Former chancellor helps cap highly successful campaign

March 15, 2021

Man in regalia stands at a podium.

JOE BLAKE’S PROMINENT CAREER in Colorado business and higher education began with a degree in English literature from Dartmouth College. So it’s no surprise that Blake refers to the liberal arts as “the liberating arts,” a phrase he picked up from the president of his Ivy League alma mater during the 1950s.

Now, Blake has significantly invested in those “liberating arts” to benefit Colorado State University and its students – hoping to boost scholars into leadership in business, politics, and civic life. He recently donated $5 million to CSU’s College of Liberal Arts to recognize and elevate its faculty and academic excellence. It was the largest gift in college history.

“The liberal arts have no boundaries and make life just so much more interesting,” said Blake, chancellor emeritus of the CSU System. In fact, former CSU President William Morgan also espoused the “liberating arts” as he led creation of academic programs in sciences, arts, and humanities on the Fort Collins campus in the 1950s and ’60s.

“Your perspectives are broader and more diverse when you study these subjects,” Blake said. “It’s all about curiosity and interest, and I do believe those elements find their wellspring in the liberal arts.”

A high-profile son of Denver, Blake graduated from East High School and returned to his home state after earning his bachelor’s degree; he attended law school at the University of Colorado.

Later, he was part of the executive management team that led development of Highlands Ranch south of Denver. He then worked for nearly a decade as president and chief executive officer of the influential Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, striving to diversify the regional economy and strengthen ties between business and civic leadership.

Along the way, Blake helped bring Major League Baseball to Colorado and has served on the boards of many philanthropic organizations. For his tireless work and community advocacy, Blake was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame in 2017. It is one of his many honors.

Blake became an enthusiastic advocate for the CSU System and its campuses when former Gov. Bill Owens appointed him to serve on the Board of Governors in 2006. Blake then became the System’s first full-time chancellor; he filled the post from 2009 until 2011. He continues to work for the System as chancellor emeritus and as a highly successful fundraiser for campus programs and scholarships.

In his System leadership roles, Blake helped shape policies that allowed the CSU System to successfully weather the Great Recession. Today, that groundwork is helping the System’s campuses get through financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also developed a critical strategic plan for the System and supported the successful launch of CSU Global. The former chancellor remains a champion of CSU’s land-grant missions in Colorado community engagement, economic development, and higher-education access and opportunities for students.

“Joe’s passion for Colorado State is just remarkable,” President Joyce McConnell said. “His belief in the transformative power of education becomes apparent to anyone within moments of meeting him. We are a better institution because of Joe and his vision for CSU.”

The liberal arts have no boundaries and make life just so much more interesting. Your perspectives are broader and more diverse when you study these subjects.

Blake’s legacy gift to the College of Liberal Arts is among many significant donations that helped conclude the university’s landmark State Your Purpose fundraising campaign in Summer 2020.

The fundraising campaign generated $1.28 billion, surpassing its $1 billion goal, even during the pandemic. Donations have helped to build and transform campus facilities and have contributed to all aspects of CSU teaching, research, and outreach.

Also during the fundraising campaign, the former chancellor founded the Blake Leadership Scholars Program. The merit-based scholarship helps recruit high-achieving students to CSU by offering unique leadership training and other special opportunities to augment curriculum.

“If you’re going to send students to the political arena or the civic arena or the business arena, you’ve got to have balanced people who are critical thinkers,” Blake said. “Colorado State University is creating phenomenal citizens for a world that’s in desperate need of phenomenal citizens.”

Photo at top: Joe Blake, chancellor emeritus of the CSU System, recently donated $5 million to Colorado State University’s College of Liberal Arts to support its faculty and academic programs. Blake describes the liberal arts as a fount of creativity, innovation, and ethics. At age 85, he is a U.S. history buff who acts in community theater and ascribes his career success to a foundation in the liberal arts. Photo: Colorado State University