Colorado State University faculty and staff are pushing back and voicing their concerns over the sole finalist named to be the next university president, according to a survey distributed to employees.
Faculty also expressed their deep reservations about Amy Parsons at a meeting with interim president Rick Miranda last week.
“We are concerned about a number of issues regarding the finalist for the position,” said Mary Van Buren, a professor and president of the CSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors. “The faculty, staff, and students at CSU would have welcomed the opportunity for meaningful participation in the decision-making process, but unfortunately the administration didn't allow that.”
The Board of Governors is expected to formally hire Parsons on Friday.
Parsons' work history
Parsons was unanimously named as the only finalist at a board meeting two weeks ago. Board members said then she was uniquely and exceptionally qualified to do the job.
Parsons, who left CSU in 2020, previously served for 16 years at the university as an executive vice-chancellor, deputy general counsel and vice president for university operations on the Fort Collins campus. A biography said she helped lead some of the system’s most high-profile projects since 2016.
“She understands the budgets, the legal landscape, the importance of academics, and the role of the university in the state, the system, and in students’ lives,” said board chair Kim Jordan after Parsons’ selection. “She’s also demonstrated that she doesn’t shy away from even the most daunting challenges.
Parsons left CSU to become the founding CEO of an e-commerce company Mozzafiato.
Faculty overwhelmingly said Parsons is not qualified for the job and that selecting her was "a choice that degrades the integrity of the university."
The Faculty Council, the body representing faculty at Colorado State University, sent an anonymous survey to all classified and administrative staff and faculty staff last week. Of the more than 700 people who filled out the survey, faculty overwhelmingly opposed Parsons's selection, with administrative professionals divided, though about a third were neutral, and classified staff were more positive.
Faculty and some administrators are most upset that Parsons lacks experience in the cornerstones of the university’s mission: academics and research, with no direct experience working with students, faculty or researchers. Some said the new president of a top-tier research university should have previous provost or president experience.
One person commented that Parsons' previous work experience at CSU shows that she is a capable administrator of large construction projects, like the CSU stadium, but not as an administrator of a research university.
“As a higher education institute, academics is the foundational component at CSU,” wrote one respondent. “I am skeptical about relying on the vision and practice facilitated by someone who does not deeply understand our daily operations, such as balancing teaching, research and service.”
Faculty and staff are concerned Parsons will be hired to “prop up” the vision of CSU chancellor and former longtime president Tony Frank. Others are concerned that Parsons will foster division and doubt within the university at a time when faculty and staff morale is already low and many nontenured faculty are unhappy with low salaries.
While Parsons cites supporting a study on pay equity as evidence of her support for diversity and access, one administrator said that study was led by faculty women, not Parsons. Many expressed concerns that she lacks experience to confront long-standing issues on campus of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I foresee a tumultuous administration that will end in having to find an actually qualified candidate,” wrote another respondent. “I fear this experiment will result in falling short of many of our stated goals, especially around hiring and retaining faculty, and damage our reputation for years to come.”
One administrator wrote: “Amy's hire would set CSU back a decade or more in terms of DEI work and credibility.”
In her application letter, Parsons pledged to fight for “equity and advancement for all CSU’s people.”
“Equity work is never done and must continue to be a central focus for CSU leadership,” she wrote.
There was positive feedback about Parsons in the survey. One respondent noted she taught a law class and has the connections and familiarity with CSU, donors and other state institutions to be a good president.
“She has several highly professional VPs to help with issues of research or academics. I think she has the administrative skills, the background, and the insights to be a great president. Her familiarity with CSU will bring stability to the position.”
According to interim president Rick Miranda, the emerging trend in higher education is selecting leaders with non-academic backgrounds.
He made the comments at a faculty council meeting last week. He said Parsons is committed to making sure academic and research programs are strong, according to the meeting minutes. He has confidence she would build a team to run the academic parts of the university.
During the at times contentious meeting, Miranda defended Parsons, extolling her intelligence, creativity and desire to solve problems in unique ways, and her experience working with budgets.
On Monday, the CSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors sent a letter to the board of governors criticizing the selection process, calling it “opaque” and largely excluding faculty, staff and students from the decision-making process.
The letter summarized much of the sentiment from the survey: that Parsons is viewed by many faculty as unqualified and lacking an independent vision for CSU.
The listening sessions during the presidential search highlighted low salaries for CSU employees, the high cost of attending the Fort Collins campus, the lack of transparency in CSU administration and the need for diversity and equity across campus. The letter stated those major concerns are barely mentioned in Parsons’ application materials.
Armando Valdez, a member of the board of governors and chair of the presidential search committee, said those listening sessions formed the basis of interview questions for the candidates.
He said board members had a “strong consensus” on Parsons, but deliberations took place in a confidential executive session so he couldn’t elaborate. Valdez said the search committee sought someone who could elevate CSU’s high-quality research and teaching but who could also confront the challenges facing the university.
“We saw a very talented set of candidates who had interest in this job,” he said. “Ms. Parsons just really impressed us in her dynamic nature of how she was going to approach the role and position, what she was going to do to impact the future, and unify and inspire the campus community to elevate the brand and performance of Colorado State University Fort Collins.”
Miranda and Valdez defended the search process, carried out by a 31-member search committee that included nine public meetings seeking input on questions for candidates. The search committee interviewed 12, forwarded three to the Board of Governors, which selected Parsons as the sole finalist.
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