After two years away because of the pandemic, Colorado State University held its annual presidential address to the campus community Thursday. Interim President Rick Miranda spoke primarily about making the campus a more equitable place for students, faculty and staff.
The address lasted just under 30 minutes and was given to a crowd of mostly faculty, staff, alumni and other community members. A handful of students were sprinkled among the crowd and stood along the perimeter of the CSU Oval.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the event. Miranda bookended his speech with reminders of the 1997 Spring Creek Flood, which prompted the university to add a picnic to the address and make it a more community-focused event, Miranda said.
"The days, weeks and months after the flood were challenging in so many ways, and yet the community came together to clean up, to rebuild and in many cases, to reinvent," Miranda said.
Since then, Miranda said the CSU community has become better and more resilient. "There's a lot to be proud of, but we aren't done, though, are we?" Miranda asked, noting the parallels the community faces coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are some key takeaways from Miranda's speech on where the university is and hopes to be in the future.
The pandemic revealed weaknesses in the university's operations
"We know that the impacts from COVID have not been born equally by all groups. The burden has been greatest for the most vulnerable," Miranda said.
A major weakness, Miranda said, is the inequitable opportunities at CSU and that conversations around diversity and inclusivity have led to polarization in the community.
Miranda said the university will make more of an effort to clearly communicate its values to protect free speech and academic freedom. He said this includes being better at educating students on how to effectively communicate their free speech, speak out against hate speech, counter misinformation and provide more support to "vulnerable" communities on campus.
"We should always strive to be more effective champions of the truth than we've been," Miranda said.
Miranda says CSU will prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion for students, faculty and the community
"We can be more inclusive than we've been," Miranda said.
Here's a look at how the university plans to address each area.
Enrollment: Miranda shared this year's incoming class was the largest in the university's history at around 5,500 students and is much closer to reflecting the diversity of the state, particularly in Hispanic communities. The university will focus on how to improve diversity in enrollment, Miranda said.
Student success: CSU has a goal that 90% of first-year students at the university will enroll in a second year and that it will have an 80% total graduation rate with zero equity gaps. Miranda said the university's leadership has provided funding to make this possible and they expect to reach this goal in five years.
Curriculum: The university will add more opportunities for students to earn certificates in specialized skills and update the curriculum to focus on "experiential learning and interdisciplinarity" as well as more online options.
Compensation: The university will prioritize the salaries of faculty and staff at the lower end of the pay scale in the next budget cycle. Miranda said this includes primarily graduate program staff, and the university will focus on reducing fees for them as well.
"We're committed to a higher attention to pay equity than before," Miranda said. This point received the loudest applause from the crowd.
Broader Colorado community:
Rural communities: Miranda said CSU will continue to fund and support the Sturm campus in Castle Rock, which opened in 2019 to create pathways for local high school and community college students to earn college degrees with CSU.
Research and innovation: Miranda said CSU's research expenditures are around $450 million, indicating the strength of the university's research programs. The university will continue to fund research in new areas and make necessary hires to support new and existing programs.
New construction projects: The university will make an effort to improve its existing facilities including a $100 million commitment to expand and renovate the Clark Building, which holds CSU's College of Liberal Arts. Miranda said CSU will also spend money to upgrade infrastructure like the campus' IT systems.
Spur Campus: CSU Spur campus in Denver received a $250 million investment from the Colorado General Assembly and is nearly complete, Miranda said. The campus focuses on animal and human health, food and agriculture and water research. Miranda descried the campus as an "anchor institution" to help connect with the Colorado community outside of Northern Colorado and make research more accessible for "underrepresented groups who will begin to see themselves in the work that we do here." Miranda said he hopes through initiatives like the Spur Campus, CSU can demonstrate the benefit of higher education.
In his closing remarks, Miranda acknowledged that the goals were not easy, but "easy is not worthy of our attention. We have great challenges ahead as a campus, as a state, as a society, as a planet ... we can emerge from the pandemic stronger than before."
Students react, noting exclusion of campus housing challenges
Notably missing from Miranda's speech was mention of the housing challenges on campus. Miranda acknowledged the high cost of living in Fort Collins and how faculty and staff should be able to live where they work, but did not speak to campus housing issues, which forced hundreds of students to live in a Best Western hotel near campus.
"I feel like people are afraid to mention the negatives," said Ray Hernandez, a senior neuroscience and math major at CSU. "It's a failure from the university to have students living in a hotel, but I understand why he didn't mention it."
Hernandez said he thought Miranda's speech showed his understanding that he had "big shoes to fill after Joyce McConnell, but reflected his desire to fill those shoes appropriately."
Suzette Andino, a graduate student in CSU's business program, said it was "nice to hear what they're planning to do and it's reassuring to hear plans on renovations."
Andino said she wished Miranda had addressed housing and rent. "It's hard to get a house here. I was lucky enough to get on-campus housing, but I have classmates who weren't as lucky."
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Colorado State Interim President Rick Miranda gives fall address