“While the Denver-Boulder consumer price index has risen 13 percent over the past five years, undergraduate resident tuition has gone up 52 percent and both mandatory and athletic fees are up more than 70 percent. ‘High cost’ and ‘high demand’ courses, along with all upper division courses, carry extra per-credit fees. Dollar for dollar, CSU tuition is in line with peers, but as a proportion of total cost it is high and climbing.
“We have, to be perfectly blunt, driven up recurring ‘mandatory costs,’ driven up tuition and fees and relied heavily upon instructional funds to expand non-instructional ventures.
“But that was then and this is now. So what about the next five years?
“We have come to the realization that our goals have, in large measure, been conflicting or misplaced. We cannot make quality education affordable for large numbers of students with ever escalating tuition and fees.
“For 200 years the ‘spin-off’ of scientific discovery has been handled by market forces, and we need not spend student money to interfere with this process. Maintenance of the intellectual foundation of our venerable Land Grant institution need not be compromised for the creation of an online operation. And with multiple worthy goals but limited resources, administrative expansion should be our very last priority.
“‘Stretching,’ we now know, can damage existing fabric and we shall, thus, ‘stretch’ no more. Rather; it will be first things first, and back to basics. We will turn our undivided attention and resources to strengthening the intellectual foundation of the university, which has been built by hard work and wise choices over the past 100-plus years. And we will keep education at Colorado State University affordable.
“My goals, thus, not in five years but in five months, are these:
1. Shrink administrative positions by at least one-third and administrative costs by more;
2. Move the savings into two areas – [a] new tenure track faculty positions and [b] a commitment to hold tuition increases to single digits – low single digits if possible;
3. Largely disassemble the Denver-based ‘system’ bureaucracy;
4. Decentralize most administrative and academic decisions to the department and college level and
5. Direct presidential ‘time and effort’ to collaborative work with the representatives of the people of Colorado – our governor and legislature — and the leaders of other state institutions so as to convince the public to support a reconstruction of the fiscal foundation of Colorado higher education.
“Colorado State University has a long and glorious tradition of excellence in research, scholarship, teaching and service. It is a Land Grant University — the ‘people’s university’ — and, for decades, a ‘green’ one.
“We will maintain and polish that tradition. With pride, we will tell the world of our single-minded focus on our students, on affordability, on the quality of our professors and their teaching and scholarship. We trust our professors to pursue the truth; the academic faculty is, after all, the intellectual foundation of good universities. And we trust that the fruits of our professors’ work will enrich the society that supports them, free of costly administrative overlays.
“Over the next five years, Colorado and the larger world may expect to see much from our students and our professors, as it has for years. As importantly, it should see little of us who live on the Oval since our job is simply to maintain an environment conducive to fully independent teaching and discovery – to the life of the mind.”
Well, there it is. No one asked for it, but Larry Edward Penley, or anyone else, is free to claim it.
Dr. John A. Straayer is a professor of political science. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.