Five years ago, newly inaugurated Colorado State University President Tony Frank gave his first speech to the CSU community.
At the time, the University faced many challenges from a deepening economic crisis. During this time, state funding went down by 30 percent.
“Without knowing where those paths would lead, I think we can agree that it was a frightening time,” Frank said.
Five years later, the 14th president of CSU sees things differently. Frank addressed a crowd of CSU community members Wednesday at the University’s annual Fall Address and praised the University’s resiliency.
“The urge to crawl under the covers and hide in those days was very real,” Frank said in his speech on the Oval. “And yet this University stood up on its feet, looked that uncertainty directly in the eye, focused on our fundamentals and embarked on a period of extraordinary progress.”
The past five years have marked a variety of achievements for Frank and CSU, from a 14 percent increase in four-year graduation rates to a faculty that has grown by 13 percent, among many other successes, according to Frank.
“We have done all of this in the face of a challenging financial environment,” Frank said. “And there is no doubt that while our elected officials struggle to make difficult choices on our behalf, we also have some ways to mitigate those issues.”
To address the decline of state funding, the difference has been matched nearly dollar for dollar every year by tuition increases. According to Frank, those were increases that created challenges for the University just as they have nationwide.
Despite this challenge, Frank said the University has thrived, maintaining the same percentage of low income and first generation students that it had before the economic downturn.
“That track record is remarkable during any time period, but against the backdrop of these last five years, I would suggest to you that it is extraordinary,” Frank said.
According to Frank, that track record and the data points are not just numbers, but stories of a community that refused to settle for anything other than excellence. And because the University is where it is now, Frank said that CSU has a chance to turn to the future.
“We have a chance to choose now how we will approach the next five years,” Frank said.
According to Frank, there are still many issues the University is dealing with as a result of living in a post-recession world. Frank said while many of the University’s accomplishments were a result of hiring adjunct faculty, limited benefits for adjuncts has been an issue at universities across the nation.
“We all need to acknowledge that there is a tremendous amount more of work to do around our adjunct faculty,” Frank said.
More broadly, however, Frank said the issues the University must address are those that a land-grant university can solve.
“Perhaps the greatest damage from the Great Recession was not the erosion of our economy, but the erosion of our sense of hope and optimism, and one of the best tools to rebuild that sense of hope and optimism is a healthy, vibrant land-grant university system,” Frank said.
As Frank’s speech concluded, students, faculty and community members mingled and moved to the university picnic event, a tradition since the 1997 floods covered the CSU campus.
After the speech, State Sen. John Kefalas walked up and down the Oval, talking with constituents. According to Kefalas, Frank’s speech was inspirational.
“I think he is right that we can’t rest on our laurels and we have to continually improve, and you have to make sure that all students have access to affordable, quality education,” Kefalas said.
According to CSU Provost Rick Miranda, the fall address has become an event for the CSU community to come together.
“These are traditions that we hold dear, we don’t celebrate because we have to … we want to be here,” Miranda said.
Collegian Reporter Skyler Leonard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @skyler_leonard.