Mar 102010
Authors: Tony Frank

I typically make it a point not to respond publicly to critical editorials or letters because I believe that everyone, even –– perhaps especially –– university presidents, has to be open to criticism, and the university is better served if we have a free exchange of ideas. I also hope I never reach the point where my skin is so thin that I lose track of the fact that one of the things we celebrate as U.S. citizens and members of an academic community is the ability to question, challenge and criticize publically. I remain proud and respectful of the hard work our student journalists put into the Collegian and the product they produce. So let me start by saying thanks to the Collegian editorial staff for facilitating an active discussion of an important topic via yesterday’s staff editorial. 
 Having said that, I feel the need to comment because I’m not sure there’s anything more important than trust in any community, because I’ve committed to open and transparent communication as CSU’s president and because the editorial implies I have purposefully misled Collegian staff in discussions last fall about funding for campus facilities. 

As I recall, our discussion last fall focused on existing construction projects and whether we ought to cancel some of those projects that were just breaking ground. The point I tried to make then was that the bonds for those projects had already been issued and funds set aside to cover the payments –– portions from the university general fund, portions from student facility fees and portions from user fees (e.g. parking). My position remains that completing those projects –– already funded and in progress last fall –– did not impact future tuition or student fees.

 Last fall we were not considering an additional bond or an increase in student facility fees. In fact, when the idea for another bond issue was first broached with me (around Christmas, if my memory serves), I was pretty skeptical that issuing more bonded debt was the best approach. I’m still not fully decided on the issue. But I have come to be convinced that 1. there are a number of important projects that would benefit CSU –– both now and for those who will follow us when our time here is through; 2. that there are some compelling arguments why, by building during an economic downturn, CSU gets a lot for the money; and 3. that our financial ratios remain well positioned even if CSU took on additional debt. Those conclusions led me to believe that it was worth having an open conversation with our student body to see if there was support for these projects –– a position I hadn’t even considered when we spoke about capital construction last fall.

As I said at the Open Forum Tuesday afternoon, there is no reasonable way to argue that starting a round of new construction projects at this time won’t create costs for our students. I’ve never tried to dress up this fact, and I’ve never argued there is any difference to the student whether a cost increase comes via tuition or a directed fee for a specific purpose. Exactly because I believe this, we’ve tried hard to engage in a dialogue about the potential fee increase in the same time and context as our discussions about next year’s budget and tuition increases –– the same approach, I think, that your editorial recommends. And I hope our students are proud of their representatives on ASCSU, SFRB and UFFAB, as they have asked tough and appropriate questions throughout the process and have been unified around obtaining as much student input as possible.

I’m glad The Collegian editorial board felt engaged with the topic and comfortable delivering criticism of my administration and me; you should always do that when you think it’s needed –– it’s an important check and balance. I’m also glad the discussion about increasing the fee is going on. That’s healthy and what I had hoped for. I’m not so glad that the Collegian chose to connect a discussion on a related, but significantly different, topic from half a year ago to the current discussions via the assumption that I was then purposely misleading people. While I know I’m biased, I don’t think that interpretation fits very well with my record. More importantly, it does a disservice to the real discussion at hand, in which students are playing an open, active and important role. Thanks for considering my comments.

Dr. Tony Frank
CSU President

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