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CU Finally Decides to Cut Its PR Losses

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On December 5, the University of Colorado Boulder announced that it would pay a total of $2.85 million to two women, Lisa Simpson and Anne Gilmore, whose claims of having been sexually assaulted in 2001 launched what became popularly known as the CU recruiting scandal. The decision finally closes a chapter filled with memorable public-relations problems that would probably still be growing if Hank Brown, who was named CU's president in 2005, hadn't devoted himself to solving them -- or at least making them go away.

In a December 6 Q&A with the Rocky Mountain News, Brown admitted that he wanted to put a cap on the Simpson-Gilmore matter before his departure from the position in February 2008. His forthrightness underscores why he's been successful at putting the school on a smarter course than did his predecessor, Elizabeth "Betsy" Hoffman, a clumsy spinmeister who once suggested that the word "cunt" might be seen as a term of endearment.

This bon mot is one of many CU gaffes documented in the following catalog of disasters. "PR 101," published June 23, 2005, introduced CU's Ray Gomez, a onetime publicist for the Walt Disney Company who managed to accidentally send an e-mail declaring that a Boulder Daily Camera reporter wasn't "the sharpest knife in the drawer" to the scribe herself. "Failure to Communicate," from August 18, 2005, goes deeper, offering a compendium of lowlights over the previous several years, ranging from ex-CU football coach Gary Barnett's dismissal of placekicker Katie Hnida as not only a girl but also terrible to promoting Chancellor Richard Byyny to a higher paying position at the height of the humiliation. And an August 18 sidebar headlined "Big Flak Attack" quotes Brown himself on his approach to repairing the damage to CU's reputation -- and his decision to give Gomez and one of his cohorts the heave-ho.

Thus far, criticism of Brown for paying off Simpson and Gilmore has been fairly muted. Even as he excoriated the two women during his December 5 KHOW talk show, yakker and inveterate CU booster Dan Caplis acknowledged that the move made good business sense. There's no telling if Brown's sucessor will avoid such pitfalls in the future. Still, he or she will likely have to clean up just one more mess left over from the old days -- Ward Churchill's lawsuit, which Brown has shown no interest in settling. And for that, the next CU president should be eternally grateful. -- Michael Roberts

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