Despite a dismal fiscal situation and what he called an “uncertain future” for higher education in Colorado, CSU President Tony Frank gave his inaugural address Thursday, telling a crowd of hundreds of university community members to remain optimistic for the university’s future.
“This is not a simple time for our university, nor is it for our state or our nation or the world,” Frank said.
Both Frank and System Chancellor Joe Blake were ceremoniously ushered in as the 14th president and the university’s first sole chancellor, respectively, after a faculty procession led the leaders to the steps of the Administration Building.
Frank said CSU has a robust history of navigating financial difficulties as it was founded under a “zero budget” and has succeeded through tough times, including the Dust Bowl and more recent economic downturns.
The two men committed themselves to leading the university through what many have called the most serious economic recession since the Great Depression.
Blake, who is a long-time figurehead in the Colorado business and political communities, established a strong commitment to bringing in new revenue streams for CSU, which faces possibly crippling cuts as state funds for higher education continue to dwindle.
“I commit to you an unwavering energy to help find a sustainable source of funding for higher education, building greater private support and helping to create a more engaged and energized alumni community, particularly in the metro area,” Blake said.
The chancellor’s duties include working closely with state officials and Colorado’s diverse communities to ensure the financial stability of the university.
Frank offered optimism for the future of the state’s second-largest institution of higher education, saying that, although fiscal hurdles are high, there is much state support for finding a solution.
“As long as we remain focused on this vision, we suddenly realize that despite the challenges that are around us, if we pay attention to the fundamentals, the vision of an institution capable of empowering transformational change is well within our grasp,” he said.
Appointed in June, Frank and Blake have gained widespread support from the CSU community as leaders who have committed the institution to higher levels of transparency than their predecessor Larry Penley, who filled both positions over the previous five years.
“He is completely open,” said student government President Dan Gearhart earlier this week. “His door is always open for students, always for the faculty. It really is amazing. He’s everywhere at once, too. I see him all over campus.”
John Straayer, a long-time political science professor who specializes in state and local government, agreed.
“(Frank) is experienced, he is smart and he is candid,” Straayer said. “He has good judgment, and he is deeply dedicated to this institution.”
Frank, Blake face uphill battle to bring in scarce money
As the two leaders have traveled across the state to convince notoriously conservative Colorado voters to back a fix for the state’s funding woes –/tax increases among the possibilities –/Frank and Blake say they have been met with enthusiastic support.
But state lawmakers have said the list of possible solutions is short.
A long train of conflicting legislation, which has severely tightened the shackles on lawmakers’ ability to fund state programs that are not mandated to grow, including higher education, places Colorado at the bottom of the barrel for funding in higher education.
To amend the problem, some prominent legislators have thrown their support behind a comprehensive constitution rewrite. But at the same time, they say the move would be risky and hard to implement.
But despite the tall tasks, campus morale is high, and students, faculty and staff remain optimistic about the two men’s ability to right the ship.
“I’m looking forward to great progress in the future despite the financial situation,” said Frank Vattano, a long-time psychology professor.
Gearhart said Blake’s ties to the Colorado community will benefit CSU by enabling him to rally support for the university.
“Because of his connection with the people across the state and what his job entails, I think those connections really help him in his specific job,” he said.
Olivia Myers, a junior biomedical science and horticulture major, said the two will offer a commitment to the health of the university.
“They seem to understand the situation well, and they seem to actually care for once, which is something we don’t often get in government or school officials,” said Olivia Myers, a junior biomedical and horticulture major.
Staff writer Ryan Ferguson can be reached at email@example.com.