Nov 112008
Authors: Ryan Nowell

I don’t know what to make of the Larry Penley situation — I mean, other than my gut reaction to the mid-semester kiss-off, the month-long vacation and the $389,000 in severance pay.

Just postulating, but for a guy who was brought in to help bolster the university’s earnings, strutting out of here at the drop of a hat with his pocketbook lined doesn’t strike me as leading by example.

But then, who the hell knows what Penley’s example was? The man ran this school like the Manhattan Project.

He was secretive, occasionally combative, ran an office as opaque as a chunk of concrete and when that got coupled with his severe, far-reaching policy decisions, all that inscrutability invited easy characterizations. “Devious” was common, as was “money-grubbing,” “corporateer” and “Cheney-svelte.”

But really, the mystique and conspiracy was all just a tease. Nothing Penley has done can live up to the expectation that acting incredibly guilty for five years has created. There doesn’t seem to be any deep, dark secret at the heart of his tenure or his resignation.

I’m not without my share of crackpot theories, though.

Penley jets off to a romantic tropical rendezvous with the Green Guy, clinking brandy snifters on the beach at sunrise.

Penley meets John Lincoln in the Pawnee Grasslands with a trunk full of shovels, ready to stash the sophomore Chem. major that could recite his acids and bases but didn’t know where the damn bike lane ended.

Penley moves into corporate consulting and has frank, open discussions about budgeting with other human beings. Ha ha! Oh, libel!

Bottom line, I just don’t see any plot twists at the end of this resignation caper. Some people wasted the late 60s trying to get actor Patrick McGoohan to explain his resignation; I doubt we’ll get much by twisting any arms here.

Rather, I think we should evaluate his presidency for what he has accomplished, rather than why he’s leaving.As many have pointed out, Penley delivered on many of the promises he made upon his arrival, and he saw the university through some difficult times, managing to keep us afloat and even bolster our reputation nationwide. He did what he said he’d do.

How he’s gone about that is where many have taken issue.

There’s no question that higher education in Colorado is plunging into a financial sinkhole. Narrow-minded voters are starving our state’s colleges, and every institution has had to decide where they’ll skimp. For Penley, that was an unprofitable pairing at the heart of higher education — the students and the teachers.

Penley has received plenty of kudos for setting enrollment records the past few years, all the while doing little to nothing to help the budget for actual, honest to God, classroom academics.

We have more students than ever being taught by fewer and fewer teachers. He succeeded in pulling more money into the university, but he failed us on a very basic level — packing us in like cattle while the quality of our education nosedives.

Penley instead poured money into new administrative positions (because what we really need right now is more bureaucracy), research projects (involving huge amounts of money being heaped on lone departments), the “green” initiative (a PR money pit if I’ve ever seen one) and that old, reliable cash cow, athletics.

Since they don’t state anywhere on the recruitment brochure that during your four years at CSU you’ll be deferring parts of your education to Superclusters, the Vice-Assistant Co-Director of Acquisitions, emission-free fax machines or the CSU track and field team, then I think they should stick to what they claim they’re doing, what every college is supposed to do — facilitating the interaction between teachers and students.

There goes Penley, hand over fist in an avalanche of cash like a shiny-pated Monopoly man, off to tighten belts and cut corners at some other hard-luck university.

I can only hope the heir to the throne doesn’t follow his lead and put our classrooms last.

Ryan Nowell is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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