May 052009
 
Authors: Elyse Jarvis

Heeding the recommendation of its chancellor search committee, the CSU System Board of Governors voted to name Joe Blake, BOG vice chair and president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the sole finalist for the position Tuesday.

Blake was selected after the board interviewed two candidates, set forth for BOG review by the search committee Monday, in a closed-door session during a last-minute meeting Tuesday.

State law requires that the position remain open for a period of 14 days after a finalist’s name has been made public before hiring can take place. Pending the board’s official hiring decision, Blake will take office July 1.

“(Blake) is a gift in the sense that he has a knowledge and passion for CSU,” BOG chair Doug Jones said in an interview. “He appreciates and understands higher education, and in these economic times, you’ve got to have people who can step up and find sustainable sources of funding.”

Jones said Blake’s salary has not yet been determined. Former CSU President Larry Penley, who maintained both the chancellor and president roles, made $389,000 annually as of his abrupt exit from the university in November.

73-year-old Blake is a graduate of Dartmouth College, with a background that includes stints as an FBI agent and work as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

Blake, a Republican, has maintained his role in the Denver Chamber of Commerce for almost 10 years, holding a seat on the BOG since 2005.

Sitting in interim CSU President Tony Frank’s office for interviews with the press Tuesday afternoon, Blake said he was “numb” after hearing the results of the board’s public vote, noting that he had decided to throw his name into the ring only a few weeks ago.

“The opportunity to work with a great leadership on our campuses is such a remarkable coincidence with some of the things I’ve done in the past,” he said, though he choked up as he expressed his remorse at having to leave his position in the Chamber of Commerce.

Search ends amid contention, speculation

Blake said his Tuesday interview marked his first conversation with the BOG regarding the position, but the board’s selection comes amidst grumblings from state legislators, who speculate that the BOG had pinpointed its man months ago, prior to reviewing candidate applications or conducting interviews.

“I’m really concerned about how this thing went down,” State Representative John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, said. “There were rumors that the selection of Joe Blake was already predetermined and then, all of a sudden, the selection committee meets, makes a recommendation and Joe Blake is selected.”

Though search committee meeting times were made public immediately after committee selections were announced in February, Kefalas said he wanted to ensure the board went through a “fair and objective selection process.”

State Representative Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, said he began hearing rumors indicating that Blake would be chosen as chancellor six weeks ago.

“I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt until I find out more information,” Fischer said, noting that he, along with Kefalas, intends to meet with Frank in hopes of gathering information regarding the board’s process.

Kefalas said the concerns were the impetus of a recently introduced selection transparency bill that would have forced university search committees to turn over at least three finalists for board review before reaching a final vote.

“For Colorado to pick the right leaders for our colleges, we need the right process,” Senate Majority Leader Brandon Shaffer, D-Colo., said in a statement introducing the bill last week. “We need a process that is open, transparent, accountable and inclusive.”

The bill passed out of the state House but died in Senate Tuesday.

The decision to create a standalone chancellor position – made just this year, as CSU-Fort Collins presidents have traditionally maintained both roles – has drawn criticism from some university stakeholders, who suggest the position creates unnecessary executive spending and a conflicting role of oversight over CSU presidents.

Many faculty members have said their apprehension stems from the fact that the chancellor is to act as the CEO of the system, making the CSU-Fort Collins and CSU-Pueblo presidents subordinate according to that structure.

John Straayer, a political science professor, said the fundraising role will contribute to making CSU “less of an academy and more of an industry.”

“What higher education needs is the reverse course,” he said. “It needs to bolster its academic core and shrink its administrative superstructure.”

Speaking outside the board meeting Tuesday, Jones said a fundraiser is needed “now more than ever,” insisting that a Denver-stationed university figurehead will allow the CSU-Fort Collins president to focus on duties at home rather than at the Capitol.

Neither Jones nor Blake had identified definite sources of further funding for higher education as of Tuesday evening, but both noted alumni as an untapped resource.

Blake said his research into finding a predictable revenue stream will begin when he takes the helm of the system as chancellor, additionally overseeing the system’s online campus, CSU Global.

He said the opportunity to expand the CSU brand will be a profitable one.

Jones said Blake will be responsible for meeting with both CSU campuses in the next two weeks.

News Managing Editor Elyse Jarvis can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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