CU in Court

The university's secretive fundraising project manages to raise eyebrows as well.

Sam Riddle was right.

About one thing, at least. Back in June, the shoot-from-the-lip Riddle complained that his $250-an-hour consulting contract with then-secretary of state Victoria Buckley would not have been subject to the same scrutiny if he'd made the deal with a white man.

And in fact, while Riddle's seven-month, $90,000 contract attracted headlines as well as a state audit, a bigger sweetheart deal at the University of Colorado escaped almost unnoticed. This time the person making the deal was a white man -- and the consultant collecting the dough was a woman.

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Previous Westword articles

"The Answer to a Riddle,"
July 8, 1999
The $250-hour man has left the state--for now.

"Riddle Me This,"
July 8, 1999
Sam Riddle is Colorado's man of the hour. The $250 hour.

"Opportunism Knocks,"
April 29, 1999
The Columbine Tragedy turns into a P.R. blitz.

"Let Us Pray,"
November 5, 1998
Riddle helps Vicki Buckley out of a Broncos muddle.

"The Big Bang Theory,"
October 15, 1998
Vicki Buck

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In October 1997, Fran Raudenbush was hired by the University of Colorado Foundation, Inc. -- ostensibly an independent fundraising arm of the university -- as a thirty-hour-a-week consultant charged with pushing the Total Learning Environment initiative, a "blueprint for building the CU of the future" and a pet project of CU president John Buechner. To this role, Raudenbush brought her expertise as a lobbyist for the Union Pacific, her cozy connections with the historically cozy foundation (she was sitting on its board at the time of her appointment), and even closer ties to Buechner, a friend.

"Public institutions of higher education like CU can no longer rely on the traditional funding sources and budgeting strategies to support the overall mission of the university," Raudenbush wrote in one of her first briefing papers. "We must look at new markets for our offerings and expand current activities outside of TABOR limitations to generate funds." Specifically, the institution of higher learning would have to look at the lowbrow world of business. For example, one TLE proposal would charge corporate fat cats $25,000 a year for the privilege of sitting on a Board of Visitors to President Buechner. But Raudenbush wasn't focusing simply on stroking CEOs' already considerable egos; last December she outlined plans to pursue corporate partnerships with such companies as Qwest, US West and Hewlett-Packard, which would give the companies access to university expertise and let them host university events. (This Nobel Prize for Physics brought to you by Lockheed Martin -- if it ever gets its yards/meters straight.)

But since Raudenbush was working for the private foundation, her ideas rarely surfaced in public.

Last spring, the Colorado Daily began digging into the foundation's ties to the Total Learning Environment -- and found itself totally blocked. Because Raudenbush was technically employed by the foundation, its attorneys said, her records were not subject to the Colorado Open Records Act. But TLE is a CU program, and CU officials had already acknowledged that Raudenbush was playing a key role in the initiative. That was enough to send the Dailyto the nonprofit foundation's most recent IRS 990 filings. On the page where it was supposed to list its "five highest-paid independent contractors for professional services," Raudenbush's name did not appear. Three days later, the foundation sent a revised copy of the six-month-old form to the Daily, blaming the flawed version on its accountants. This revision contained only one major change: Raudenbush's name, title and compensation were now included.

The revision described Raudenbush as a "fundraising consultant" -- although in a foundation brochure published a year before, the words "Executive Consultant to the President, University of Colorado at Boulder" appeared under her picture.

Finally, on May 28, the paper filed suit against both CU and the foundation, asking for access to documents regarding TLE and Raudenbush's contract, claiming that the university was trying to prevent public access to information about "significant management and operational activities" by shifting some tasks to the foundation. The case was scheduled for a hearing in Boulder District Court on July 9.

But on June 24, the foundation suddenly released over 7,000 documents from Raudenbush's files -- as a courtesy, the foundation's attorney said. In a return courtesy, the Dailydropped its suit -- but not its investigation.

Among other things, those documents revealed that Raudenbush's initial $115,000 contract had been extended, and her hours increased, until the foundation was paying her $141,000 a year -- more than the majority of the university's deans were each earning. They also showed that Buechner's office was a party to Raudenbush's contract; in fact, the agreement was made "at the request of the President's Office of the University of Colorado," which clearly qualified it as a public document. The July 21, 1998, extension of the "Memorandum of Understanding" between Raudenbush and the foundation had come from Buechner himself; should either the foundation or Raudenbush consider terminating the contract, Buechner was to be consulted.

On Tuesday, both Denver dailies published small items noting that the foundation had not renewed Raudenbush's contract, which expired October 1. (She's reportedly being considered for a post with the governor's new technology institute.) Other than larger stories on June 25, which both reported the Dailydropping its suit in exchange for some foundation documents, that's about all the attention Raudenbush's deal has received from the mainstream media.

This summer, Buechner had told CU's official mouthpiece, Silver and Gold Record, that Raudenbush's contract would not be extended because TLE's $2.4 billion fundraising scheme -- "a process to prepare yourself for the unforeseen," he said -- was up and running. But in the meantime, the initiative will require more than $200 million in state funds this fiscal year alone -- and CU's president wasn't telling the Daily anything. In early September, after two Dailyreporters attempted to question Buechner about TLE, Raudenbush and former CU spokesman David Grimm, who'd been wrongly labeled a leak, the journalists were banned from a CU Board of Regents meeting. That, of course, is the group that is supposed to govern CU -- but the regents had never been consulted about Raudenbush's hiring.

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