Amid a flood of criticism that accused his administration of attempting to sneak a massive tuition increase into a state bill without student input, CSU President Larry Penley sent out a campus-wide e-mail to students Friday, saying there would be “more open and direct communication in the future.”
“While this has been a priority for me as CSU president, and we have a number of mechanisms in place to assure student involvement in university decision-making, those means do not appear to have been effective in this case,” Penley said.
On Wednesday night, the Colorado Senate shot down legislation that would have effectively increased CSU tuition by at least a third for some students.
The $34 million in extra spending authority, rather than the slated $11 million, would have put CSU on more equitable terms with other Colorado universities, and would have provided substantial financial support for low-income students, Penley said.
But the criticism hasn’t centered around details of the amendment. Instead, student leaders and politicians claim Penley didn’t give students enough notice and tried to go behind their backs.
“It was unacceptable the way they tried to sneak this through,” said Luke Ragland, legislative affairs director of Associated Students of CSU. “The misleading message that this is not a tuition increase, it’s something I’ve had to do battle with at the legislature.”
Ragland lobbied in Denver all day against the amendment Wednesday. It failed 18-15.
Technically, the amendment wasn’t a tuition increase. The administration wanted to have the authority, like most Colorado colleges, to be able to charge students for more than nine credits. The bottom line, however, would have been a significantly higher priced CSU education for most students.
John Straayer, a CSU political science professor, characterized the administration’s stance with the following quip: “We’re not going to raise tuition, we’re just going to charge you more.”
The Long Bill, the $17.8 billion state budget plan, had arrived on the Colorado Senate floor last Monday, when legislators saw it. But by Wednesday night, lawmakers had floated several dozen amendments at the bill – one was the CSU funding add-on.
Penley called the last-minute amendment, authored by Sen. Bob Bacon, a Fort Collins Democrat, “a routine, perfectly ethical and completely legitimate part of the political process.”
Straayer said Penley’s correct in saying that amendments are made to the initial bill, but he added that the magnitude, timing and lack of communication make this case unusual.
“One of the norms in the legislature is you don’t surprise people,” he said.
Meanwhile, the executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, David Skaggs, criticized a prior statement President Penley issued in which he reiterated his call for fairness in funding among Colorado colleges.
“Much is made of the relative standing of CSU and the University of Colorado,” Skaggs said in a statement late Thursday.
“While both are classified as research institutions, there are substantial differences between the role and mission of each in the Colorado system. I believe it is more constructive to address how we can help CSU get ahead, and not whether or how it should get even.”
Managing editor Vimal Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.