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Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
CU’s Hoffman on the defensive

Gov. Bill Owens asks leadership for ‘more transparency’

By Leigh E. Rich

Once again, Colorado’s founding fathers may be rolling in their graves.

According to Paul Schauer, the University of Colorado regent for the 6th Congressional District, the Colorado Territorial Legislature passed a bill in 1861 creating the flagship university that opened its doors to students in 1877.

“They understood the value of higher education” even 15 years prior to attaining statehood, Schauer said during Wednesday’s press conference at the Capitol called together by CU President Elizabeth Hoffman.

But the state’s founders probably didn’t envision the series of scandals involving sex, alcohol and money that currently continue to plague their institution of higher education.

In addition to the Senate Education Committee’s unanimous approval Wednesday of House Bill 1041—which would make the financial records of higher ed organizations such as the CU Foundation public under the open records act—this week’s leak of last year’s grand jury report examining alleged misconduct in the school’s football program has forced the negative side of CU to resurface in the media’s spotlight.

But Hoffman, flanked by Schauer and fellow Regents Steve Bosley, Pat Hayes and Michael Carrigan, urged the media to broaden its coverage of the CU system, rather than focus on events that “occurred between 1997 and 2002.”

“Very little that has been revealed in the last few days has not been previously reported,” Hoffman said. “I worry that the current focus is constantly on the past and rarely on what we have done to resolve the problems and move the university forward.”

She then ticked off some of those accomplishments in no uncertain—though not necessarily specific—terms:

“We have taken profound and strong action aimed at reshaping this university forever. We have dramatically reformed the structure of the athletic department, which completely changes the oversight of that department. We have fundamentally changed the way our football recruiting takes place, enhancing accountability for recruits while they are on campus and greatly reducing the possibility of unacceptable behavior. We have initiated major changes in our alcohol awareness policies and educational programs. … We have fully revised our university policies on sexual harassment and sexual assault reporting. … We have made appropriate personnel changes, where necessary.”

In Denver to visit face-to-face with Gov. Bill Owens and legislative leaders about the future of CU, Hoffman abruptly ended her 20-minute press conference when reporters began prodding for details.

“I don’t discuss personnel issues,” the CU president said twice in response to questions about what “appropriate personnel changes” have been made.

“There have been a number of people who are no longer with the university and I think you know who they are” was all Hoffman would say.

As for allegations in the grand jury report that female trainers in the football department were harassed and sexually assaulted within an environment that was conducive to treating women as “second-class citizens,” Hoffman said university leadership has restructured the program and “will reinterview trainers this spring.”

It is “the most radical restructuring of an athletic department in the country,” added Barbara Bintliff, chair of the Boulder Faculty Assembly. Bintliff promised that when the restructuring is complete, “we will have restored intercollegiate athletics back into its proper role.”

And despite efforts by former Attorney General Ken Salazar to make the grand jury’s findings public—efforts that are being carried on by current Attorney General John Suthers, who also met with Owens behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss CU—Hoffman reiterated her support of Denver District Judge Jeff Bayless’ ruling that the report remain sealed.

“The judge has ruled that the (leaked) report was issued in contrast to the law,” Hoffman said.

Bolstering Hoffman’s plea for constructive help from Owens, the state’s legislators and those critical of CU, the university regents present Wednesday also called on their fellow elected officials to highlight the more positive facets of CU.

According to Bosley, the newly elected regent-at-large, a vast majority of Coloradans from the governor on down have “one underlying interest” when it comes to CU: “the well being of this university.”

But that won’t happen, Bosley said, while critics continue to “come onto the battlefield and bayonet the wounded.”

Instead, CU’s successes—such as the Nobel Prize-winning work of Carl Wieman, a physics professor at the Boulder campus, or the completion of the more than two-year process to consolidate the CU-Denver and Health Sciences campuses—need to be on display as well, he added.

“Let’s make (Wieman) as famous as we’ve made another professor,” Bosley said, without mentioning Ward Churchill, the ethnic studies professor currently under fire for his controversial statements about Sept. 11 victims, by name.

CU “has many wonderful stories,” said Carrigan, the newest regent for the 1st CD. “We wish they would get half the attention that others do.”

And to do that, he elaborated, CU needs assistance.

“We ask the governor to help tell some of the positive stories.”

Gov. Owens agreed, though his press statement released Wednesday afternoon implied some criticism of CU leadership.

“Restoring the good name of a great university is job one for all of Colorado’s leaders,” Owens said, but added that such a task “requires more openness, transparency and accountability from the University of Colorado, its administrators and the regents.”

The governor also promised that his “door is open anytime to President Hoffman and the regents when they have specific ideas to restore the public’s trust and confidence in the university.”

But Hoffman didn’t give specifics, at least to reporters, on Wednesday.

For her part, she did say she “regret(s) how difficult the last 13 months have been for the people of Colorado, our lawmakers, the university community, our alumni and friends” and deemed CU’s problems since 1997 “serious issues involving a variety of operational areas inside the university.”

“I personally accept responsibility as the university system’s CEO and understand that I am accountable for making the necessary and sometimes painful changes that need to be made,” she added. “While some of these problems occurred before my tenure and many of the members of our current board, they nevertheless fell on our shoulders for resolution.”

As testament to that, Hoffman touted the “remarkable progress” she believes CU leaders have made in a short period of time, though admitting that “cultural change is slow.”

In the meantime, Hoffman says CU will “continue to weather these tough times.”

Perhaps not without consequences, however.

“I joined the board of regents six weeks ago,” Carrigan said, trying to bring a bit of levity to the packed press room on the offensive, “at which time I had no gray hair.”

Rich, L. E. (2005, March 4). CU’s Hoffman on the defensive: Gov. Bill Owens asks leadership for ‘more transparency.’ The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 5–6.

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