CSU Inauguration of Joyce McConnell

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– I would now like to
invite the faculty council, chair Tim Gallagher and the 15th president of Colorado State University, Joyce McConnell to join me at the podium. By the authority vested in me as the Chancellor of the
Colorado State University system and with the support of
the Board of Governors, students, faculty, staff and alumni of Colorado State University. I hereby install you as the 15th president of Colorado State University
with all of the rights, privileges and responsibilities
appertaining thereunto. This investiture is a testament
to the trust placed in you as a leader of a community of scholars, bound by the traditions, values
and standards of the academy and guided by the
land-grant mission to serve through teaching, research and outreach. The mace of Colorado State University represents the Faculty of the institution and symbolizes the highest standards of academic integrity, Mr Gallagher. It is presented to you
as a sign of your duty to uphold that academic
integrity and spirit of shared governance that characterized our academic community. We welcome you, we congratulate you and we pledge our support to you as you undertake the role of
president, congratulations. (audience applauding) – Good morning everyone. I’m going to start with some thank-yous. They’re going to take a little while, so you’ll have to bear with
me, but I feel like it’s in keeping with the generous spirit of Colorado State University. Michaela, thank you for
your wonderful introduction. I promise all of you in the
audience, I did not write it. (audience laughing) It was truly lovely. Jann, I cannot thank you enough for sharing our land acknowledgement
with all of us today. Nancy, thank you for your words. Some of you know Nancy Tour,
but to those of you who do not, let me tell you that she
is not only the chair of the CSU Board of Governors, but she is also someone
I admire tremendously, who has had a distinguished
career of leadership in both private and public sectors. It’s my honor to serve you
as in your term as chair. Thank you to the entire Board of Governors for having confidence in me to lead this amazing, great University. Also to do it in its 150th year as the 15th first female
president and of course thank you to Chancellor Tony Frank for literally passing on our institutional mace this morning. Tony, I hope you put a little bit of your tremendous
experience, your wisdom, of course your wit and
charm in there, in that mace when you passed it along to me. You are a tough act to
follow and you know what, I am deeply grateful to you for that. Many more of those gathered here today have played critical roles in the care and feeding of this president. I cannot individually
thank all of you aloud, although I am deeply, deeply grateful for everything you have done for me, but there are a few people here whom I simply must recognize. First, I must recognize
my mother and father. Betsy and Harvey McConnell are here to celebrate this occasion. There are no words to
express what they mean to me or what a powerful role
they have played in my life. I had the good fortune of
being raised by loving, fun, open-hearted, open-minded parents with the highest integrity. Parents with a passion for fairness and the well-being of all. Mom, dad, thank you so much. (audience applauding) My mother’s sisters,
aunt Mary and aunt Alice took care of me sometimes
when I was a baby. They read me books and started me on a lifelong love of
reading and curiosity and in being here today,
they remind me of my roots. You see, my grandparents
emigrated to the United States from Greece, speaking only
Greek and with little schooling, but they valued education above all else because they understood
its transformative power. My Aunt Mary reminded me
that they had 10 children, all of whom were forbidden
to drop out of school even when the family needed the money. Although I know my aunts do
have a tendency to exaggerate, they tell me I am the fulfillment
of my grandfather’s dream because I am now in a position to see that the transformative power
of education is available to a whole new generation of students. I am so proud to be in this position and I want you all to know,
I take my responsibilities and CSU’s responsibility
to transform lives through education very, very seriously and you can see it is truly in my blood. My wonderful siblings Mary,
Michael and Lynn are here, as are their spouses, David and Melanie. Their love shines for me, they support me through
good times and bad, they remind me of my human fallibility and that it is good to laugh
at oneself on a regular basis. My husband Vince Traveli is here. He has been by my side for 37 years. He has believed in me when
I did not believe in myself, who makes me laugh, who fills me with his enduring love and confidence. My beautiful, smart, wonderful
daughter, Alexandra is here. Alexandra, I love you more
than I can ever convey. You teach me everyday
what it means to love, to be an independent woman,
to understand what it means to be young in this uncertain world. I hope that I can use that understanding to better support our students
and young faculty and staff. I am also just blown away
to be supported here today by friends from West Virginia, Ellen Kapilanti chaired
the search committee when I became Dean of
the WVU College of Law. Ellen, you started me on my
leadership journey, thank you. WVU president Gordon Gee is here with his incredible
fiance, Laurie Erickson. Gordon believed that I could
be a university president before I ever imagined
this role for myself. I know that today he
is here to cheer me on, to tell me to trust my instincts, to laugh and to enjoy the adventure and my dear friend Nancy
could not be here today, but if she watches or
listens to this address, I want her to know how
critical her friendship is and has been to me. To end my thank-yous, I
also must thank other people who are here from West Virginia, particularly the two
presidents of our schools in our system at WVU and
they are Carolyn Long and Jennifer Orilcoff and they
have been great colleagues for me for many years. And to end my thank-yous, I
must thank the entire team who’ve worked so hard
to make today glorious and particularly, to our event team and to all of our musicians
who have worked so hard and to my two assistants
who followed me here from West Virginia, where as
Gordon would say I stole them. As many of you know, I
accepted the presidency of Colorado State University without ever having visited Fort Collins or the Colorado State University campus. You see, I knew right away
from my very first interactions with members of this campus community that this is a very special
and incredibly welcoming place. Once Vince and I arrived in
town, we felt that even more from generous and thoughtful people like Dave and Paul Edwards
whose beautiful home, Magnolia house is now
CSU’s president’s home. They made it possible for us to settle in and get to work right away,
exploring this beautiful town and this beautiful campus. At the start of the
day, I walk onto campus under the towering trees
of the historic oval. I cherished this path which
leads right to my office because it drives home
the deep roots and yes, that’s a pun intended, of CSU. It also reminds me of the contradictions that are part of our long history. Colorado State was built on land taken from indigenous nations
and yet, since our founding on that land, we have served
the people of Colorado for 150 years as the state’s
land-grant University. Those two facts sometimes strike me as impossible to reconcile, but aspiring to do the impossible is
part of what we do at CSU. It is part of what makes this an extraordinary
institution and community. We were founded as the
people’s University. A place to educate those who otherwise would not have
access to higher education. That means all of our people, an ideal that we haven’t
always lived up to, but work very hard to live up to now. Throughout our history, we have
fostered Colorado’s ability to meet the needs of its
people and communities through education, engagement, economic development and research, but even as we celebrate
our sesquicentennial, we also must expand our
understanding of what people and what communities we serve. We must become more
inclusive and more equitable in our inclusivity. We must offer greater
access to the education, research and engagement to
which we are so committed. Chancellor Tony Frank, with
the support of many here today, left us an extraordinary
record of accomplishment to build on, including
gains in enrollment, increased graduation rates,
growth in research funding, innovation and scholarly activity, international recognition
of our amazing faculty and students, fundraising
exceeded a billion dollars and campus construction
of beautiful leads, sustainable gold and platinum buildings, but if we stop here, we
risk becoming irrelevant. So of course we will not stop,
but what’s the alternative? I believe that the accelerating
pace of our world leaves us with three options. The first option would
be to fall into the trap so absolutely captured in the
truism that it is irrational to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. The second option would
be to commit to change, but at a cautious pace. I will tell you plainly
that if we do this, we will lag behind our bolder peers. Finally, we can choose to transform Colorado State University and to do so with the urgency
that we know is warranted. We can be bold, we can be
curious and we can be courageous. I believe that this is what we must do and it is what we will do to
continue to fulfill our promise to our students, faculty,
staff and the state of Colorado for another 150 years and more. I sometimes look out
the windows of my office at the trees along the oval and marvel at how permanent they seem. Like they’ve always been
there and always will, but as we know from
photos and descriptions of the college back in the
1870s, almost the entire area from Fort Collins to the
foothills was a treeless prairie. We planted trees here and we
built a world-class University. That’s important to what
I wanna tell you today because it calls to mind a Greek proverb that says people plant trees
so others may climb them and rest in their shade. The message in that proverb is of course about the long game,
the focus on the future and the belief in the future
that must drive everyone who plants a tree, it is an act of faith. It is an act of faith for
those who started a university and it is an act of faith to
be a university president. Those are all bold and they
don’t bear fruit right away, but when they do, you have
the shade from the sun and the sound of the wind
and the leaves and at CSU, you have a thriving institution
that is not done growing, not by a long shot. What trees do we need to plant today in order to meet the needs
of those who will follow us? In my fall address, I
introduced the notion of courageous, strategic transformation which is not a traditional strategic plan, but a bold imperative. I ask all of you to join me
in truly transforming CSU and for those of you wondering
what exactly I mean by that, let me get specific. I want us to develop new
strategies for access with a commitment to
equity and affordability. I want to make access to a CSU education and the success it will bring
available to all Coloradoans with a commitment to
excellence as our guiding star. I want us to create a campus climate that allows our students, faculty
and staff to truly thrive. Every single member of
our community deserves to know that they are welcomed and valued for every aspect of their
identity, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, immigrant
status, socioeconomic status, disability, age or veterans status. They deserve a place where
there is no question, theirs or anyone elses whether
they belong because they do. I want us to do more
and I want us to do it as quickly as we can to
address the intersecting needs of our students, faculty and staff. I want them to find their educational and work experiences
rigorous and rewarding and I want us to make the mental health of our community members a priority. Not just when they are
in crisis, but every day. Let’s prevent crises in mental health, not just try to fix them. I want us to innovate
in education, research and engagement for excellence, equity and elevating quality
of life and prosperity for Colorado’s citizens,
businesses and communities. Throughout our history, our
student populations have changed and they are changing now
and we must be prepared to meet our students where they are. Many will be first generation, more will be increasingly diverse. Projections say by the end of the decade, one in four Coloradoans
will be Hispanic or Latin X and just a few years later, that percentage will be close to 30%. Some of these promising
young people are living in uncertain immigration status, some of them are actively
afraid that pursuing a degree at CSU could bring unwanted attention to them or their families. We must find a way to
open our educational doors to these students and make it possible for them to stay and succeed. We also must do more to recruit
Native American students who tribal lands we have built upon and as was true of the
original land grant colleges, we must work with these students to ensure that the courses in curricula
we offer meet their needs. We must also listen to and
then communicate clearly with our many students and their families who are terribly anxious about
the cost of higher education. They hear daily about
the skyrocketing cost of a college degree and how
graduates are burdened by debt as they begin their careers. Many are convinced they
simply cannot afford a degree. Colorado Governor, Jared
Polis takes this anxiety so seriously, he has
made addressing the issue the center of his policy
agenda for higher education. It’s no secret the public funding for higher education has
declined for decades, but not just in Colorado,
it’s true across the nation. 20 years ago, state funding
covered as much as two-thirds of the cost of educating a
Colorado State University student with about one third of the
financial burden falling to students and their families, but over the past two decades,
those numbers have flipped. Students and families are now covering at least three-quarters of the cost. That means they now have to
save for years to afford college and often still leave
weighted down with debt. There is good news on this front though and I believe that the return
on state funds invested in educating students makes
a difference in our economy, even if you consider only
the expanded tax base. That’s right, many
Colorado residents graduate with no debt, but a Colorado
resident with debt graduating from CSU leaves here with
an average debt of $25,000, about the price of a new car. It’s expensive, but they will graduate with an average starting salary of 50,000 and all studies show that someone with an undergraduate degree
will earn, on average, a million dollars more than
those with a high school degree. They will also, may be more
significantly, be healthier, their families will be healthier and they will all enjoy
a higher quality of life. That’s a pretty good
investment for both the state and the individual, earning
a high quality CSU degree at a relatively low cost continues to be one of the best deals in higher education, but to gain the confidence
of those who are discouraged, we must talk transparently
about how we contain costs. We must tell the story of our commitment to affordability, openly. Our students and their
families need and deserve to understand how deeply we are committed to having them here and even while realizing
these urgent goals, we must also reaffirm our excellence. To do this, we must establish priorities, say no to some things,
we must act on those that we do establish as
priorities, assess their efficacy and be willing to start anew if when what we are doing is
not delivering the excellence that our students deserve. I want you to know that we
are committed to the health, welfare and creating a
beautiful environment for all of our faculty staff
and students to succeed. Particularly in the area of mental health, I want to mention the Board of Governors. The Board of Governors
recognizes the significance work, the significance of the
work that needs to be done and has been supportive
of all of our efforts to develop and deliver on a strategy that focuses not only on
treatment, but on prevention. We have some of the best
minds at this university who can help us figure this out. Some people like to quantify outcomes in terms of dollars and cents, but the way we measure this
one thing in human terms, we believe the expansion
of mental health resources will result in the university
of the retaining students in crisis who might otherwise leave. Helping them keep healthy and safe and be a part of the CSU
community and when we can do that, the positive impact will go beyond those individual students,
directly and indirectly, it will touch their classmates, their friends and their families. Serving our students is the essential part of our land-grant mission,
but as a university, we’re also in the knowledge business and as a land-grant, we are
going to create that knowledge to address the critical environmental, social and economic challenges
facing our world today. Our faculty are world-class, recognized nationally and internationally for their innovative educational programs, research and engagement. I cannot name all the challenges we face, but I have no doubt that our faculty are
prepared to meet them. The ones that are at top of
mind for us are climate change, the related issues of
sustainability and renewable energy, food and agriculture, the vectors
between animals and humans and disease and we desire a
broad-based economic prosperity based on meeting these challenges. We will think innovatively, we will master what we need to master and we
will meet those challenges. I also want to mention just at the end that we must integrate our
principles of community more deeply into our policies. That is something I talked
about at the fall address and we will continue to work on, but as we reaffirm our commitment
to our land-grant mission, access, affordability,
excellence and a commitment to Colorado and its citizens,
it’s very important to look at what we’ve accomplished. When this place was
first conceived in 1870, Colorado was still a
sparsely inhabited territory. It wouldn’t become a state
until six years later, but it was already a place where those who envisioned the college intended that it would both serve the
daughters and sons of Colorado. From the very start, this
university took a broader view than their peers at colleges back east in terms of who was
welcome and who to include. It is a place where women
led the way academically in the early years, taking
the same coursework as the men and earning 11 of the 18 degrees awarded in the first five graduating classes. It was a place where the
third president, Elston Ellis who had desegregated the
public schools in Hamilton Ohio before coming here, invited
a talented young man to become the college’s first
African-American student and four years later, first
African-American graduate and it’s the place where a member of our second graduating
class, Grace SB Patten enrolled at age 15, graduated at
19 and began a short, but brilliant career. She worked first as a
professor at the college, then earned national
recognition as a writer, publisher and speaker,
she became an early leader in the Colorado suffrage
movement and a powerful advocate for public education. Ultimately, Patten was elected
Colorado State Superintendent of Public Instruction. She earned more votes than the governor. In an interview following that election in which two other women were
elected to state assembly, Patten said, in these days it
is a good thing to be a woman, but better yet, to be a Colorado woman. As a recently minted Colorado
woman, I’d say that’s true, in these days as well and I’d add that isn’t it even better
still to be the president of this outstanding Colorado
institution of higher education at this pivotal time in history. So let’s move forward,
courageous in our actions, strategic in our thinking
and prepared to transform in order to meet the challenges of our rapidly changing world. Thank you all very much
for this incredible honor, (audience applauding)

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