More Messages: The Anderson File

Former University of Colorado-Boulder professor Adrienne Anderson says she wants the case of her 2005 dismissal from the school to be heard in "the court of public opinion." But thus far, a significant number of local media outlets have shown little interest in her story, despite the legitimate news value of several fresh developments.

Anderson has a reputation for being difficult -- which explains why a March 2005 Message column about her was headlined "The Pain." Still, CU's February 2005 decision not to reappoint her as an enviornmental-studies instructor after eleven years with the university was troubling. After all, the move took place in the wake of complaints about the muckraking activities in which she and her students engaged from a pair of powerful state officials: Doug Benevento, the onetime executive director of Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment, and Rick O'Donnell, a Republican congressional candidate who formerly served as the Colorado Commission on Higher Education's top dog.

For more than a year, Anderson has been fighting for reinstatement, and in March, her appeal was heard by a panel of CU's privilege and tenure committee, whose members unanimously supported her position. However, Phil DiStefano, CU's interim chancellor at the time, rejected the panel's recommendation.

This information was dispensed at a September 19 press conference staged by CU's chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The organization also called for an investigation of CU over its handling of the Anderson matter. But these developments garnered little media attention. According to Anderson, no TV or radio stations tackled the subject. Moreover, newspaper coverage was far from sweeping, and unsurprisingly, Anderson has problems with much of it.

Anderson gives a thumbs-up to the lengthy opus turned out by Silver & Gold Record, an internal CU publication. However, size alone wasn't enough to turn her head. The Colorado Daily published a sizable article, but Anderson grumbles that "they omitted the fact that the AAUP called for an investigation of CU" and didn't give her a chance to respond to DiStefano's claim that she hadn't filed her original grievance within sixty days of learning she wouldn't be reappointed, as required by school policy; she says she asked for and received a sixty-day extension after breaking her leg. She's even less happy with the Denver Post's much smaller offering, which left out more details. As for the Rocky Mountain News and the Boulder Daily Camera, they ignored the event entirely.

Given that the Rocky celebrated in its editorial pages when Anderson was sacked, its disinterest in the press conference is no surprise. The Camera's decision seems harder to explain -- but not to Anderson. She believes that the Scripps papers -- and the Post by association -- have essentially turned against her because of her revelations in regard to a mid-'90s settlement involving cleanup at the Lowry Landfill. The Denver dailies were listed as de minimis, or small, parties to the pact, which is outlined in this 2001 Westword feature. "Records show that the Scripps newspaper conglomerate is in on the dirty deals to try and undermine my rights," Anderson asserts, "and their bias, omissions, disortions, defamation and reporting, or lack of reporting, reflect that."

Whether that's true or not, CU's decision to ignore its own panel's recommendation about Anderson, and a national organization's call for an investigation of a school currently at well-publicized war with another prof, Ward Churchill, deserved more ink than it got.

But as it is, the topic hasn't received a wide hearing in the court of public opinion. And unless Anderson takes things to another kind of court, that may not change. -- Michael Roberts

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