Financial woes loom large with faculty, staff and students as Colorado State University looks for its next president

Colorado State University CSU Campus Cyclist Face Mask
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A cyclist wearing a face mask rides through The Oval at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, May 27, 2020.

Some community members asked for the next Colorado State University president to invest more in university resources for marginalized and underrepresented students. Others called for more transparency from their future leader. But, what was overwhelmingly at the top of many peoples’ minds was money.

“We need a president who understands that there are many students who do not have their mothers or their fathers paying for their college,” first-generation student Nick DeSalvo said at one of six public sessions to gather feedback on what the community wants to see in their next president and what the 29-member Presidential Search Committee should consider as they prepare to open applications for the vacant presidency. 

Dozens of people spoke up.

At a time where inflation is at a record high and the cost of living continues to rise, DeSalvo said the next president should find ways to bring costs down for students. 

“This university is a business,” he said. “As long as we stay in that mindset, a lot of students will be soured towards higher education and higher education will continue to be inaccessible to students.”

The comments painted a broad picture of how students, faculty alumni, and staff see the current state of the public university. 

The Fort Collins university began its search for a new president when Joyce McConnell stepped down from her post at the end of June, two years ahead of the end of her contract. The circumstances of her resignation are still unclear. 

Money isn’t on just students’ minds. 

Graduate Student Council president Derek Newberger said grad students, who often contribute to research or teach classes, need better compensation.

“From what I know of, there are many departments at CSU that aren't compensated competitively or enough,” Newberger said. “And I understand that. My argument would be that grad students, we're drowning and we need help in that aspect.”

Michelle Cadena, the assistant director of El Centro, a Latinx student support center on campus, said taking care of existing faculty and staff should be a key part of the next president’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. 

“I think that when we think about a president of an institution, we think that they are also responsible for the overall holistic health of their staff and faculty on campus,” Cadena said. 

One faculty member, who did not identify himself, told committee members he had to get a second job on top of his full-time teaching.

A 2022 Joint Budget Committee briefing found state higher education institutions spend about two-thirds of their budgets on salaries and benefits. It noted four-year institutions have cut costs during recessions by increasing the number of lower-paid, part-time staff, reducing average salaries. 

The Presidential Search Committee said it will post the final job description by early September. Interviews will begin later this year, with candidates being sent to the Board of Governors for consideration by the end of November.