Penley kicks it off

Sep 162003
Authors: Todd Nelson

Dozens of drums thundered on the Oval. Horns, brass glinting in the sun, blared. A crowd of several hundred gathered in the shade of the Oval’s old trees early Tuesday afternoon as the CSU marching band echoed off the circling buildings.

The crowd convened on the Oval to hear CSU President Larry Penley give the first Fall Address of his tenure, though some were simply drawn in by the spectacle of the loud band, unsure of what was going on. In front of the band the CSU color guard twirled green and gold flags. On the west lawn of the Oval, university staff were preparing to hand out free hot dogs and barbecue beef sandwiches for the University Picnic scheduled to follow Penley’s speech.

Penley was scheduled to speak at 11:30 a.m. As that time approached the band launched into the “Star Spangled Banner” as the campus army ROTC honor guard, in full dress uniform with shouldered rifles, brought the American flag onto the elevated stage.

Penley, who replaced Albert Yates as CSU’s president on Aug.1, began his address with a salute to Sept. 16, Mexico’s independence day. Penley, who speaks Spanish fluently and served as a visiting professor at universities in Mexico and Venezuela, said the day should remind people of the value of independence.

“We also remind ourselves, as well, of one of the great values of higher education, to free our minds and give us the independence to pursue new knowledge and to provide critical interpretation, and to develop freely the works of science and the expression of culture that are part of a great university like Colorado State University,” Penley said.

In his speech, Penley declined to define his personal vision for the direction of CSU, saying that he needed more time to get to know and understand the university.

“A leader to add value must understand the institution and must build upon what others like retired faculty and previous presidents Yates and Morgan have done. But vision and direction are only successful if they are embedded in the culture of the institution, and one does not grasp the culture overnight,” Penley said.

Penley did address the challenges facing higher education in general. He said that public universities would have to find new ways to fund higher education because states would be unable to provide the funds they had in the past. Penley said that the Colorado general fund contribution to CSU had decreased 43 percent, in inflation adjusted dollars, from 2001. The decrease in state funding to CSU is largely attributed to reduced state tax revenue resulting from a slumping state economy.

“I want to tell you that the tough economic times for state governments will continue into the foreseeable future, even after this economy is more robust,” Penley said. He said that CSU would have to look for other sources of funding including tuition increases.

CSU increased tuition by 10 percent this year. Penley’s staff last week proposed a differential tuition plan that would raise tuition rates for some majors, such as business and engineering.

“I think it showed a lot of character for him to address some of the issues that no one wants to hear. For students that includes tuition increases,” said Katie Clausen, vice-president of ASCSU. Clausen said she felt it was a good approach because students were able to hear some of the reasons why the university is making certain decisions.

Penley’s wide-ranging speech touched on subjects as diverse as globalization and genetic research, outlining the role he saw for CSU in the future.

“The challenges are great. They are great not only to move to an integrated perspective of culture and science but to focus on issues of finance of higher education, globalization and our environment, health and well-being, our supply chain through K-12, and the economic development of this region so that indeed we can be responsive as higher education to the state of Colorado. But CSU is well positioned to address many of these challenges,” Penley said.

Penley ended his speech to a standing ovation.

“I think he had some great ideas and he did lay out some foundations for CSU moving toward the future,” said John Gines, graduate education student. “I like what he said about adopting a more healthy lifestyle for CSU and how all the departments can contribute to that,” he said.

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