The Colorado State University Board of Governors recently confirmed Amy Parsons as the 16th president of CSU – the CSU System’s flagship campus located in Fort Collins – effective February 1, 2023, following a highly competitive, nationwide 5-month search process.
“The Board of Governors is extremely confident in the leadership that Amy Parsons brings to the role of president,” said Kim Jordan, chair of the CSU System Board of Governors. “Amy is a leader with proven results who brings a deep appreciation and respect for the university and its academic mission, as well as the business expertise needed to manage the complexity of an organization this size. Amy will surround herself with a strong team and is equipped to take care of the details that will allow everyone at the university to be able to focus on their areas of expertise and impact.”
In her comments to the board following the announcement at a special meeting of the Board of Governors on Friday afternoon, Parsons expressed appreciation to the university community and outlined the huge opportunities and inherent challenges that the university is facing.
“I am humbled and honored to accept the responsibility of becoming the 16th president of Colorado State University,” Parsons said. “I will be doing a lot of listening in my first months on the job and working with the campus community to move forward the excellent work that is already in progress. I look forward to doing this important work together and, together, leading CSU into a new era of achievement and excellence. This university deserves our very best, and I will give you mine.”
She shared her vision for the institution, which includes setting the standard of a modern land grant university with a deep commitment to access, excellence in academics and research, and innovative programming, and making CSU one of the best places to work for all employees, including competitive compensation and efforts to ensure faculty support, recruitment, and retention.
Parsons committed to listening in the first months of the job and shared her respect for the CSU community and those who shared feedback throughout the process and in the confidential Faculty Council survey: “I understand and respect all of the concerns expressed, and I take them seriously. This is, in many ways, the best part of the University – the freedom to disagree, to criticize, to debate how best to fulfill the mission of the university and to advance the academic enterprise.”
Parsons, who has 16 years of higher education leadership experience, as well as seven years of private sector experience, led some of the most comprehensive projects in CSU history during her executive leadership roles at the university. She leaves her current role as founding CEO of global e-commerce company, Mozzafiato, LLC.
As vice president of operations at CSU, she helped navigate through the fiscal challenges of the Great Recession, supported the first comprehensive salary equity survey to uncover and remedy gender-based inequities, and oversaw an historic physical transformation that included construction and renovation of state-of-the-art classroom buildings, parking structures, research facilities, and an on-campus stadium. As executive vice chancellor of the CSU System, she led System-wide initiatives, including creation of the CSU Spur campus at the National Western Center in Denver.
“I am grateful to the CSU community, where I have spent the majority of my working life in various roles, for the opportunities I’ve had to learn, to grow, at times to fail, and at times to succeed. It is that type of environment, with learning at its foundation, I hope to build and sustain for all members of our campus community, in partnership with all of you,” Parsons said. “That is part of my commitment to all of you today. I do not enter this role with the idea that I deserve your trust and confidence, but I want you to know I intend to earn them.”
Parsons succeeds former President Joyce McConnell, who left the position in June, and was the first woman to serve as the president of CSU.
In remarks on Friday, Tony Frank, chancellor of the CSU System, drew upon a decade as CSU’s 14th President, and shared his insight on Parsons as someone who will gather input, make difficult decisions, and communicate the ‘why’ behind her decisions.
“She’s extremely hard-working and always striving to improve, and she’s overcome barriers in the past. Most importantly, she cares deeply about CSU and its role and mission, she’s self-aware of her strengths and weaknesses, and she will build an exceptional team to help guide CSU,” he said. “I think she will serve Colorado State University very well as its 16th president.”
Parsons served in various senior executive leadership roles at CSU and the CSU System and combines her higher education experience with a private sector background. Prior to her present role as CEO of Mozzafiato, LLC, Parsons was executive vice chancellor of the CSU System from 2015-2020; vice president for university operations at CSU from 2009-2015; deputy general counsel and associate legal counsel at CSU Fort Collins from 2004-2009. While working on campus, she taught courses for eight years in the Student Affairs in Higher Education master’s degree program. She worked as a litigation attorney for Denver-firm Brownstein, Hyatt, & Farber (now Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck) from 1999-2004.
Parsons holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from CSU and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Colorado. Amy Parsons’ curriculum vitae and cover letter to her application for the presidency are available on the search website.
The search process
The search for the 16th president of CSU was guided by a 31-person Presidential Search Advisory Committee representing key stakeholder groups, including tenured and non-tenure-track faculty, current students, alumni, administrative professional and state classified staff, members of the Board of Governors, agricultural industry representatives, business and community leaders, and more.
The Board of Governors enlisted Parker Executive Search to assist with the effort, drawing on the firm’s experience conducting more than 2,000 national and international senior-level searches over the past 30 years for leading organizations in a variety of industries including higher education. Parker Executive Search recommended a confidential search, which is a common procedure for university president searches, noted Board of Governors Vice Chair Armando Valdez, who chaired the search committee.
“I want to pause and underscore this point: developing the deepest and strongest candidate pool was what drove the Board’s choice of this process,” Valdez said during the Board meeting Friday, noting the difference between this process and typical university searches, which allow for open forum interviews. “Presidential searches are different, the publicity surrounding these searches is different, and universities have gone to a confidential search model because it is absolutely the best way to guarantee a strong pool. We are not in any way an outlier on this – it’s a standard and common way to conduct a presidential search in the higher education marketplace.”
The downside of a confidential search is that it relies on constituent representatives rather than a public interview of candidates, Valdez continued, noting the subsequent need for an inclusive search committee and search process. To achieve this, the search advisory committee was intentionally large and focused on gathering feedback and insight from campus through a campus-wide survey available in English and Spanish, numerous listening sessions, and adding search committee members to represent vast campus constituencies.
The search advisory committee sought applications and nominations throughout its process and ultimately evaluated 54 candidates, interviewed 12 candidates, and brought forward three individuals for consideration by the Board of Governors, the hiring authority. The Board interviewed and thoroughly reviewed candidates before announcing Parsons as the sole finalist on Dec. 2.
“The search committee made it clear that they felt all three of the candidates they shared with the Board could be successful as the next university president,” Jordan said. “The Board interviewed and carefully reviewed these candidates. At every step of the process, there was broad and strong consensus to move Ms. Parsons forward.”
Colorado law outlines a mandatory 14-day notice and waiting period following the announcement of a finalist before the Board of Governors can enter into an employment agreement and announce an anticipated start date. During that time, the Board considered feedback from campus provided via email and through a survey that Faculty Council distributed to all faculty and staff and shared responses with the Board. The Faculty Council survey revealed mixed feedback, with concerns from faculty that Parsons does not have an academic and research background.
“It is our opinion that Ms. Parsons understands the central nature of teaching and research at a university; that she clearly demonstrates the understanding that the interactions of students and faculty are why the university exists and that the tripartite mission of teaching, research and service must be at the forefront of all university decisions,” Jordan said. “Her self-awareness of this limitation drives what we see as a strong commitment to building an executive leadership team with the highest quality Provost and Executive Vice President.”