Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster announced his retirement in a mass email sent to the “CMU Community” on January 27. Foster wrote that he is leaving “to spend more time with my family and open a new chapter in my life.”
From: Foster, Timothy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Wednesday, January 27, 2021 3:52 PM
Dear CMU Community,
After 17 years as President of Colorado Mesa University, I will be retiring from CMU at the end of this semester/fiscal year or to be more specific June 30, 2021 to spend more time with my family and to open a new chapter in my life.
To some that phrase is cliché, but I am reminded of the verse from Ecclesiastes — that the Byrds turned into a popular song — “To everything there is a season.” We all give a lot to our jobs and I certainly have invested so much in CMU, I wanted to share my thought process with you.
Lisa and I have been “empty nesters” for a couple of years, which has been a pretty big change. In fall 2019, I was fortunate to spend Thanksgiving with Lisa and our family in Scotland. We had a blast exploring Edinburgh, the countryside and even a short stop in London where we took in a Premier League soccer match. Like all trips it flew by and I found myself back on campus winding up the semester and getting ready for the new year. My mind was filled with preparing for the upcoming legislative session, budgets and new ideas. I also had a lingering question in my head: “how long is too long for a president to serve, have new ideas and be sharp enough to really add value to the university?”
And personally, I wondered how long would I be healthy enough to truly enjoy life, to go see our boys and their families, and be able to do all sorts of fun things I still want to do with the love of my life, Lisa.
To add to my thought process was the reality that for 17 years I have worked literally non-stop. Always on — even when I was not supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong, it comes with the territory, and I love my job, the people I work with, my friends, our students, the opportunity to help people pursue a college education and change their lives.
This time last year I was prepared to draft this very letter, but we had a hotel to get opened and then the pandemic struck. I knew that leaving in the midst of that chaos was simply not appropriate. Which brings us to now. As we emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever, it seems the time is right for me to find the next challenge and for the University to have the next great leader. Above all, this is a case for invigoration. CMU is brimming with young energy and abundant talent.
Working at CMU is a privilege, and the response of our campus community to the pandemic is a testament to how amazing the people here truly are. I have been lucky to work with the best of the best — from our Board of Trustees, to our faculty and staff — there are really none better. The world of higher education, like every other market sector, requires us to be nimble, agile and creative. All characteristics that are imbedded in CMU’s DNA and embraced by all of us. Because of that common culture, Colorado Mesa University is ready for the challenges ahead and to thrive not just survive.
I am not gone yet, I have committed to staying through the end of June 2021. My passion and work ethic will not wane and I promise to be as bothersome as ever. Yes, that means you will still see those pesky 3:00 A.M. e mails and text messages.
At the end of the day, life is a series of tradeoffs and I assure you I am not going home to watch the grass grow. After a sabbatical, including traveling in the United States and overseas, I will be mulling what comes next. Perhaps I will hang out my shingle and see who wants to engage an older attorney with some gas left in the tank. In any event, I am clear that Lisa is not ready for me to tell her, “Honey I am home…for good!”
Tim Foster, President
Colorado Mesa University
Foster drew heat for endorsing anti-science candidate Janet Rowland, and flattening CMU’s administrative structure to limit staff power
Foster drew a backlash in 2020 for endorsing Janet Rowland, a Republican County Commissioner candidate who endorsed Q-Anon-style anti-mask and anti-science rhetoric on her campaign Facebook page, even though CMU operates nursing and physician assistant programs. Rowland also had a past record of committing plagiarism, which is anathema in academic circles. Foster’s endorsement of Rowland initially appeared on her campaign page with his photo and stated his position at CMU. But when outrage erupted over Foster using his position as CMU President to endorse a candidate, which is prohibited by law, Foster quietly un-endorsed Rowland and his photo and endorsement disappeared from her page.
Foster was also known for changing the university’s administration to an unusual, flattened structure that some employees who had worked elsewhere felt was designed to eliminate staff input into school operations and prevent empowerment of the staff on campus. Foster also eliminated deans, who have duties like helping students with academic planning, faculty recruitment and overseeing curricula.
Speculation about Foster’s replacement
Some at CMU are worrying that cronyism will rule the day as is so often the case in Grand Junction, and Vice President of Student Services, John Marshall, will get “rolled in” to the office of President by the CMU Board.
But other than working at CMU, Marshall has no background in education. Prior to working at CMU, his only “qualifications” were managing the failed campaigns of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez in 2006 and Republican Greg Walcher for the Third Congressional District in 2004. After these Republican losses, Foster, a fellow Republican, handed Marshall a plum fund raising position at CMU that reportedly paid $90,000/year with a $19,000/year benefits package. The move was largely seen as a patronage appointment, with Marshall sliding in on Foster’s coattails with no prior experience in education. But some long-time CMU employees are hopeful CMU has finally grown beyond its crony roots, saying the school has grown, now has some serious partnerships with the University of Colorado and other organizations, deserves better and should do a national search for a serious replacement for Foster.
“We’re legit now.”
One anonymous person with longtime experience at CMU commented that “Everyone is just assuming the Board will roll [John Marshall] right in [as President], which blows my mind. I mean, I get that years ago when they all got this club together and Tim waltzed in as the Prodigal Valley Son, they thought that sh*t would play. But we’re legit now, so my logical brain says ‘no way.’ They have to do a national search and the University deserves better than someone whose only higher ed experience is here in Student Services.”
Everyone knows that in Grand Junction, people will elect a ham sandwich if it has an “R” after its name, but for a position like Colorado Mesa University President, there is going to have to be some serious mustard under that bread, too.