CU postscript: Benson must be resisted and the Regents must be removed

The University of Colorado Regents have issued a statement apparently aimed at people who, like me, have deep reservations about their appointment of a highly partisan global warming denying oil executive who’s less educated than 99% of the college presidents in America and who has a track record of attacking the very foundations of tenure and academic freedom to run the university.

Put another way, a fox has been appointed head chicken.

While the Regents’ letter isn’t quite as objectionable as Bruce Benson’s résumé, it leaves a good deal to be desired. I’d like to walk through the statement and offer some comments on specific pieces of it, if I may.

Although the board’s vote was not unanimous, we do agree that it is important for us to work together to make the president successful.

That’s one theory. Another is that we don’t necessarily want Benson to be successful, if success means doing what he did at Metro State. Instead, we might all be well advised to work tirelessly to make sure he isn’t successful. The sooner he’s gone and replaced by a real university president, the sooner we can set about making CU a better university.

CU and all of Colorado higher education face a funding crisis, and we believe that Bruce Benson will provide the leadership and coalition-building skills to address that crisis. He has demonstrated abilities in that arena.

Nobody questions his ability to raise money. After all, look at his success with his anti-Democratic hit squad, the Trailhead Group. The problem is that we’re being asked to accept a couple of ludicrous assumptions: first, that money is the only thing that matters, and second, that there’s nobody out there capable of being both a strong development officer and a strong academic officer.

There’s a well-established Republican agenda regarding education in this state and everybody who’s been here more than 15 minutes is aware of it if they’re paying attention at all. Occam’s Razor suggests that Benson’s appointment is perfectly in line with that project and that project alone.

Constitutionally, the president is the principal executive officer of the university and the laws of the regents require the president to be the chief academic officer of the university. We believe Mr. Benson can fulfill those duties.

Here is the biggest lie we’ve been told yet. (Well, maybe not – it’s possible that the six GOP regents do believe this to be true, but if so it only demonstrates their unfitness for the positions they held.)

A man with a Bachelor’s degree is by definition not qualified to be chief academic officer of a university. This is why the laws of regents include such a clause in the first place, and once Benson is gone and we have a more enlightened board, the first order of business needs to be amending those laws to specifically require a doctoral degree so that we can avoid future cases of rhetorical hanky-panky.

A BA or BS no more qualifies you for the role of chief academic officer than an undergrad degree in marketing qualifies you to be chief technical officer at Boeing, and the Regents’ willingness to suggest otherwise suggests either that they’re stupid or they think we are.

The Board of Regents recognizes that this decision is unpopular among some important groups. We believe Mr. Benson will reach out to constituents in the first months of his presidency to build bridges and create partnerships, both inside and outside the university. But we all have a role to play in those partnerships, and we trust the university community will pull together to support our new president.

I try to keep an open mind and I’m willing to be proven wrong. But I wouldn’t bet a penny on it. The problem here, though, is that I’m not sure we can afford to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, because every moment we wait is a moment that where Benson’s likely pursuit of the same “reforms” we’ve seen in the past goes unchecked. Given this, I believe active protest should begin today and continue unabated until he is either gone or conclusively proves that he has changed, and dramatically.

Bruce Benson is a known quantity, a man with a proven, unambiguously anti-intellectual track record, and his appointment is not only ill-advised, it’s an insult to the university community and to everyone in the state who believes in the liberating power of a comprehensive education. I call on everyone at the university to pull together to make sure Benson’s impact is limited exclusively to the role of fund-raiser.

Since the apparent operating theory here is that money is everything, I plan on being ready the next time my phone rings – and it always does – during a CU fund drive. When they call, I’m going to say something like this: “Not one red cent until Bruce Benson is gone.” And I’m going to make sure the hapless student making the call writes is down and sends it back up the ladder. I hope my fellow Buff alums will all do the same.

While I have never once in my life voted a straight ticket or encouraged anyone else to, it’s clear that Colorado citizens can no longer trust the Republican Party with the stewardship of its universities. The university is in the predicament we see today because of Republican actions over the past 15 years. Republican vision is the problem, Colorado, and it’s hard to imagine that more Republican vision is the answer.

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  2. No surprise is it? We ought to have a sign at the border.

    Welcome to Colorado…as long as you bring your education from somewhere else

    Isn’t CSU the only Colorado University Hank Brown wasn’t president of? CU ought to be insulted by Benson’s installation, but they wouldn’t be further ahead with Penley – even though Penley does have a PhD. I just can’t decide if it’s the Colorado Legislature, or Colorado’s voters that hate higher education more.

  3. I read somewhere, some time ago (is that nebulous enough?) that Colorado has long imported talent from outside the state to fill its jobs. It seems hard to believe that the state legislature would consider children native to Colorado to be so expendable, doesn’t it?

  4. As a PhD-toting Buff, I’ll take the pledge: not one red cent till he’s gone. (Maybe I could be chief academic officer … Hey, stop laughing. I mean it. Me, the chief scholarly cheese …)