Tony Frank: On elections

This past week, I was struck by an odd realization that this year’s election reminded me of the end of most of my college semesters. As finals approached, I’d add up my points, make some estimate of how I thought I’d do on the final, and know what I needed to do to get a certain grade. After the final, exam keys were posted, and we’d cluster around and estimate how our essays had fared compared to the key. That allowed us to project our final grades. Armed with this knowledge, we’d head home to catch up on sleep and recharge our batteries over the holidays. Sometime in early January, a letter would arrive from the university with our official grades.  

Our current process of polling (much less accurate than my assessment of where I stood heading into the final exam), voting, watching projections (much more sophisticated than my estimates of final exam scores), and then eventually waiting — as happens every election — for the various secretaries of state to certify election results seems pretty similar to me. (Except we seem to be less adept at catching up on our sleep than I recall in college.) But, inevitably, election results will soon be certified, and the attendant dust of a large, active, and passionate election will settle — and we’ll move forward, focused on what comes next. For all of Colorado higher education, that means the continued fight to serve our students and keep them safe during this pandemic. It also means preparing for the upcoming legislative session and state budgeting process that influences how we plan for the next academic year.

And of course, this is the season when we reflect on all we have to be thankful for, something that’s been a struggle for many during this past year. But regardless of our individual trials, we are all, indeed, fortunate as citizens to have a strong and tested system of government as well as leaders of different backgrounds and varied viewpoints who are willing to step up and serve. This year, I’m thankful to Colorado Governor Jared Polis and his team for their strong and ongoing support of education; most recently, in the Governor’s proposed budget for next year. While a final state budget is still months away, they have recognized the enormous strain the pandemic has put on Colorado teachers and classrooms — and the importance to our economy and the future of our country of continuing to educate our children and workforce.

In this issue of the Chancellor’s newsletter, Henry Sobanet — senior vice chancellor and CFO of the CSU System — shares his perspective on what the recent elections mean for Colorado and its colleges and universities. Having led the Office of State Planning and Budgeting under two governors (one Republican and one Democrat), Henry arguably knows more about the pressures and complexities of funding Colorado’s infrastructure than anyone, and we’re grateful for his leadership in keeping our CSU campuses on stable fiscal footing. As of this writing, our campuses have been open for the fall semester, shifting soon to all-online, and enrollment has held steady even as students and faculty adjusted to an altered learning and campus environment.

I’ve also asked my colleague, former Iowa Governor and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, to share a few reflections on how to move on when your issue or candidate loses an election. Tom is a strategic advisor to the CSU System on agriculture and water issues at the CSU Spur campus, which is under construction at the National Western Center in Denver. Next week, Tom will help lead our annual Water in the West Symposium — an opportunity for policymakers, educators, and citizens across Colorado and the Western U.S. to focus in-depth on the dynamics around water resources and policy that are so critical to the western way of life.

In closing, I want to offer my thanks and appreciation to the leaders of our three CSU System campuses — President Joyce McConnell in Fort Collins, President Timothy Mottet at CSU Pueblo, and President Pamela Toney at CSU Global — all of whom share essays in this issue. These three have worked tirelessly this entire year to navigate their campuses through the pandemic, devising testing systems and classroom protocols for which there was no reliable roadmap. They, together with all the faculty and staff on their campuses, have ensured the CSU System is strong and functioning well as we wrap up this fall semester. 

Best wishes,

-tony

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