Welcome to Fall 2015 at CSU, September 3, 2015
Welcome back to Colorado State University for another semester! We can tell fall classes are underway by the sounds of the Marching Band practicing, the buzz of the campus come back to life after a more sedate summer, the women’s volleyball and soccer teams already back into competition, and — of course — the presence of a long welcome back email from me in your in-boxes …
It’s my hope that you’re spending a bit of time looking fondly back at your summer because that would imply you got some rest, maybe caught up on some reading, spent time with friends and family, and generally recharged your batteries for the semester that lies ahead.
And it will be a busy semester. Beginning with Convocation during Ram Welcome (thanks again to all the folks who work so hard every year to make our Ram Welcome such a success!!), we were joined by what promises to be the largest entering class of freshmen and transfer students in the history of the university. This class is the most diverse in our history, includes the most non-resident freshmen ever, and the most direct-admit international students ever at CSU. We have maintained our outstanding academic profile while increasing our number of first-generation students — all points of real pride for our University and a tribute to the exceptional work of people across our campus, including our Enrollment and Access team.
But all of that success, in turn, puts pressure on our faculty and student support services. We’ve made key investments to keep our student:faculty ratio at 16:1, with 40 new faculty positions added in the last budget cycle, and the surge in construction activity on the south side of our campus will significantly expand our available space for housing, parking, classrooms, laboratories, academic offices, advising, athletics, events and health services. But we are and must continue to focus on the impacts of growth, so as we begin to lay out the draft FY17 budgets, we need to continue to invest in our faculty, continue to improve conditions and pay for our non-tenure track colleagues, and assure that our student success programs continue to support our students as reflected by our increasing retention and graduation rates.
On September 16, I’ll give my annual Fall Address to the University on the Oval, followed by our all-University picnic — and that will be a time for celebrating some of the great successes of the past year and looking forward to some of our major challenges of the months to come.
And as we look to the year ahead, we know there’s always more to be done on campus climate. Issues of race continue to reverberate around our nation and we have a responsibility as an academic community to discuss such issues. We’ve also committed ourselves to substantive improvements for women on our campus, and our pride in some good initial steps is tempered by the reality of the work we have left to do. This includes, of course, pay equity and climate, but also runs to issues as basic as personal safety. And let me be very clear here: interpersonal violence, including sexual assault, is nearly exclusively a male problem. The responsibility and the power to stop it rest with the men on our campus: It’s on us to reframe our thinking and stop sexual violence. Please engage in both the national “It’s On Us” campaign and our own campus “Reframe” efforts. It is hard for us to fully feel the pride of any of our accomplishments if we are failing at something so basic as safety for every member of our campus community. And while some might argue that our safety record is enviable, a single case of sexual assault is one too many. We must do better.
As the fall progresses, we’ll also get into our usual active set of budget discussions. Our success in enrollment and philanthropy, paired with our success in funded research, still provides us with wonderful opportunities to pursue excellence, but these are, we all know, tempered by the major challenge of our age: the failure of public investments to keep pace with growing enrollments such that we’re defunding our universities as they grow. This year, the likely return of TABOR refunds within our state’s tax structure will limit the ability of Colorado to increase state support to public higher education. We’ll be actively engaged with our elected officials throughout the year — in fact, I’ve had a number of legislative meetings just this week — and faculty, student, campus, and Board leadership have already begun discussions around basic budget parameters. As always, we’ll look hard at recycling our own resources — looking for efficiencies and redirecting funds to new areas of emphasis or priority. Our goal will be to limit tuition increases while assuring we remain true to our land-grant university mission of providing access to excellence. These discussions and debates, and the priorities that evolve from them, are best when all of us are involved, so I urge you to take advantage of open forums and our Planning & Budget Process to have a voice in setting the direction of our university. And of course, I will be sending messages with an ever-more-excruciating level of detail as we get deeper into the budget discussions next spring.
This annual budgeting and planning process is a great reminder of why we celebrate 100 years of Shared Governance at CSU this year. To those outside an academic community, shared governance can be a confusing concept. But to those of us who have had the privilege of serving in such institutions, it is foundational: We are all CSU, and CSU is at its best when we are all engaged. Look for opportunities throughout the year to not only celebrate our rich heritage in this area but to become a part of its next chapter. One such opportunity will involve a new, in-depth focus on the affordable housing needs of our campus community. Faculty Council, Administrative Professional Council, Classified Personnel Council, and ASCSU are all part of this discussion, and we’ll be sharing more information on this initiative as it gets fully underway.
But with all that will be going on, let’s also make sure we don’t lose focus on our basics. Our students come to this campus to learn, our faculty members have committed their lives to discovery and the passage of knowledge to the next generation, and our staff work so very hard to provide the environment in which learning and scholarship can thrive. To the extent we excel in these foundational tasks, our university will excel. To the extent we lose focus on them, we will become adrift.
And so we’re reminded of the need to balance — to look ahead with a sense of urgency, and to slow down and focus on the next steps in front of our feet. Seize the opportunity a new semester brings, and take some moments to enjoy the wonderful feel of fall on a college campus.
Enjoy the time because it will pass quickly. Soon it will be Homecoming & Family Weekend, then Fall Break with Thanksgiving, then we’ll be entering the various holiday seasons as we push through final exams. A quick break will bring us back into the spring semester kicking off with the MLK Day March. The state’s budget and legislative cycle will kick in, spring break will sneak up on us, we Cubs fans will begin girding ourselves for the brutal cycle of high hopes and bitter disappointment, and then we’ll be celebrating accomplishments as we hurtle toward spring finals and graduation only to find ourselves in our next iteration of summer.
This is the rhythm of our lives on a college campus, the path that an academic community walks together every year, even as generations change, even as our day-to-day priorities shift, even as the plans and goals of one year are overshadowed by new and energetic ideas in the next. Our window of time as the stewards of this university — as its students, its scholars, its change-agents, its champions — is short. Let’s make the most of it together — and let’s have a wonderful year.
Dr. Tony Frank