Penley’s Proposition

Sep 112008
Authors: Jessica Cline

Standing on a solar powered stage, President Penley furthered the image of CSU as the “green university,” saying that he will have the school running at a carbon neutral status by the year 2020.

“. as I have said before – changing the light bulbs on campus is not enough – not for a university,” he said to the audience of about 300 students, alumni and faculty members.

But the initiative to make the university completely energy independent in only 12 years did not come without skepticism.

Seth Walter, a former student government vice presidential candidate, said the emphasis on research at CSU draws from more fundamental educational resources in a state where higher education funding is thinner than anywhere else in the nation.

“Some of Penley’s goals seem unattainable because there is no way to expand the university without bringing up tuition costs,” Walter said. “He paints a rosy picture on a cloudy day.”

Fort Collins residents agreed, citing the fact that the city of Fort Collins, after a year and a half of research, believes it only possible to lower carbon emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020.

“No one has come forward with an analysis that makes his vision a possibility, and with the absence of that analysis, his is a pipe dream,” said Eric Sutherland, a Fort Collins resident who dedicates his time to studying and critiquing green initiatives by local companies. “We have not even gotten our arms around what will be required to lower our greenhouse gas emission.”

Penley also outlined educational stretch goals, citing significant progress in the academic colleges. He highlighted several items:

CSU has added 90 new tenure and tenure track teaching positions in the five years Penley has led the university.

Freshman enrollment numbers have broken all-time records three years running.

The university had one of its best fundraising years in history, bringing in $79.5 million.

And, he said, CSU will work toward its goals of increasing the value of a CSU degree in the years to come.

He plans on using structures that focus on the generation of new resources like creation of new commercial ventures for students, such as reorganized organizational units like the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, the new Department of Ethnic Studies and the School of the Arts.

Penley said the goals will not be easy to reach.

“But, in the words of every child who’s ever taken a road trip, ‘Are we there yet?'” Penley said. “And like any parent who has heard that question, we might be tempted to say, perhaps too emphatically, ‘NO.'”

Instead of being discouraged, however, Jennifer Dimas, university spokeswoman, said CSU is maintaining a leadership role in academia, research and campus sustainability.

“CSU is far ahead of other universities in its commitment,” Dimas said. “This is a long-term commitment.”

CSU’s green initiatives far exceed expectations, Dimas said. Thus far, according to CSU’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability initiatives, the university has taken it upon itself to:

Grow more than two million tree seedlings per year – more than any other American university — and expand partnerships with local industries in order to educate students on climate change and alternative fuels.

Avidly support research that will benefit health services in future years.

Educate students in new fields, such as wind and solar energy.

Expand recycling, green construction and alternative transportation.

“The next five years is an opportunity to take what is already a fine undergraduate program and assure that our graduates receive a twenty-first century education that is accountable to students, parents and society,” Penley said.

CSU, Penley said, is taking steps to ensure students’ future place in the workforce by committing to undergraduate education. Progress thus far includes:

Creating the Institute for Learning and Teaching.

Renovating the Music Building.

Expanding the Living Learning communities.

Penley’s goals intend to sustain CSU’s already-established role as a green university, and some view his hopes as unrealistic.

“It is not completely impossible to meet Penley’s goals because nothing is impossible,” Sutherland said. “However, we simply do not know how to do what Penley is propositioning in this day and age and have a long way to go before we get there.”

Regardless of questions from the community, Penley remains optimistic and encouraged CSU to look toward a future that is clean, environmentally sustainable and economically responsible.

“We can feel good about CSU,” he said.

Staff writer Jessica Cline can be reached at

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