Seven Things Regents Should Look for in the Next University of Colorado President

Bruce Benson is stepping down as CU President in 2019.
Bruce Benson is stepping down as CU President in 2019. YouTube

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click to enlarge The Tivoli Student Union on CU Denver's Auraria campus. - EMMANOPROBLEMA.COM
The Tivoli Student Union on CU Denver's Auraria campus.
3. Support All Campuses Equally
Historically, there’s been a focus on CU Boulder as the main player in the CU system. While Boulder is still arguably the flagship institution of the four, the years when it was in a class of its own are effectively gone. The other campuses have more than made up the distance: UCCS isn’t just the smaller Colorado Springs version of Boulder. Anschutz has come to attract not just major research dollars, but also national attention from prospective students. And CU Denver has boomed right along with its namesake city: Far from the commuter campus it was just a decade ago, in 2018 freshman enrollment is way up, the school is building its first proprietary campus dorm and instituting a new Greek system, and the average age of the student body has dropped from the upper 20s to 22. In short, there’s a lot more to CU than Boulder.

4. Be Competitive With Other National Institutions
Attracting students to come to Colorado for their higher education can’t begin and end with CU Boulder being occasionally named the “Best Party School” in the country. The system has to be marketed — all four campuses, mind you — across the country and around the world. And it’s not just students: Marijuana and mountains can't make up for a woeful lack of benefits to draw top national teaching talent, either. Salaries might be semi-commensurate, if on the low side, but it's the benefits where CU pales in national comparison. Most universities, for example, offer free tuition to the families of employees, which is a major perk for those faculty with near-college-age kids. CU offers only a handful of free credits per year, and they’re only good at the campus where the parent teaches. Not the best incentive when you’re also paying one of the highest national housing costs (at least in Boulder and Denver) at the same time.

click to enlarge CU Boulder's beloved Ralphie. - KEN LUND AT FLICKR
CU Boulder's beloved Ralphie.
Ken Lund at Flickr
5. Prioritize PERA
Most of the people who work at the university have PERA as their retirement, which means that they're putting all their eggs into that singular basket. They don't pay into Social Security, which means if PERA goes belly-up, they end up with nothing. PERA isn't the responsibility of the university, but the university has to commit to working together with the state to help secure it in the future. In this, the CU president has the opportunity to be not just the hero of the employees of the system he or she serves, but also the hero of every employee of the State of Colorado. It’s a big job, and someone has to do it.

6. Advocate for State Funding Increases
State funding for higher education has taken big hits in the past couple of decades. The scourge of TABOR is a huge factor in this (something that Benson was admittedly on the right side of, back when he was one of the major sponsors of Referendums C&D, which allowed the state to keep some of its surplus money in 2005), and with the newly elected Democratic state legislature, maybe something can be done to stop the stupidity of a state refusing to acknowledge its responsibility for paying for itself not just right now, but in the future, too. The new university president needs to make increased revenue by way of state funding one of his or her top priorities.

7. Embrace the Apolitical
Benson was a problematic figurehead for the university from the jump because he'd affiliated himself so strongly with the Republican side of Colorado politics. He financed Trailhead Group LLC, which in turn paid for attack ads against Democratic challengers; he raised millions in the state for the George W. Bush campaign; and he was a GOP player extraordinaire. Granted, he claimed to renounce partisanship upon his nomination, cancelling some scheduled red-state appearances. And to some degree, he lived up to that promise during his tenure (his notable pride on the inclusion of conservative speakers on campus notwithstanding). But given the political status of Colorado, which has gone purple (and verges now on the decidedly azure) since the early 2000s, the CU system deserves a leader who isn’t red or blue: The new prez should be black and gold all the way.
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