Sneaking a few quick bites of chips and sipping on a soda, Tony Frank prepared to speak candidly about his life and being the selected as the sole finalist for univeristy president.
When asked how things are going so far, he simply answers, “It’s busy,” with a warm, gentle laugh.
And that’s Tony Frank in a nutshell . professional, sophisticated, yet casual and friendly.
Frank, sporting a suit and tie while lounging on a leather couch, has come a long way in his life. Growing up on an Illinois farm, Frank never dreamed of becoming the president of a University. He almost didn’t make it here.
“Watching two brothers go off to college seemed exciting to me and a way to get off the farm, but I got cold feet at the last minute,” Frank reminisces.
He wanted to stay home and marry the girl from the dairy farm down the road. His parents helped to sway him back toward college when they told him he could stick around and work on the farm, but he’d have to move out of the house.
“That changed my decision pretty dramatically,” he says laughing.
Frank on ‘false
Frank, who was appointed to the position by the CSU System Board of Governors last month, takes a holistic approach when facing his duties and challenges as president. Drawing from his background in pathology, he thinks of CSU like a body, which needs all it’s organs to survive. Frank says too much emphasis is placed on making choices.
“I do think we get caught up in false choices too frequently,” Frank says, explaining that some decisions are made out of frustration. The university, for example, has limited resources and is often forced to choose between academics and research.
“That’s the classic false academic choice. Questioning which side to choose is not a legitimate question,” he says. “We have to, because of our mission, do very well at research and teaching is why we exist. There can’t be an ‘or’.”
“You have to pay attention to everything.”
Susan James, professor and director of the School of Biomedical Engineering agrees.
“I’m particularly excited to have Tony as pres because I know he is supportive of interdisciplinary education and research and knows how to make these programs work,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what field you work in, all aspects of academic scholarship are becoming more interdisciplinary.”
Frank on funding,
As if trying to balance everyone and everything wasn’t enough on his plate, Frank has a vision for CSU’s future including:
A stable budget
Higher student retention and graduation rates
More diversity and research
A thriving arts and humanities program
Strong alumni relationships
Using clean energy, and
A strong philanthropy foundation and a reputation for being one of the best universities in the nation.
“Will we get to all of them? Certainly we won’t get to them in a short time period but I don’t think there isn’t one I have that isn’t worth striving for,” Frank says.
Michael Thaut, administrative director of the School of the Arts, has known Frank for several years and has faith in his leadership.
“I have gotten to know Dr. Frank as a very good leader with clear visions of excellence and passion for CSU. That is exactly what we need and I am very excited that he was finally named as president. His appointment will have a very positive effect on everything at CSU including the School of the Arts,” Thaut said.
Frank says his main focus is on the budget.
“If I could have only one thing over the next five years to measure my own success by, it would be to work with other higher education leaders, members of the government and the business community to create a stable, sustainable funding stream for public higher education,” Frank says.
He says a possible solution is taxes, a form of group buying power that works toward the greater good.
“We all chip in because none of us individually could afford to build 1-25. Together we can get a good road system. Together we can get a good education system. We chip in to do it because of what it can contribute back to society,” he says.
Frank doesn’t have a specific plan to accomplish that goal yet, but is counting on the ideas and collaboration of creative people including legislators, educators and business owners.
“As the legislature continues to find adequate funding and appropriate governance structures, I’m sure that Dr. Frank and I will continue to collaborate on helping the Fort Collins campus with the many challenges facing higher education,” Senator Bob Bacon (D-Fort Collins) said.
State Representative Randy Fischer (D-Fort Collins), believes in Frank and is excited to pool resources to raise funds for the university.
“By far, the most significant issue facing CSU and higher education is the lack of state funding for our colleges and universities . My hope for 2010 is that Dr. Frank and other university presidents will collaborate with the legislature to make the case to the citizens of Colorado for new revenues for higher education,” he said.
“That would be the most significant outcome of his appointment that I can imagine. That is my dream. Working together, I hope we can make it come true.”
Daniel Gearhart, Associated Students of CSU president, feels Frank is more than qualified for the position.
“His resumé and tenure as provost of CSU not only shows his acute intellect but his concern for students. His approachability will enhance the overall student experience at Colorado State,” Gearhart said.
Impressed by Frank’s openness and availability, Gearhart anticipates a great working relationship with Frank and has faith that he will be a strong advocate for students.
There is local community support as well.
“This was a superb move for CSU and Fort Collins,” Fort Collins Mayor Doug Hutchinson said.
“I plan on brainstorming on how to improve and broaden the relationship between Fort Collins and CSU even more,” he said.
Frank had held many positions at CSU in the past 14 years. But there’s something unique in his opinion about where he currently sits.
“This is a really special university. I hope people know how proud I am to serve the university as president and how enthusiastic I am about its future,” he says.
Frank has traveled a long road since his father smartly gave him the boot after high school, and though both Frank’s parents have passed away, he imagines how his father might have reacted to his becoming president of a university.
“My dad was full of ‘dad-isms.’ I think the one he would use here would be, ‘Just remember, you wouldn’t worry so much what other people thought about you if you realized how seldom they did,'” Frank says with a laugh.
Ann Gill, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts is just one of many, many people who deeply respect and support Frank.
“Challenging economic times are in some ways analogous to a battlefield, where successful leadership requires a very special individual. Such a person must be deeply intelligent, honest, decisive and caring,” she said. “They also must have the ability to rouse enthusiasm for difficult tasks and to engender mutual trust and respect. In Tony Frank, we have found such a leader.”
Staff writer Emily Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.