Leadership for CSU Extension and External Relations, April 16, 2010
Dear Colleagues and Students:
Despite my best intentions, as we come to the conclusion of yet another academic year — and while most of you are consumed with your prime academic responsibilities — I’m once again imposing on just a bit of your time to share information regarding some forthcoming administrative changes. These changes, like others made recently, are designed to strengthen our university’s nexus with our external constituencies, keep our administration trim, and maintain our focus on our academic core. For those of you thinking something to the effect of, “Don’t we hire administrators so we can do our jobs and not worry about this stuff?”, I won’t argue the point and would, instead, encourage the use of the ‘Delete’ key. For those of you who are still reading out of curiosity, I’d suggest that how we arrange our administrative resources to minimize their cost and maximize their effectiveness in terms of supporting and advocating for our university is a reasonably important function and I’ve always felt some of you might be interested in why we approach things as we do rather than simply hearing the “what” and wondering if there’s adequate ventilation in the Administration Building. To those of you who are still reading because what happens in the Admin Building is of keen interest to you, I suggest you seek professional help now.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, my goal is to establish an efficient administrative structure staffed with people who understand that the role of administration is to support the teaching, research, and engagement missions of our university — no more and no less. I’ve been pleased with the progress we’re making in that regard with the hires of Provost/Executive VP Rick Miranda, the establishment of the VP for University Operations (combining two VP portfolios), and the hiring of Amy Parsons into that role. Along with other dedicated Cabinet members and Deans, I feel comfortable that the academic core of the university and the on-campus areas that exist to support those core functions are in excellent shape.
Few of us would question that the most critical aspects of our mission are the advancement of knowledge and the education of our students, which are largely overseen by Provost Miranda and other VPs whose responsibilities are chiefly internal. But we also have a number of essential responsibilities when it comes to working with external constituents, as is appropriate for a land-grant university, and I’m comfortable in saying that we’ve made some real progress in these externally facing areas this year:
- Under the leadership of Joyce Berry and now Brett Anderson, I think we’re making some very positive strides in building continuity and excellence in our development team. We’re making progress on our campaign (now at about $325M of our $500M goal), and Brett is working hard with our Alumni organization to re-engage our alumni with their alma mater.
- I’ve signed a second 5-year contract with our Athletic Director, Paul Kowalczyk. I think Paul has us on the right track: We have an excellent cadre of coaches, we’re fielding competitive teams, we’re living within the smallest athletic budget in our conference while we try to build support to match the tremendous support shown by our students for Ram Athletics, and — most importantly — we’re graduating our student athletes at a rate higher than our peers and slightly higher than our student body as a whole.
- I think the quality of our communication materials — in all media — continues to improve.
- We enjoy excellent relationships with our partners in local government.
- We have sent a strong signal that we intend to work closely with county commissioners across our state as our partners in maintaining, enhancing, and revitalizing Extension for the 21st century — serving the citizens of Colorado by supporting their economy, assisting agriculture, building a STEM pipeline through youth development, and providing access to their university in their own communities.
- Our student recruiting efforts have taken a major step forward, and we have held steady in difficult economic times in an amazingly competitive non-resident recruiting market, continuing to build our reputation as Colorado’s School of Choice and now looking at the 3rd year in a row of record enrollment — a sign, I think, of the value of a Colorado State degree even (perhaps especially) in difficult economic times.
But, having recognized these positives, I have remained concerned with aspects of my administration’s performance relative to external audiences. I think there’s a tendency within academia to look inward and to believe that if we do our jobs in the classroom and laboratory and studio well, the rest — reputation, communication, advocacy, public support — will take care of itself. I doubt this view has ever really been correct, but now seems like a particularly dangerous time to not be fully connected to our external stakeholders. Consider the following.
- For good or ill, we will be, for the foreseeable future, more dependent upon student enrollment as a primary revenue stream. Our current students (and future alumni), and our prospective students and their families, deserve our thoughtful and careful attention.
- We simply must improve our philanthropic position and the starts we’ve made in development are just that: starts.
- Around 1/10th of our budget still comes from the State of Colorado and is at risk. Our reputation with voters and their elected representatives is a critical, if subjective, element of our success.
- The challenges to remaining competitive in intercollegiate athletics have never been greater.
- The fiscal pressure placed on our Extension agents is growing and coupled with a growing demand for university services within their communities.
- Our array of interactions with local government is growing, but our own compartmentalization too often keeps the left hand from knowing what our right hand is doing.
- Last week, we had to send out information discussing one-time reductions in PERA benefits and the potential for additional layoffs in the coming year — both reminders that we need to be considerably more engaged in discussions at the state level to help communicate the importance of our mission and the value of CSU and its people to the state of Colorado.
In short, for all of the improvements, our administration is still not optimally organized with respect to external audiences, and it is on that topic that I’m writing today.
Let me state here that the changes I am laying out below are budget neutral. Administrative expense reductions I’ll describe below not only cover the costs of these changes, they generate more than $600K that we’ll deploy to higher priorities via our budgeting process.
I am reconfiguring the existing position of Vice President for Public Affairs under the title Vice President for External Relations. While the name change seems small, I hope the word change captures the expanded role I envision for this position.
It’s my hope and expectation that this position will work in partnership with the externally focused elements of our administration, as well as our colleges and supporting infrastructure, to help better expand, organize, and coordinate our efforts to fully engage our external constituencies. The ability to be more strategic, targeted, and sophisticated in our campuswide efforts to work with key constituencies is among the most important and pressing issues we face given the challenges of our external environment.
In looking for the right person to lead this effort, I wanted someone who was experienced with Colorado higher education, but also someone who has successfully led such efforts at other leading public research universities so that we can benefit and learn from those experiences. I hoped to find someone who has managed or at least worked shoulder-to-shoulder with communications, development and alumni, athletics, governmental relations, extension, and admissions. And I wanted someone with a deep appreciation for the distinctiveness of the land-grant mission and the special responsibilities that carries in terms of public service, accountability, and access. I believe I have found the right person in Tom Milligan. Some of you may remember Tom, who was our Associate VP for Communications within the VP for Development portfolio for many years under President Yates. During his time here, he helped guide significant improvements in our public affairs operation and built a strong leadership team that continues to head our media relations, web communications, and publications units. He left here to serve as the Vice Chancellor for Communications at the University of Tennessee and currently serves as the Executive Vice Chancellor for University Relations at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Tom has been remarkably successful in both these roles and the experiences at these institutions will serve CSU well. He is also actively engaged nationally in higher education public affairs circles and understands the unique challenges facing higher education in Colorado and across the country. In his role here, he will be charged to collaborate with all other VPs, deans, and unit heads to better integrate our communications and external relations activities across campus and help us attain tangible, measurable improvements in key goal areas — from fund-raising, legislative affairs, and alumni participation to enrollment and national rankings. Tom won’t be joining us until late summer, but I fully intend to abuse his offer to assist us between now and then.
While the title and scope of responsibilities is new, this isn’t a new position; Tom will be stepping into the existing vice presidency that has been held by Mark Minor, who has served CSU with hard work and dedication and led some significant successes in our communications area. I want to sincerely recognize and thank Mark, who will continue as our Associate VP for External Relations.
To some extent, the distinction between what is “internal” and “external” relative to the University is a bit arbitrary, or at least open for debate. Extension cannot fulfill its promise without strong on-campus support, but in my travels across the state, it’s apparent to me that Extension’s primary interaction is with external stakeholders. For that reason, I’m shifting Lou Swanson’s role as Vice Provost for Outreach to the externally oriented title of Vice President for Engagement. Provost Miranda and I have had several discussions about this, and we both believe the orientation I’m envisioning for this position argues for a report to the President alongside the existing group of externally oriented portfolios (Athletics, Advancement, Enrollment and Access, External Relations, etc.).
I also remain convinced that we need to continue to trim our central administrative expenses and to reinvest these resources into our action arms of teaching, research, and engagement. To this end, I am eliminating three on-campus senior administrator positions within Extension: Director, Associate Director, and Director of Public Relations. I’ve asked Vice President Swanson to also assume the responsibilities of Director of Extension. Between Lou and Kathay Rennels, Director of Economic Development, who has a wealth of experience working with Extension as a county commissioner and former chair of Colorado Counties, Inc., I’m confident this structure will provide effective on-campus leadership while better supporting our CSU Extension agents in the field. Lou will be working with the three regional Extension Directors to give them additional authority, and I’ve asked Vice President Milligan to assure that the University’s communications services are directly supporting our Extension revitalization efforts. It is my intention to reinvest these Extension administrative resources into outreach field activities in the FY12 budget, and Lou and his colleagues can use the upcoming fiscal year to work closely with Extension stakeholders across Colorado to determine how best to deploy these resources.
Under this new structure, both Vice Presidents Swanson and Milligan will be direct reports to the President, creating a core team of administrators with external responsibilities — Engagement, External Relations, Advancement, Athletics, Enrollment and Access, and Diversity — working in tandem toward a set of integrated and closely aligned strategic goals.
I’ve also reached the decision to eliminate funding to the Systems Solution Group within CSU Ventures over a two-year period. This unit was established a few years ago with the admirable goal of providing administrative support to faculty whose research interests provided classified research opportunities. While I want to continue to provide support for our faculty members working in this area, I feel strongly that SSG needs to cover its own expenses in our current financial environment. Vice President for Research Bill Farland will be working with CSU Ventures to transition funding in this area.
Such decisions are not — and should never be — easy. People who have worked hard to improve our University are affected by these changes, and we need to acknowledge and thank them even as we understand that such difficult choices are mandated by our responsibilities as good stewards of the public trust. In the end, I’m confident that in Vice Presidents Milligan, Brown, Anderson, Swanson, and Athletic Director Kowalczyk, CSU now has a well-rounded, highly experienced team leading our externally focused operations — a team that understands the role of their divisions in supporting the academic core of the University and that will be effective and efficient in working with me to further improve our connections to the public we exist to serve.
Thanks for “listening” and, as always, for your support, comments and counsel.
President Tony Frank