May 032009
 
Authors: John Straayer

From all reports, Colorado State University’s Board of Governors is on the brink of spending what will surely total a million dollars per year on more administration, located in Denver. It would take the form of a “chancellorship” with three “university” presidents reporting to the BOG through the new top guy or gal.

To many of us, a new enlarged “system/chancellorship” arrangement seemed like a questionable proposition from the outset. But now, with the state of Colorado and CSU facing draconian budgetary difficulties – difficulties which are likely to worsen for fiscal year 2010-11 as 2009-10 one-time budgetary patches expire – the layering on of more very expensive administration is all the more questionable.

Let me set forth the reasons why it is not in the best interest of this major state research university, or the state of Colorado, to have the BOG move forward at this time with such a major and expensive organizational change.

First, as I stated above, it is very costly.

A chancellor would command a higher salary than that of any of the university presidents and by the time a full-blown staff came on board and an expense budget was put in place, the annual price tag would surely exceed $1 million.

For that, up to a dozen bright, young professors could be added – professors who, unlike a new Denver-based administrator, would spend professional life with students, research and scholarly activities.

Second, with the university already suffering cuts in state support totaling tens of millions of dollars, and with the financial burden shifting ever more to students, their families and the accumulating student loan debt load, it could well take a toll in public opinion and public support of higher education.

Why, citizens and students alike might rightly ask, are we paying more for an instructional program for which state support is shrinking and simultaneously expanding administration? In tight times, don’t organizations cut administration first so as to protect and nurture core functions?

Third, the board would be creating an organizational arrangement that, through time, could only come at the expense of this Fort Collins campus.

Reporting to a chancellor would be 1.) the president of a major research university, with 25,000 students and degree programs ranging from bachelors to doctorate; 2.) the president of a 4,000 student, regional undergraduate institution; and 3.) a president of an online operation which is small, new and the success of which is yet to be determined.

This is the perfect picture of a badly flawed arrangement. The three institutions are vastly dissimilaProxy-Connection: keep-alive

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in role, mission, size, finances and operational complexity. It is simply an unbalanced and very bad fit.

Fourth, both the Pueblo and Fort Collins schools would be better off with presidents who report directly to the BOG, with the voices of faculty, students, staff and administration unfiltered by a chancellor and staff whose location is distant from both campuses.

Decisions, both academic and administrative, made locally and thus sensitive to judgments made in the institutions, is a much better arrangement.

Indeed, it may well be in the best interest of both campuses for the state general assembly to create a separate governing board for the Pueblo campus, as is the current situation with Mesa State, Fort Lewis, Western State, Adams State and Metro State. This would obviate the need for a chancellor system and provide the Pueblo campus and community with a tightened connection.

Finally, the process, from last November forward, has displayed a certain mysterious quality.

The nature of the selection process, one largely excluding faculty, students and staff, affords ample opportunity to – quite frankly – wonder if this might be a process leading to a predetermined outcome.

There is no need to rush to any decision – especially now. To the contrary, there are plenty of reasons to step back from the edge.

Dr. John A. Straayer is professor of political science at CSU. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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