FORT COLLINS – Amy Parsons, who had served in roles including executive vice chancellor during 16 years at Colorado State University, will take the reins as president of the school’s flagship Fort Collins campus beginning Feb. 1.
Parsons had been announced as the sole finalist for the job this month after a nationwide five-month search process. She will oversee a Fort Collins campus that has a student body of more than 32,000, employs 7,500 people, and draws $450 million in research each year. CSU’s more than 1,700 full-time faculty work in eight colleges.
Parsons succeeds Joyce McConnell, the first woman to serve as president of CSU, who left the position in June. McConnell began at CSU in July 2019 but left the university last June. The university described her departure as “parting ways” and paid $1.5 million to buy out her contract. McConnell had succeeded Tony Frank, who held the position for 11 years. Frank became and remains chancellor of the CSU system.
“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, in a prepared statement. “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.”
Parsons said she was “humbled and honored to accept the responsibility of becoming the 16th president of Colorado State University. 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.”
Parsons will leave her role as founding CEO of global e-commerce company Mozzafiato LLC to take on the role at CSU. Mozzafiato is an online retail platform specializing in beauty brands from Italy.
She had been executive vice chancellor of the CSU System from 2015 to 2020, vice president for university operations at CSU from 2009 to 2015, and deputy general counsel and associate legal counsel at CSU Fort Collins from 2004 to 2009. While working on campus, she taught courses for eight years in the Student Affairs in Higher Education master’s degree program.
As vice president for 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 a physical transformation that included construction and renovation of 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.
In 2017, during her term as executive vice chancellor, Parsons was named an Outstanding Woman in Business by the Denver Business Journal.
“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,” she said. “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. 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.”
Before coming to CSU in 2004, Parsons worked for five years as a litigation attorney for Denver firm Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber (now Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck). She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from CSU and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Colorado.
The search that led to Parsons’ appointment as president was guided by a 31-person 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 and business and community leaders. 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, said Board of Governors Vice Chair Armando Valdez, who chaired the search committee.
“Developing the deepest and strongest candidate pool was what drove the board’s choice of this process,” Valdez said, 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 we rely on constituent representatives rather than a public interview of candidates,” Valdez said, noting the subsequent need for an inclusive search committee and search process. To achieve this, she said, 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 campus constituencies.
The search advisory committee sought applications and nominations throughout its process and
ultimately evaluated 54 candidates, interviewed 12 of them, and brought forward three for consideration by the Board of Governors. That board interviewed and reviewed candidates before announcing Parsons as the sole finalist on Dec. 2.
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 governors considered feedback from campus provided via email and through a survey that the 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.”
Parsons has served on the boards of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver and The Confucius Institute, as a trustee of the Western Stock Show Association, has been a member of the Metro Denver Economic Development Committee Executive Committee, and served as a member of Colorado Concern and Colorado’s Access Cuba Group with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado. Parsons is also a charter member of History Colorado’s Colorado! Program, and served as the CSU representative for the Biennial of the Americas, joining the governor’s trips to Mexico and Brazil with other Colorado business leaders.