CSU leader reassures ag leaders
By Larry Dreiling
Many in agriculture have questioned lately if land-grant universities and Extension are still relevant, given the large amount of research and consultation conducted at the commercial level.
Tony Frank, DVM, president of Colorado State University, wants producers to know that he intends to keep CSU known first as the state's ag school for a long time to come.
Speaking during the Governor's Forum on Colorado Agriculture, Frank gave what many in the crowd called the "most reassuring and heartfelt" address by a CSU president to an agricultural audience in years.
Frank talked about his boyhood on the family farm in Illinois in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Extension distributed family farm account books that intended to move producers from subsistence agriculture to treating their operations as businesses. Frank displayed a book from the first half of 1960 that he found among his parents' personal effects after they passed away.
"Looking through the book, I found that my mother had lovingly recorded the birth of her third son (himself) in the column of 'unanticipated expenses.' It's definitely left me with a warm heart for Extension," Frank said.
Then, Frank turned serious, acknowledging mistakes made by past CSU administrations and continuing his pledges made upon taking the job as CSU president 20 months ago to work to reach out to agricultural constituencies in new and better ways, primarily by traveling across the state for forums with producers and CSU off-campus employees.
"We've talked about the future of Colorado agriculture at these forums and how Colorado State intends to be a part of that future," Frank said. "Whether that's working with industry partners on issues like water utilization, food safety, food affordability, food availability, or global protein demand, we've talked about what's happened at Colorado State and tried to keep you in touch with it.
"We've talked about our organization in the various departments and our variety of specialized research programs and how those are connected to the industry. We've talked about our ag experiment stations and of Extension and the roles they need to play."
Frank said he realizes that these constituencies have questioned CSU's recent commitment to agriculture.
"We've known we need to be better listeners. We need to be more reliable partners. We need to do a better job," Frank said. "We've tried to put action behind our words. We set up the President's Agriculture Advisory Council that is dedicated to listening to and have a dialogue with the leaders of Colorado agriculture. We're not simply trying to pass on information about what it is we're doing."
That includes a series of statewide community outreach tours that Frank called a great way to stay connected to off-campus employees who are the face of CSU in their communities.
"We've increased our presence at county fairs to highlight the importance of 4-H and youth development. We've increased our presence at the National Western Stock Show," Frank said. "We've hired a very engaged, passionate and committed dean of the College of Agriculture Sciences that will build on the foundation and heritage of the college and shares my view that the college will be among the finest if not the finest of its kind in the nation."
Frank also briefly discussed the search process for a new chair in the Department of Animal Sciences.
"That person has big shoes to fill as Bill Wailes has done an outstanding job for us and deserves a tremendous amount of thanks on our behalf," Frank said.
Frank then discussed the fund-raising Campaign for Colorado State University that will create new facilities for Animal Sciences and renovations to Shepardson Hall, increasing efforts with a multitude of agencies toward boosting ag literacy, and reinvigorating CSU's Agricultural Education program and expanding faculty.
"Rural development has become a strong focus through Lou Swanson's Office of Engagement," Frank said. "We've also worked to improve our off-campus facilities so that experiment stations can be well connected to advisory boards to make sure that research is world class and well connected with the needs of the industry."
Frank then discussed the CSU budget that has federal funding cuts for programs ranging from wheat improvement, to beef cattle genetics, and economically important animal diseases.
"These cuts come at the same time USDA is facing hundreds of millions in cuts that threaten competitive programs," Frank said. "Don't take this the wrong way, I'm not saying we should not get federal spending under control, but my worry is that those who are looking at controlling spending appreciate the importance today and into the future the agricultural industry in this country. I think we have a responsibility to shine a light on the importance of this issue and this challenge."
Frank also said funding in individual counties threatens local programs.
"We've talked to county commissioners who face tremendous property tax devaluations, perhaps as much as 60 percent and higher," Frank said. "These will really challenge the counties to have the funds to partner with CSU to continue the programs in Extension and 4-H and youth development.
"We're doing everything we can to help the counties bridge through these times and maintain good partnerships so that when the economy does turn around the infrastructure will still be in place in a way that will serve Colorado well."
With the governor and General Assembly, Frank said he wants to place a strong focus working with them through the difficult budget process.
"We've been strong on being accountable and transparent in developing a financial accountability report," Frank said. "It says where all the funds come from and how they are used as well as how that funding has changed over time. It's critically important that we are transparent to the people we serve.
"We knew that being transparent wasn't enough. We did what every family across this country has done, and that's tighten our belts. Including next fiscal year's budget, we'll have cut $36 million or 28 percent out of our state appropriation. We'll have lost over 400 employees or 7.5 percent of our workforce."
CSU's fiscal year 2012 budget, Frank added, will have been the next in a series of budgets that have gone through three years of salary and hiring freezes and have taken double the amount of cuts from administration as it has from academics.
"It's not said as a woe is me comment," Frank said. "I say that as I can hear my dad's voice telling me that in the time it took for me to whine about this I could have started to do something about this."
Frank concluded by saying we'll all get through these times.
"Colorado will get through this. Colorado agriculture will get this. Colorado State will get through this, and we'll be there shoulder to shoulder with Colorado agriculture, being an effective partner," Frank said.
"We were born 141 years ago as the State of Colorado's ag school. We've evolved over the years to become the state's most productive comprehensive research university, but we are still proud to be the state of Colorado's ag school, and 141 years from now we will still be extraordinarily proud to be the state of Colorado's ag school. You have my personal commitment that we will always strive to be one of the best ag schools in the country and you that can be proud of it."
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.