Tony Frank, Phil DiStefano speak out on priorities for Colorado State and CU–Boulder

Seal of Colorado State University (Trademark o...
Seal of Colorado State University (Trademark of CSU) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Green and gold vs. black and gold. CAM the Ram vs. Ralphie the Buffalo. Boulder vs. Fort Collins.

While differences between the two largest universities in Colorado are not difficult to see, one thing facing both universities is the fact that Colorado is on track to become the first state in the country to completely defund public higher education.


That can be a sobering thought, perhaps especially for the leaders of public universities in Colorado like Colorado State University President Tony Frank and University of Colorado Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano. Both Frank and DiStefano took over as the primary leaders of their respective campuses in 2009 — a time when the United States was facing “the most severe economic downturn of most of our lifetimes,” Frank wrote in an email to the Collegian.

Frank and DiStefano have been part of their universities for many years, taking on various roles before ascending to their current positions. Both have seen accomplishments and have also been faced with challenges and criticisms in their current roles. Now, both have to plan for a future in which their universities could one day receive zero state funding.

Top focus of the administration this year

“The thing about a university this big is you don’t have the luxury of focusing on any single thing,” said Bronson Hilliard, director of media relations and news services at CU. Hilliard said there are always five or six “major initiatives going at any given time” for a university of CU’s size.

“You’ve got to keep the university solvent financially; you’ve got to keep your faculty well-funded and resourced; you’ve got to provide a great experience for students for your undergraduate and graduate students; you’ve got to keep raising money,” Hilliard said.

“Our top priority doesn’t change from year to year,” wrote Frank. “The focus is always on providing widespread access to an excellent, affordable university education.”

Frank said these are part of CSU’s mission as a land-grant institution, and every year the administration has to “deal with specific challenges and opportunities related to that mission.”

Challenges faced as president/chancellor

According to Frank, taking over as president during a time of “severe economic downturn” has been one of the biggest challenges the administration has faced.

“Together we managed to guide the university through that challenge while minimizing cuts to the academic side of the house and continuing to make important strides in quality – in terms of student success rates, faculty achievements, and more,” Frank wrote.


Dealing with decreased state funding has presented another challenge for both administrations under Frank and DiStefano.

Without a doubt, the ongoing funding challenge for higher education in Colorado, and nationally, remains the central challenge for CU-Boulder,” DiStefano wrote in an email to the Collegian.

Biggest accomplishments of administration this year 

“I would say preserving excellence and quality and instruction and research have been his biggest accomplishment this year and over the last four years since he’s been chancellor,” Hilliard said of DiStefano.  “And he’s done that during times of great economic difficulty.”

Cara Neth, director of administrative communications at CSU, said Frank has had many accomplishments this year but, in her opinion, one of his biggest accomplishments comes from his ability to look at the future.

“Tony has been very proactive in looking at what could happen and saying, ‘How would we manage this in a way that will continue to be able to provide an affordable, accessible, high quality public university education without state funding?’ ” Neth said.


“Any president will get plenty of criticism and advice,” Frank wrote. “An academic community is dedicated to the debate of ideas and critique is an important component of any commitment to improve.”

“Criticism comes with the job,” wrote DiStefano. “I’ve heard from a lot of Colorado parents who find it hard to pay for college with yearly tuition increases. I’ve heard a lot from a lot of people about intercollegiate athletics. We’ve had three head football coaches in the four years since I became chancellor, and people are eager for success on the field and they give me an earful all the time. Some people are concerned that we’re preparing to invest in athletic facilities during tough economic times, but I’ve answered them that we have to achieve excellence in athletics just as we do in academics, and athletics are the ‘front porch’ of our university.”

Biggest accomplishments in time as president/chancellor

Neth said in her opinion Frank’s biggest accomplishment has been his ability to “remind us what it means to be a land-grant university.” She said this is important because “it helps you feel a stronger sense of mission and value in what you do.”

“We have kept CU-Boulder moving ahead on all its academic, programmatic and financial goals through our Flagship 2030 Strategic Plan, despite cutting our budget by $33 million over the last four years in the worst recession since the Great Depression,” Distefano wrote. “We have also completed re-accreditation (in 2010) and joined the Pac-12 Conference (in 2011).”

“At the end of the day, the greatest ‘accomplishment’ of any president is to help create a campus environment in which the people that truly make up any university – students, faculty, and staff – feel empowered to reach their potential,” Frank wrote.

Future vision 

Both universities have introduced strategic plans that set goals as to what the university wants to look like in the future. Frank introduced CSU 2020 in his 2012 Fall Address and CU’s Flagship 2030 was implemented in 2006, according to Hilliard.

“I want people in 25 years to say that though we confronted uncertain times and enormous funding challenges, we did not retreat,” wrote DiStefano.

“Fifty years from now, I hope people can look back at this time and see that we — all of us — helped make the case for saving public higher education,” Frank wrote.

Collegian Writer Katie O’Keefe can be reached at