Longform

Failure to Communicate

Page 2 of 4

Watching this debacle, viewers could be excused for thinking that Hoffman was a girl, and not only was she a girl, she was terrible.

3. June 2004: Liquor Is Quicker

Throughout the spring, CU's coverage adamantly refused to improve. Revelations of boozing by athletes, and athletic supporters, didn't help, and neither did CU athletic director Richard "Dick" Tharp's ownership stake in Liquor Mart, one of the largest alcohol retailers in Boulder -- and a major supplier for CU, as the Rocky Mountain News revealed.

So how did Tharp address this issue? He resigned from Liquor Mart's board of directors -- an empty gesture, since he retained his ownership interest. Which came in handy when he finally resigned his CU position several months later, after multiple reports skewered him for his ineffective, lackadaisical supervision of the athletic department. When you're drowning your sorrows, it's nice to know that some of the profits never leave the glass.

4. June 2004: 'C' Is for Chaucer

In a deposition for Lisa Simpson's lawsuit, CU president Hoffman was queried about the profanity "cunt" -- one of many slurs that placekicker Hnida said fellow Buffaloes had hurled her way. Hoffman responded that although the term qualified as a "swear word," its meaning varied due to context. "Yes, I've actually heard it used as a term of endearment," she declared.

Whether this comment divulges more about Hoffman's sex life than the vast majority of us would like to know remains a mystery. So, too, does CU's inexplicable decision to defend her assertion rather than simply apologize for it. Spokeswoman Michelle Ames found herself in the untenable position of having to tell journalists that Hoffman, a medieval scholar, had been thinking of "The Miller's Tale," a section of The Canterbury Tales, in which author Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, "He made a grab and caught her by the queint" -- the Olde English spelling of what mainstream papers reporting on the bizarre twist consistently called "the C-word." The necessity of defending her nonsensical statement soon took its toll on Hoffman; she broke down crying while meeting with the editorial board of the Durango Herald in the days after the deposition surfaced in mid-June.

At an appearance before the Denver Forum two weeks ago, after announcing that she'll teach at CU-Denver's Graduate School of Public Affairs this fall, Hoffman blamed the gaffe on her participation in "a second day of a deposition on a Saturday morning...where the sole purpose was to get me to say something dumb."

If that was the aim, Hoffman came through for them like another C-word: a champ.

5. December 2004: Failing Upward

As the person charged with overseeing CU's athletic department, Chancellor Byyny had plenty to fear from the grand jury convened by then-attorney general Ken Salazar and charged with examining the university's approach to recruiting. The jury, which wrapped up its work in August 2004, offered only one indictment, fingering Nathan Maxcey, formerly a recruiting assistant with the football team, for soliciting a prostitute on a university cell phone. (Maxcey pleaded guilty in July and was sentenced to a year's probation and 48 hours of community service.) But as the grand jury report's conclusions dribbled out during ensuing months, it became clear that neither Byyny nor athletic director Tharp had received a rousing salute for their leadership qualities. When Tharp resigned on November 22, many people thought that Byyny would soon exit in much the same manner.

Think again. On December 14, CU disclosed that, instead of being punished for his central role in the university's waking nightmare, Byyny had been promoted. Specifically, he was named to head the University of Colorado Hospital's health-policy center, a gig whose $250,000 annual salary was $25,000 higher than the sum he received as chancellor. Evading accountability can be lucrative -- but if Byyny handles his new responsibilities the way he managed the football scandal, he'll be up for malpractice in no time.

6. February 2005: Separation of Churchill and State

With the fallout from the Simpson-Doe lawsuit continuing to generate bad mojo for CU, the last thing the university needed was another scandal -- but that's exactly what it got. In January, various students and instructors at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, began protesting an impending appearance by CU professor Ward Churchill, citing "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens," an essay the longtime prof had written immediately after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The piece found Churchill likening 9/11 victims to "Little Eichmanns" -- a reference to Adolf Eichmann, one of the primary instigators of Nazi Germany's so-called final solution.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts