Nov 162008
 
Authors: Aaron Hedge, J. David McSwane

After brewing concern regarding the future financial and academic state of the university, CSU Interim President Tony Frank announced his plans to increase transparency of university finance late last week and publicly established himself as a more democratic manager than his predecessor.

In an e-mail to the CSU community, Frank said his transitioning administration has cut about half-a-million dollars in administration that could potentially be reinvested “in the University’s academic core.”

Reflecting a palpable and immediate shift in the university’s top office, the announcement comes after students, faculty and state legislators have intensely scrutinized CSU’s financial focus on administration while tuition spiked drastically under former President Larry Penley, who abruptly resigned and accepted an off-the-cuff financial incentive of about $360,000 earlier this month.

“In my first message to campus last week as interim president, I committed to improved communication and open collaborative decision-making … there is probably no issue of greater interest to the broad Colorado State community given the state of the global economy than the status of our overall financial foundation,” Frank said in the e-mail.

Under the new leadership, the university has committed itself to communication with student government, faculty and other concerned parties and vows to provide up-to-date financial reports from Allison Dineen, vice president of Finance.

Frank announced cuts to administration totaling about $500,000 in a “variety of central administrative positions, including a director position, an associate vice presidency, and the position of executive vice president” and said they could potentially be redistributed into the university’s financially starved classrooms.

“I will be expecting all colleges and divisions to pay careful and consistent attention to institutional expenditures, especially those in non-academic areas, to ensure we’re using our resources wisely,” Frank said in the statement.

Frank’s approach to addressing concerned community members represents a stark contrast to how Penley’s administration — known for its all-business mentality akin to a private school — approached communicating the budgets, which many said lacked transparency.

In his time at CSU, Penley drastically overhauled top-level administration, adding more than a dozen VP-level spots with hefty budgets and salaries, including a new No. 2 position, which was filled until mid-semester by John Lincoln, who followed Penley here in 2004 and abruptly resigned two weeks before the president left after urging from the BOG that he be removed.

In those five years, the academic colleges and library saw a much smaller growth in financial support than administration.

During that time, several key financial overseers left the university — three on the same day — accepted large financial incentives and signed confidentiality agreements, an eight-month-long Collegian investigation found.

Brad Bohlander, the university’s top spokesperson, said it was “coincidence” that the auditors left on the same day and maintained that they left on their own accord for separate reasons.

But a former CSU employee close to the issue, who spoke to the Collegian on the condition of anonymity to avoid repercussion from CSU, said the auditors were forced out because they challenged Penley’s financial philosophy, which favored administration and marketing over academic instruction.

Despite a tumultuous tenure that included bouts with student leaders, faculty and Gov. Bill Ritter, Penley’s CEO-style leadership was lauded by many who cited a rapidly increasing university budget, increased national prominence of the school and marked achievements in research expenditures.

“Dr. Penley has served Colorado State University for five years with capable leadership and ambition helping to place CSU on the map of preeminent institutions,” said Doug Jones, chair of the CSU System Board of Governors in a statement following Penley’s resignation. “He has helped, in collaboration with the faculty and others, to position Colorado State University as a leader in research and education in Colorado and the nation.”

Still, just weeks before his resignation, top student government officials formed an official financial oversight committee to evaluate Penley’s fiscal management of the university.

The student oversight committee charged itself with providing information to state legislators who were calling for more transparency in university spending after a series of reports indicated that the academic colleges and library were seeing a smaller growth than administration.

Student government’s interest in the budgets bloomed from its roots that began in spring 2007 when Penley submitted a last-minute amendment to the state budget that would have effectively increased in-state tuition by about $1,200 per student in one year.

Citing a lack of communication with students and campus, student leaders lobbied

against the measure, which was later killed in the legislature.

Luke Ragland, former legislative affairs director for the Associated Students of CSU, was the student who identified and publicly fought the controversial amendment to the state budget, commonly called the Long Bill.

“ASCSU, when I was there, always had a nice, favorable view of Tony Frank,” the senior political science major said. “I remember everyone was pretty impressed with Tony Frank because when we asked him tough questions, we got real answers.”

Ragland said in the wake of Penley’s controversial attempt to subvert communication with campus before increasing tuition, students and faculty clashed, but Frank was open.

“I remember Tony Frank coming into the lion’s den (ASCSU Senate chambers) and being open and honest,” he said. “Unlike Penley, Frank seemed pretty aware of the criticisms . beside his own personal view of what the university is or should be.”

Ragland said Frank’s communication with campus in his short time as interim president is “a real win for students.”

“I would say I am very optimistic,” he added. “This is from someone who was pretty pessimistic previously.” Just a week-and-a-half in office, Frank has alluded that his leadership will differ from Penley’s, but emphasized the dynamic and challenging role of a university president in a state with dwindling funds for higher education.

“Every president approaches the university organization and its budget differently, and I will be doing so with an eye to the higher education and fiscal landscapes here in Colorado and across the country.”

The BOG in a separate release last week communicated their confidence in Frank to lead the university during a time of transition and said a national search for a permanent replacement will begin in early 2009.

Frank has indicated that he could be a candidate for the position.

News Managing Editor Aaron Hedge and Enterprise Editor J. David McSwane can be reached at tips@collegian.com.

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