Vassar: Tony Frank needs to prioritize student engagement

Ethan Vassar

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board. 

Colorado State University is a large and expansive campus, so it can be easy to avoid someone or make sure you never see certain people.

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Tony Frank speaks to the ASCSU Senate.
CSU President Tony Frank presents the Incremental Education in General Budget to the ASCSU Senate body on April 11. The budget reviewed a number of costs such as student fees and funding. (Colin Shepherd | Collegian)

Thanks to the sprawling 586 acres the campus covers, there are multiple routes to class so you can avoid any unwanted and awkward interactions with specific peers. The 33,413 students enrolled makes it easy to walk around without the fear of seeing your crazy roommate from freshman year who never washed their sheets. However, there is someone who should be seen on campus much more often than that person is: University President Tony Frank.

President Frank and his notorious beard seems to hide himself away from campus and the student body, only to appear for sparse speaking engagements, probably just to remind the student body he exists. 

CSU’s 14th president appears aloof. Besides the occasional emails and excruciatingly formulaic tweets, the student body has no real connection with the man who is quickly becoming a myth due to his lack of prominent engagement.

Frank’s lack of accessibility may be in part due to all the other commitments that occupy his time. When he isn’t begging for CSU to be let into a Power 5 conference, Frank “serves on a number of state and national boards.” Currently, Frank serves on seven different boards in addition to his responsibilities as president of CSU.

While it’s great that Frank is reputable and respected enough to serve on multiple seemingly-prestigious boards, the number of conflicting agendas and time commitments is concerning. These other responsibilities may cause many conflicts of interest and take Frank’s attention away from CSU, and in effect: the students.

Personally, I would feel a little disrespected if my needs as a student were put on hold or pushed to the side because of Frank’s dealings with the National Western Stock Show Association Board of Directors.

This represents a growing concern and trend of the growing divide between presidents and students. Around this time last year, many university presidents ranked student engagement near the bottom when ranking their responsibilities, according to a study from Deloitte Center for Higher Education Excellence. Only a staggering two percent ranked student life and engagement in their top three. This is a vicious circle – the less a president interacts with students, the less important student engagement must seem to him. 

Additionally, one would hope that Frank isn’t spreading himself too thin. A lack of engagement with the student body has caused a fair amount of dismissals, namely at the University of Missouri, Baylor University, and Mount St. Mary’s in Maryland. Student engagement is not only important to students but the university itself.

Additionally, one would hope that Frank isn’t spreading himself too thin. A lack of engagement with the student body  has caused a fair amount of dismissals, namely at the University of Missouri, Baylor University, and Mount St. Mary’s in Maryland. student engagement is not only important to students but the university itself.

This is a problem easily remedied by taking a few hours out of each week to stop by the Lory Student Center and grab a bite to eat with some students. Standing in line to order a coffee at Morgan’s Grind or Sweet Sinsations would be another quick but efficient way to interact with students and build up a rapport of affinity.

In a world over-saturated with social media interactions, a face to face conversation means so much more than any tweet or email from Frank’s office. Even just seeing him walking around campus would mean more than a month of tweets. 

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The argument could be made that Frank has engaged with students. He’s been president since 2008, so he should have a good grip on student life if he’s been president for 10 years. While I’m sure Frank did his best to connect with students in his first few years as president, there is little to be seen now.

As the world has changed, so have student needs. Even relying on observations made last year would be a tad obsolete. They’d provide a good basis, but every year there are a slew of new enrollments, each new class provides their own concerns, suggestions, and questions that should factor into university decisions.

The Chronicle of Higher education recommends college presidents should get to know students by spending time where they hang out and attend meetings held by student organizations in their first year. Although Frank is going into his tenth year as university president, it is still necessary that he do these things every year every year. Not only out of consistency, but because essentially every year Frank is president is his first, and only, year dealing with these exact 35,000 plus students. As one class graduates, a new, different and younger class moves into the dorms.

Both students and Tony Frank have a lot to gain from increased engagement. Students would get a more personalized information on what’s going on around campus and feel as though their voices are heard by our leadership. Frank would get a better sense of student needs and what is important to today’s CSU student.

Assuming Tony Frank takes some of these words to heart and decides to grab a quick lunch with some students at the LSC, I’ll be waiting by the upstairs Bagel Place this Thursday, April 26 at 2 p.m.

Ethan Vassar can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on twitter @ethan_vassar.