May 092010
Authors: Madeline Novey

Clarification: The article reports that CSU System Board of Governors Chair Patrick McConathy opposes Senate Bill 3. McConathy opposed the original draft of the bill but supports the legislation as it stands today.

Patrick McConathy is a member of two markedly different governing boards at two institutions of higher education.

As a member of the Board of Trustees at Middlebury College in Vermont, McConathy says raising tuition and maintaining the college’s brand are common discussions. And while supportive of Middlebury’s mission –– all three of his sons attended the private liberal arts college –– McConathy says what goes on in Middlebury’s board meetings doesn’t translate to CSU.

As chair of the CSU System Board of Governors at a land-grant university like CSU, McConathy says it’s about accessibility and affordability. With both these ideas, he says he’s obsessed.

McConathy’s father went bankrupt his junior year of high school. And if it were not for the principles upheld by land-grant universities, he would have never attended Louisiana State University in the 1970s.

Years later, sitting at Starbucks on College Avenue and Horsetooth Road, McConathy says in his southern drawl that he never thought he’d chair CSU’s board. “I didn’t want to be on this board,” he said. “I didn’t ask to be on this board.”

But after being appointed as a member of the board in November of 2007 and spending countless hours at each of CSU’s campuses, whether at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins for his wife’s injured horses or at CSU-Pueblo talking with faculty and students, he says he has grown to understand and love all that is CSU.

Up to this point

McConathy grew up in Louisiana, an area he says he loves and hates because it never changes. He played basketball and baseball. His dad was both a coach and a marine, a bad combo, he says.

Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Louisiana State University in 1975, McConathy says people often told him he should go to law school. “I thought it was a compliment,” he says, chuckling.

After being wait-listed at Tulane University’s law school, his aunt’s husband, an oil and gas man, gave him a book about the industry. McConathy says he loved the risk taking, the possibility of having nothing and then millions.

In 1975, he started as a petroleum landman for the Placid Oil Co. in Shreveport, Louisiana before starting McConathy & Associates in 1977 that operated wells in several states.

After marrying his wife Patricia in 1976, the 80s were about his first son Chad, political campaigns and saving lives.
From 1980 to 1986 he ran Buddy Roemer’s congressional campaign and then his gubernatorial campaign in 1987. That year, Roemer beat incumbent Edwin Edwards for the governor’s seat in Louisiana.

And from 1984 to 1986, McConathy bought an oil drill, gathered a few volunteers and went to Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. There, he and his team drilled water wells for the natives who had no infrastructure in place to gather it themselves.

“There was a lot of death,” McConathy says, his brown eyes full of pain. He is reliving the memory of a child dying in his arms from dehydration.

“You could hear the women at night just wail” as their children died, he says. And later, he would go home at night to find his children alive and well.

Back in the United States, though Roemer did some things right, he did some things wrong. In 1989, Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke beat Edwards out for Louisiana governor, prompting McConathy to move his family to Santa Fe in 1990.

A year later, the McConathy family moved to the Vail Valley where all three boys skied, a sport that would earn them spots on the U.S. Ski Team and later Middlebury’s ski team.

Now McConathy and his wife Patricia live in McCoy on a ranch.

In a restored 1896 farmhouse, they host leadership conferences, community events and program called Wounded Veterans that McConathy calls heart restoration for U.S. veterans of war. Twenty weeks out of the year the farmhouse is open to veterans who want to fish the Colorado River and ride the McConathy’s horses.

On higher education and the board

There is no such thing as private and public institutions of higher education, McConathy says. All of America’s universities and colleges are changing their models as they face budget cuts and decreased state funding.

“I don’t want to keep slashing and burning,” he says, squinting through his sunglasses, but that’s the reality. There’s no money.

McConathy says he opposes Senate Bill 3, which seeks to raise $300 million out of the pockets of parents and students to fund higher education. But there is hope in that he thinks the bill Gov. Bill Ritter will sign will look markedly different.

While unsure of the future of state funding, he says he doesn’t “believe there’s people in the legislature that have it in for higher education.”

Legislators have their hands tied. No one is going take funding from prisons, Medicaid or Medicare and certainly not K-12, which McConathy says is a stepping-stone to higher education.

And while times are tough, McConathy says the system can find solace in the leadership of CSU-Fort Collins President Tony Frank and CSU-Pueblo President Joe Garcia.

“We couldn’t be luckier … they’re loved,” he says.

Even with great leadership, McConathy says there’s a disconnect between the CSU community and the board. But the most offensive thing, in his mind, is when the board receives criticism for not listening to students, particularly in the case of concealed carry on campus.

Appointed board chair in June 2009, McConathy says he would go anywhere and meet with anyone.

“I would rather do that than anything,” he said.

Though the board sometimes disagrees with students, it and McConathy always want to know how students are affected by its decisions, Associated Students of CSU President Dan Gearhart said.

Fellow board members, CSU administrators and student leaders said McConathy is not the type of person who would say one thing and do another.

They described McConathy as someone who is enthusiastic, passionate, gregarious, happy-go-lucky, able to connect people from different backgrounds and ideologies, often through humor, and has a huge heart and tremendous passion for helping others.

He is dedicated to the CSU system and all of its divisions, CSU-Fort Collins President Tony Frank said in an e-mail to the Collegian.

“ … He takes extraordinary time out of a tremendously busy schedule to devote to the leadership of the CSU’s Board, and he brings a personal commitment and energy to all of the system and board’s activities,” Frank said.

Though he’s only served a short time on the board with McConathy, Voting Member Joe Zimilch said it’s apparent McConathy’s excitement for the university he serves.

Each time he visits another, he “becomes an evangelist for different programs,” Zimilch said.

At first, Gearhart said, McConathy said that he didn’t know what he was doing as the board’s top leader. Over time, however, this ignorance has faded.

“ … CSU and the CSU System is in amazing hands,” Gearhart said. “I have no doubt about that,” he said.

Editor in Chief Madeline Novey can be reached at

Name: Patrick McConathy
Work: owns Yarmony Energy, serves as chair of the CSU System Board of Governors
Age: 57
Family: Wife, Patricia, sons, Chad, 30, Will, 29, and Andrew, 27
Favorite book: Whatever I am reading at the present time or just read recently –– like “Why the Mighty Fail” by Jim Collins
Favorite beer: When I drank, any micro brew
Favorite food: Louisiana seafood: oysters, shrimp …
Favorite music/artist: Robert Earl Keen, U2, The Contribution and my son Andrew McConathy
Life mantra: It is not what the world does to you that determines whether you succeed or fail, but what you do to yourself that matters most.
Role model: My Dad
Hobbies: Cycling, horses, skiing and reading
Most memorable experience while in college: Not for print or publication

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