I’m worried about the University of Colorado, the school where I earned my doctorate. Last night, in one of the more controversial moves in some time, the CU Board of Regents elected Bruce Benson to be the university’s new president. The 6-3 vote fell along party lines and marked the first time in nearly 35 years that a president has been approved by a split vote.
The main point in favor of Benson seems to be his reputation as a fund-raiser, and there’s no question that CU needs somebody to bring more money into the system. CU has been hamstrung ever since the early 1990s, when perennial pigfucker Douglas Bruce managed to get Amendment 1 passed. That particular “taxpayer’s bill of rights” (TABOR) has not served the state well, and education in particular has suffered.
TABOR Has Contributed to Declines in Colorado K-12 Education Funding
- Under TABOR, Colorado declined from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income.
- Coloradoâ€™s average per-pupil funding fell by more than $400 relative to the national average.
- Coloradoâ€™s average teacher salary compared to average pay in other occupations declined from 30th to 50th in the nation.
TABOR Has Played a Major Role in the Significant Cuts Made in Higher Education Funding
- Under TABOR, higher education funding per resident student dropped by 31 percent after adjusting for inflation.
- College and university funding as a share of personal income declined from 35th to 48th in the nation.
- Tuitions have risen as a result. In the last four years [2001-2005] system-wide resident tuition increased by 21 percent (adjusting for inflation).
One of the results is that the state isn’t producing enough quality grads to meet the labor demand here.
Despite the number of its public colleges, Colorado does not produce enough graduates of its own to meet the demand from local companies, according to a study released Monday on the impact of public higher education in the state.
The report highlights a trend that companies will have to begin relying more on “importing” educated workers, Clark said.”
The report shows that we have these high incomes and this highly educated workforce but that we’re still near the bottom in the country as far as funding in higher education goes,” he said. “We don’t spend much time growing our own children into the workers that can take advantage of the job opportunities technology is creating.”
“Increased funding equates to more jobs that are better-paying, a more efficient workforce, higher standards of living and other tangible and intangible benefits,” she said.
A well-trained workforce plus the ability to provide specific industry- based training is the top priority for companies seeking to relocate or expand to Colorado, the study says.
So if the contention is that CU needs to get serious about getting more money into the system, you’ll find no argument here. Further, even Benson’s detractors don’t indict his potential as a development official.
The problem is that being a university president is about a lot more than fund-raising, and on any number of other criteria Benson’s appointment is troubling, at best. His candidacy encountered significant and vocal oppositon from students and the faculty assembly opposed hiring him by a vote of 40-4. That the regents would ignore this kind of landslide opposition from its professorate is disturbing, although perhaps not unexpected. Colorado’s regents are elected in a process that’s subject to the worst kinds of anti-intellectual partisan claptrap, and citizens who truly understand and value the role of education in the state have long had reason to dread Republican majorities.
The case against Benson is laid out in spades in a document circulated on February 11 by Dr. Margaret LeCompte of the CU Department of Education and president of the Boulder campus’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors. I encourage you to read the entire indictment, but the following points are especially troubling for me.
- His affiliation with ACTA, an organization dedicated to eroding the status and qualifications of senior academic officers, a move that seems aimed at empowering non-academic administrative entities. Most colleges need more PhD-level authority, not less, and no university of CU’s stature should be in the business of deminishing the power of its intellectual component. He can say he plans on leaving academic decisions to academic officers, but that’s not consistent with ACTA’s history. ACTA is also affiliated with David Horowitz, a reactionary faux-consumer rights shill-for-hire asshat of the first order, and while I try to avoid getting all ad hominem if possible, Horowitz is in a rare class of people (along with folks like George Bush and Dick Cheney); if they’re for it, the rest of us should probably be against it.
- Benson poses a dramatic threat to the contractual rights of tenured faculty. Quoting from LeCompte’s document: “Upon his installation as President of Metropolitan State Universityâ€™s Board of Trustees, he had the Faculty Handbook completely re-written without discussion or consultation with the faculty. (The person rumored to have done the job had previously re-written the management guide for Quizno’s). In the new Faculty Handbook, the RIF (Reduction in Force) policy was changed so that in case of a financial shortfall (not exigency), rank or tenure no longer need be considered in decisions about elimination of teaching positions. He then fired tenured faculty. Metro faculty sued, and the case still is in the courts. What would Benson do to further weaken faculty rights and due process at CU?” Frankly, this is all I’d need for a no vote were I a regent. (I once contemplated running for regent, actually, and if I thought I had a chance of winning it’s something I might well take up again in the future.)
- Benson has never taught, researched or been an administrator and holds only a Bachelor’s degree, placing him among the 1% least educated college presidents in America. He would not be eligible to hold tenure at CU, and this is a very big deal in a university. It undermines his ability to earn the respect of those he must lead, it makes it difficult for him to comprehend the university’s critical research programs, it leaves him unable to contribute meaningfully to discussions about the school’s teaching mission, and it raises a very real question about his ability to respect the achievements of his PhD-level faculty.
- He may be able to build bridges and forge a bipartisan spirit, but there’s nothing in his history to suggest that this is the smart way to bet. He co-founded the Trailhead Group, a 527 that exists pretty much to bash Democrats, with Pete Coors and former governor Bill “Today Colorado is on Fire” Owens (a man who did more in service of the state’s War on Education than anyone since Doug Bruce).
- Oh yeah – he doesn’t believe in global warming. Not that this would have anything to do with his background as an oil executive or that it would in any way impact university research programs in this area (or, for that matter, the state’s increasing profile as a center for research and development of alternative fuels).
I have so many questions I want to ask Benson. Questions like:
- Why should we expect you to be different in the future than you’ve ever been in the past?
- Do you understand why tenure matters?
- Can you describe your vision of academic freedom?
- Do you understand the difference between education and training?
- What intellectuals have most influenced your view of the proper role of the academy in a democratic society?
I’m not optimistic about the presidency of Bruce Benson. I fear the university I love so much has sold itself to the devil. I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t bet a plug nickel on the man.
I have no doubt that he’ll raise money. I just worry what he’ll do with it.