Jan 162012
 
Authors: Sarah Fenton

Early next year, Colorado State University and the University of Wyoming will begin the process of selling Y Cross Ranch — leaving some donors and employees questioning where CSU’s priorities lie.
According to CSU’s Agricultural Research Development and Education Center Coordinator Clayton Shonk, the 50,000-acre ranch is a resource no other university in the country has.

“Overall I feel the department is more interested in the revenue that will be produced from the sale rather than the available teaching resource the ranch presents,” Shonk said.

The ranch was gifted to CSU and UW 14 years ago under terms that required it to stay an operating ranch while becoming a “real-world, working laboratory,” offering many internships and learning experiences to agriculture students.

“This is an industry that you can’t learn from the top-down, you have to learn it from the ground up,” said Manny Monserrate, the current -Cross Ranch manager. “They have to see it to understand it, to learn it, to feel it. A place like this is critical to education and the agricultural industry.”

As joint-owners of Y Cross Ranch, CSU Research Foundation (CSURF) and UW Foundation are now legally eligible to dissolve their ownership of the ranch by the terms of the gift agreement.

“We have very effectively managed this ranch in keeping with the gift agreement with the Courtney C Davis Foundation now for 14 years. Both schools began to look at the value of the property, both schools, through the university’s presidents, made the decision that the value of the property, through being able to liquidate it as a land asset, would provide both universities a greater support for ag programs,” UWF President Ben Blalock said.

The foundations started looking at Y Cross’ future in 2009 when, after determining that students at UW were not utilizing the ranch, CSU and UW started negotiations in which CSU would absorb UW’s share with funds provided by Amy Davis, the original donor.

“At that time I asked Dr. Frank if CSU wished to purchase UW’s one-half interest in the ranch to give CSU 100 percent ownership of the ranch,” Davis wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Dr. Frank replied ‘yes.’ In response, the Davis Foundation agreed to fund CSU’s purchase of UW’s one-half interest in the ranch.”

According to CSU President Tony Frank, these negotiations came to a halt when UW received several letters of interest, one of which offered to pay twice the value of the ranch.
“Another individual found out about the potential sale and wrote a letter offering to buy the ranch for $18 million,” Frank said.

According to Frank, absorbing both shares of the ranch, instead of selling it as a whole, would not be in the university’s best interest.

“When it became apparent that the ranch’s value had increased substantially and there was a viable sale option, it was no longer a viable option for CSU to purchase the Wyoming portion,” Frank said.
Frank also added that the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences were both consulted on several occasions. Input from the two indicated that scholarship funds coming from the sale would be a greater asset to students.

But for Davis, the whole thing came as a shock.

While the agreement was only verbal, she never expected CSURF to decline her offer.
“Several months later I was stunned when Dr. Frank disclosed to me that CSU was no longer interested in pursuing the purchase of UW’s one-half interest and instead had joined UW in deciding to dispose of the ranch,” Davis said.

According to Davis, CSURF never came to her a second time to see if she would be interested in providing a larger amount of funds to help CSU maintain the ranch.

“I was greatly disappointed that CSU and UW have chosen to dispose of the Y Cross Ranch for cash,” Davis said. “I most certainly regret my decision to gift the Y Cross Ranch given their lack of interest in capitalizing on the educational uses provided by the ranch. The poor handling of this educational gift by CSU and UW should give any other donor pause.”

For Maxine Weaver, a small Fort Collins Ranch owner who had once considered donating her ranch to the university, Davis’ words have been prophetic.

“I don’t think we are the only ones out here who might have considered gifting something to CSU or UW, and (we) will no longer consider that as a gift of our property to CSU or UW if that sale takes place.”

“I am sure if we were to gift it the first thing they would want to do is turn around and subdivide it for bookoo bucks so they could take the money and do something else with it,” she said.
Weaver added that, if it were possible, “they (the Davis Foundation) should revoke the gift.”

“We see no reason why we should further consider giving anything to CSU or (University of) Wyoming,” Weaver said. “I can tell you from my experience working as an attorney, if they go through with that (the Y Cross sale) there are a lot of people who would no longer gift to CSU.”

Not only are community members concerned about the sale, students have started to speak out as well, feeling like they have not been adequately consulted on whether or not the gift should be sold.

In a letter to Tony Frank, junior animal sciences major April Tracy expressed her growing disappointment about the sale.

“If necessary I can gather signatures from other students throughout the school,” Tracy wrote. “These places belong to us, and I do not believe the decision should be yours or anyone other than the students themselves to make, and none of us would choose to do it.”

Citing her experiences at Y Cross, Tracy urged the university to reconsider the sale.
“If we do not have these facilities, where are students like me, with no ranching background, supposed to learn how to do these things? They cannot be taught in a classroom, only through hands-on experience.”

So far Tracy has not received any response from CSU.

While the animal sciences department was consulted before the final decision was made, Shonk said he believes feelings are “mixed.”

Right now, CSURF and UWF are working to “establish a competitive sale process,” according to Frank. And despite those who feel the sale is the wrong decision, Craig Beyrouty, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at CSU, stands behind it.

“Even if the Y Cross Ranch is sold, CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences will continue to offer vital hands-on learning that enriches student education and prepares students to meet real-world challenges,” Beyrouty said in an email to the Collegian.

In a guest column submitted by Beyrouty, it was explained that the sale would not affect hands-on learning for agriculture students because five other ranches will remain accessible to students.
However the students who have voiced their concerns continue to have their doubts. Especially because only two of the five properties are local, while the other three span from eastern Colorado to Nebraska approximately 260 miles from campus.

“No other university has a gift like the Y Cross. To be the premier (agriculture) university, I would think that CSU would want to present every possible chance for students to excel once they graduate. All in all, I feel CSU’s reputation –– as a premier land grant university — would be tarnished by selling the Y Cross,” said Teo Abbruzzese, a senior equine science major.

And although educational opportunities exist at these two local properties, the scale of their operations is much smaller than Y Cross.

CSU declined to give further comment on the subject despite several attempts made by the Collegian.

Y Cross has so far had 22 interns according to Monserrattes’ wife, Annette, however, she reported being surprised after searching for CSU agricultural internships finding two related CSU sponsored websites that did not provide information about opportunities at Y Cross Ranch or any other of the other five agriculture properties. According to her, information like this is pertinent to students looking for internships.

“This is your ranch, this is your gift,” Annette Monserratte said.

Collegian writer Sarah Fenton can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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