Leaning forward quickly from his chair to rest on his elbows on the conference table, lightly tapping a toothpick on the hard surface to emphasize each point, newly appointed CSU Chancellor Joe Blake chuckles and says he only has two rules. Attitude, tap, and respect, tap.
And though these two principles guided his work as the former president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce these past 10 years, he says they will hold true in his tenure at the helm of the CSU System.
“Joe only had two rules down there . and still only two rules,” he said, wearing a white and blue button-down shirt that he said is as checkered as his life and career. “And I think they’re applicable to what we’re going to do here.”
Blake says attitude is the “one that makes the difference,” and that if you think “you lack the capacity to do something, you’re probably not going to succeed.”
“If on the other hand, you surround yourself with people who have the same attitude,” like the administrators and faculty Blake says he’s seen at the university’s land-grant Fort Collins flagship, CSU-Pueblo and CSU Global, “you can do wondrous things.”
As for life rule number two, Blake says a person must respect not only themselves but also the people who invest in one’s institution – a role he says is filled by CSU faculty, alumni and the Colorado business community.
From Denver to D.C. and back again
A Colorado native and self-coined “fan of public education” after attending Denver’s East High School, Blake studied on scholarship at Dartmouth College. After graduating with a degree in English literature he made a spontaneous move to work as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I was single, and it was delightful,” he says of his time moving between four offices, only to be transferred to the Army Language Institute to study French for six months and then to Washington D.C., where he met his late wife Elizabeth.
Deciding to return to Denver, Blake climbed the ladder within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, walking away from his 19 years there having helped to plan and develop the Highlands Ranch, south of Denver.
It was that project that Blake says re-intensified the interest he’d always had in communities. This interest continued through his 10 years at the Chamber of Commerce and has fueled his belief in “the importance of leadership, the importance of long time vision and the importance of planning.”
Show me the money
Calling the chance to work as chancellor a once-in-a-lifetiProxy-Connection: keep-alive
experience – and you know he’s serious because he has a youthful sparkle in his blue eyes – Blake says in the “big picture” he’s on a “quest to find a long-term sustainable revenue source” for the system.
Blake says his newly fashioned position – split from the dual president-chancellor role by the CSU System Board of Governors in December – allows him and newly appointed CSU President Tony Frank to act as “CEOs of their companies,” which are fundraising and the Fort Collins campus, respectively.
Arguing that CSU has the best brand name in Colorado, Blake says he sees an opportunity to pull the more than 43,000 alumni in the Denver Metro area and instill in them the same sense of pride for their university as he observed in Dartmouth alumni in the tiny town of Hanover, N.H.
“I need to focus, direct, ignite those positive feelings and transform that energy into something to support the institution,” he says, acknowledging that higher education is in dire straits as a result of diminished state and private support.
Though he’s got the right attitude, a sure fiscal solution is about two years away, he says, and maybe more because there were no pre-conceived notions upon his arrival. There are some stones in place though, he agrees, laid by former President Larry Penley, who worked to nationalize the CSU name and emphasize the university’s environmental and sustainable ambitions.
Blake says it’s critical all institutions work together to unearth funds for higher education, but points out “we’d be having a totally different conversation” if Colorado voters had not passed Referendum C in 2005.
“Ref C” gives the state a five-year reprieve from the spending limits of the Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights or TABOR, according to the Bell Policy Center Web site, but its funds to public K-12 education, higher education, health care and transportation end in fiscal year 2010.
He says he will meet with business and legislative agents within his pre-established network across the state to brainstorm ideas to foster support for higher education, highlighting the idea that “if you don’t touch people, . care about their values and opinions, you won’t get their vote for higher ed.”
A dash of confidence mixed with speculation
Generally, as Blake says he saw in his visits to the three bodies of the CSU system, members of the board and faculty are hopeful, optimistic that he can produce the big bucks.
Chairman of the BOG Doug Jones and Voting Members Boney Cosyleon and Tom Farley all said they are confident Blake is the man to raise funds for the system.
“If anyone can do it, Joe can do it,” Jones said, saying his vote of confidence lies in Blake’s energy, commitment to higher education and state-wide reputation with those in the business and legislative sectors.
Though an opponent of the BOG’s controversial chancellor selection process and director of Colorado Ethics Watch, of one of the three media watchdogs that asked the board to start its chancellor search anew last month, Chantell Taylor said, “I think (Blake) has the credentials to make it known to the business community that funding for higher education is in serious jeopardy.”
“If that is one of the (objectives) of the Board of Governors I certainly applaud them for finding someone to advocate for CSU since the funds for the future as well as the past are really bleak,” she said.
Political Science professors John Straayer and Steve Mumme both agreed that while they support the board’s appointment, they were not certain of the need for a chancellor position or the success Blake will have in his fiscal quest.
“(The creation of the chancellor position) is driven by the sense that someone needs to be in Denver operating for the CSU system,” Mumme said, who strongly opposed the chancellor selection process. “That’s a big gamble because we don’t know if Joe Blake can pull it off or to what extent he’s really going to be able to collar the Colorado business culture.”
Cosyleon didn’t have all the answers, but said this of Blake’s charge: “Will he be able to? That’s a really tough question. Joe will be able to know all the doors and all the issues – if there’s a dollar that can be sent to education Joe will be there to get it.”
News Managing Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at email@example.com.
Get to know your chancellor
Name: Joe Blake
Position: CSU System chancellor, responsible for creating and growing sustainable revenue streams for CSU-Fort Collins, CSU-Pueblo and CSU-Global
Origin: Colorado native, grew up in Denver
Favorite literature: Shakespeare and anything concerning the Civil War or Western history.
Heroes: His “great parents,” former President Abraham Lincoln and all U.S. service men and women
Technology: A black Motorola MOTOKRZR K1, iPhone