Academic pageantry and a Native American blessing song helped usher in the Joyce McConnell era at CSU on Thursday.
McConnell was formally inaugurated as Colorado State University president, a post she’s held since July, during investiture ceremonies at the University Center for the Arts in Fort Collins.
She is the 15th president of CSU in its 150-year history and the first woman to hold the office. That fact was not lost on anyone in the assembled crowd, which included local officials and dignitaries from across the state.
As she has done since arriving in Fort Collins from the University of West Virginia, McConnell delivered a forceful speech about the challenges facing CSU and her vision for addressing them.
With a tip of an academic cap to the accomplishments of Tony Frank, former CSU president and the chancellor of the CSU system, McConnell said the university must expand its efforts to be “the people’s university.”
Doing that means making CSU’s work in education, research and engagement more accessible to people across the state, she said. It also means being more inclusive and diverse, a common theme in her messaging since taking office.
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CSU cannot rest on its laurels and fine facilities, she said. To do so would risk becoming irrelevant as Colorado and the world change at an accelerating pace.
“We can be bold, we can be curious, and we can be courageous,” she said. “I believe that is what we must do, and it is what we will continue to do to fulfill our promise to our students, faculty, staff and the state of Colorado for another 150 years.”
The university needs to transform, she said, and come up with new strategies for students to access and afford a college education.
And it must commit to having a campus climate that is welcoming for all people, regardless their identity, gender, race, religion, immigration status, disability, age, or veteran status.
“They deserve a place where there is no question, theirs or anyone else’s, whether they belong, because they do,” she said.
McConnell also wants to provide resources for addressing mental health issues affecting the community before they become crises.
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McConnell has a long list of goals. But with her apparent enthusiasm and energy, one suspects she’ll make great strides toward reaching them.
She’s focused on the future, which is appropriate given these challenging times for higher education. But her investiture gave an interesting nod to the past, including the very roots of CSU as a land-grant institution.
McConnell and an introductory speaker acknowledged that the land CSU uses to offer education and outreach to all people was taken from indigenous peoples — the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute.
A poignant moment came near the close of the ceremony as the Iron Family Singers performed a blessing song that included spirited pounding of a drum. The audience and McConnell, who was draped with a ceremonial Native American blanket, stood for the performance.
It felt like was a show of respect denoting reconciliation for the past as well as hopefulness for CSU’s future.
Kevin Duggan is a senior columnist and reporter. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by subscribing: See Coloradoan.com/subscribe to learn how.
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