Colorado State University officially confirms Amy Parsons as the Fort Collins campus’s new president

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Amy Parsons prepares to address the Colorado State University Board of Governors on Friday, Nov. 16, 2022 after the board voted in favor of appointing Parsons as the new president of CSU. Parsons was the sole finalist after a confidential search. Former President Joyce McConnell stepped down from her position in June.

Colorado State University’s Board of Governors voted unanimously Friday to confirm Amy Parsons as the university’s 16th president.

She is the second woman to hold the post after Joyce McConnell stepped down June 30. Parsons takes the reins from interim president Rick Miranda and will start Feb. 1, 2023.

Parsons, who has previously worked at CSU until 2020, was named the sole finalist for the presidency two weeks ago. 

“I do not enter this role with the idea that I deserve your trust and your confidence, but I want to tell you that I intend to earn them,”  Parsons told the board after being confirmed.

She told the board she will be doing a lot of listening in her first few months on the job. Her goals are to make CSU the university of choice in Colorado and a national leader as a research university, to make progress in eliminating gaps and barriers in student success, and to make strides in getting faculty competitive compensation.

“I believe that it's time for a renaissance of the land grant mission in the United States, the notion of access to excellence and opportunity, both for students coming to the university and CSU’s knowledge and expertise to flow out to the communities who can benefit from it the most.” 

Amy Parsons's professional background

Parsons beat out several other candidates including three current or former university presidents, two college deans, three university vice presidents, and one university provost. Parsons is considered one of three non-traditional candidates who made the final round.  

“She’ll gather input, she can make difficult decisions, she’ll communicate the ‘why’ between hard choices, she’s extremely hardworking, and she’s always trying to improve, and she’s overcome barriers in difficult situations in the past,” said Chancellor Tony Frank. “Most importantly I believe she cares very deeply and very genuinely about Colorado State University and its role and  mission.”

The board touted Parsons’s business background in leading strategic initiatives and partnerships with industries across Colorado as reasons for her selection.

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. She managed the planning and construction of stadiums and campuses in Colorado and Mexico, and oversaw the development of the new CSU Spur campus at the National Western Center in Denver. Before CSU, she practiced law specializing in commercial litigation.

Concern from faculty and staff

CSU faculty pushed back against Parsons’s confirmation, questioning her credentials and the fact that she lacks experience as an academic or researcher. They were also upset that faculty and staff had no opportunity to meet the finalist. 

Another state university, the University of Colorado, also had a sole finalist for the president post, but Todd Saliman toured campuses for a two-week period in April so the governing body who ultimately hired him could solicit feedback.

Some critics at CSU said the new president of a top-tier research university should have previous provost or president experience.

On Friday, the board went into an executive session to hear from representatives from faculty and administrative groups and alumni associations.

Board chair Kim Jordan said the fact that the faculty is deeply concerned was of great concern to the board.

“In our opinion Ms. Parsons understands the central nature of teaching and research at a university,” said Jordan.

She disagreed with criticisms that Parsons won’t move forward on CSU’s goals on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We have no doubt as well that she will continue progress on diversity, equity and inclusion,” Jordan said.

Parsons responded to the criticisms of her in the employee’s surveys:

“I hear and I understand, and I respect all of the concerns and recommendations expressed and I take them seriously,” she said. “This is in many ways the best part of the university, the freedom to disagree and to debate, to criticize, and to innovate on how best to fulfill the mission of the university and to advance the academic enterprise.”

How the job search was conducted

During Friday’s meeting, search committee chair Armando Valdez was asked by board chair Jordan to speak about the process for selecting the new president, to clear up “misunderstandings and perhaps disagreements” about how the process was carried out.

The 31-member search committee included seven faculty members, five students, five members of the board of governors, and other community members and donors from across Colorado.

Valdez explained how the search firm Parker Executive Search advised the presidential search committee to engage in a confidential search because of the publicity surrounding presidential searches. This is an increasingly common approach.

“If we wanted to attract a sitting university president into our candidate pool, we should follow a common procedure for presidential searches referred to as a confidential search," Valdez said. "Developing the deepest and strongest candidate pool was what drove the board's choice." 

"Had we not taken that approach, I don't know we would have ended up with the candidate pool we did."

The committee received 54 applications, which were whittled down to 12 finalists. Valdez said the search committee came to a “rapid consensus” on three candidates to forward to the Board of Governor’s evaluation committee for interviews. The Board of Governors named Parsons as the only finalist. The search committee announced there would be a single finalist at the beginning of the search.