CSU board member says chancellor search process was flawed

The historic administration building at Colorado State University. (Photo/Jason Kosena)
The historic administration building at Colorado State University. (Photo/Jason Kosena)
The shadowy process through which the Colorado State University board came to nominate Joe Blake, its own vice chairman, for chancellor was a topic of concern even within the chancellor search committee itself and it was the motivation for the only no vote cast Tuesday against Blake’s candidacy.

Search committee member Tom Farley, a CSU board member from Pueblo, said that he was voting against the process, not against the candidate. In fact, he said, he agreed with the other members of the committee that Blake was a top applicant and would make an excellent chancellor.

“I just thought it was a struggle all along to open up the process. We failed at the start and we failed at the end.”

For Farley, Tuesday’s shotgun ending to the search, which came only four months after it began and a month-and-a-half ahead of schedule, echoed the insulated decision made by the board last December that set the search in motion.

That decision came in the wake of last fall’s sudden resignation by Larry Penley, CSU chancellor and Fort Collins campus president, after an investigative series by the Colorado Independent raised questions about his financial management priorities at the university.

According to the minutes of a meeting held Dec. 16, the board made the bold decision to split the Fort Collins presidency and the university chancellorship. Farley suggested presenting the decision for consideration to members of the university community and other stakeholders. But his proposition was rejected and the board “came to consensus” around the idea of splitting the positions and starting a new chancellor search.

“I very much agreed with the decision to create a stand-alone chancellorship. But I believed then as now that opening up those decisions would have created greater collegiality among the stakeholders.”

As rumors of the committee’s workings and identities of the candidates under consideration began to spread this spring, frustrated faculty, students and lawmakers sought information to no avail. They also came to question the decision to create a new expensive executive position at a time when CSU staff were being laid off in response to record budget shortfalls.

That frustration culminated in a bill introduced last week by the majority leaders in the legislature designed to proscribe public university leadership search processes in the state generally and the CSU search in particular.

In reaction to the possible passage of the bill, HB 1369, the CSU board hurriedly wrapped up the selection process before any new law could force a slow-down that might result in demands to include additional candidates and greater public participation.

Farley said that both decisions — to create a new stand-alone chancellorship and to nominate Joe Blake for the job — have been unnecessarily called into question by the reluctance of the board to embrace greater transparency.

“We had good people on the search committee. They knew what they were talking about. None of them were virgins to any of this. They have been involved in making hires for major positions.”

But, he said, they are being forced to explain things now that would have been much better aired early on.

“CSU needs greater independence for the individual campuses. A stand-alone chancellor can look at their needs more objectively than just a chancellor-president at Fort Collins. And it’s true that Joe Blake is no academic. But he’s not going to be running the university. He’s going to be about persuading the general public and lawmakers and donors — and he’s good at all that.”

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