CSU is in “dire straits.”
That’s was CSU President Larry Penley told student government Wednesday.
Citing a recent study that puts Colorado dead last in funding of higher education, Penley reiterated his commitment to bring CSU up to par with other universities – even if it means significantly raising the cost of a CSU degree.
“We can either continue to decline, or we can find additional revenue,” Penley told the Associated Students of CSU. “Sadly, that’s student tuition.”
In a proverbial game of ping-pong with ASCSU senators, who submitted questions beforehand, Penley defended his tactics in pushing for a last-minute amendment to the state budget last week – a measure that could have cost students more that $1,200 a year.
“Amendments are a normal part of what goes on with the Long Bill,” he said. “I regret the perceived breakdown in communication. It’s not what I want. it’s not what I need.”
“Amendments are not immoral or illegal,” he said of his push that would have ultimately increased tuition by upwards of 36 percent.
Last week, ASCSU held an emergency late-night meeting to address the amendment that nearly slipped past student representatives.
Still, Penley says students were involved in the process.
Luke Ragland, director of legislative affairs for ASCSU and the man credited for blowing the whistle on the last-minute amendment, said, “Penley is very careful in the words that he chooses.”
“Some of it, I don’t think, is the most accurate way to depict it,” Ragland added. “(Penley) can say it wasn’t a surprise, but the fact is it was a surprise. I think that the way he went about it was absolutely the wrong way.”
Penley said he will continue to pursue an increase in spending authority for CSU – which translates to a de facto increase in tuition for students – because Colorado isn’t prepared to take on the challenge alone, especially in the case of CSU.
“We must make sure that CSU is treated equitably on spending authority relative to other universities,” he said, passionately. “It’s not our desire to raise tuition.”
But the value of a CSU education, Penley said, is in jeopardy if the university can’t sharpen its competitive edge.
“The situation for Colorado is grim right now,” he said. “.the situation will only become grimmer.”
One ASCSU senator told the Collegian that while Penley may be well-intentioned, the process was all wrong.
“He and his administration are the only ones who see it the way he does,” said Erik Martin, an ASCSU senator. “You don’t have to lie to not tell the truth.”
While the truth may be lost in politic-speak and fiscal semantics, one thing is certain – the communication between the administration and students needs to be strengthened.
Jason Green, ASCSU president, and Sadie Conrad, vice president, said they weren’t completely satisfied with Penley’s address.
“I thought it was an overall good presentation, but I think he’s misleading as to the amount of student involvement there was in the decision making process,” Conrad said. “There’s a difference between mentioning that the university is getting more money and discussing it.”
Penley repeatedly noted that ASCSU members were privy to information because they sit on the CSU Board of Governors.
“I’m hopeful that in the future, the process will be better,” she said. “But I strongly disagree with the idea that students have more information and ability to voice concerns and questions. It’s not just an assumption that if you sit on the board of governors you have the information. You only get it on a macro level.”
Green said he felt his role in the proposed tuition increase was misrepresented, adding that his efforts may have been trivialized by Penley’s speech.
“I don’t deny the fact that students were included,” he said. “But there were no students included in that dramatic increase. I’ve been very open about presenting both sides of the issue. What was hard for me was that (Penley) put it like students didn’t even try.”
While Green and Conrad will pass the torch to next year’s president and vice president, Katie Gleeson and Trevor Trout in just five weeks, they are still dedicated to finding a solution.
“I’ve got to really rethink a strategy since we’re being looked at to create a plan for what we need from them,” Green said. “But I would really like both sides to be proactive in the process.”
For Penley, proactive means helping his university escape the shadow cast by that of CU-Boulder and the like.
When asked what he is most proud of in his time at CSU, Penley said it was his fight against what he called a “mentality of scarcity.”
“It is trying to provide for CSU a sense of hope,” he said. “A sense of, ‘yes, CSU is a great university.'”
Associate news managing editor J. David McSwane and campus editor Marissa Hutton-Gavel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.