President Bruce Benson’s stewardship of the state’s flagship university system has stalled, and neither he nor his massive administration is articulating a clear vision or mission for CU.
The university system has strayed from its role as the state’s preeminent university and increasingly resembles a profit-seeking enterprise.
From the beginning, Benson was an unlikely president of the University of Colorado. In the 1990s, he ran for governor and lost, and as the University’s president he has behaved more like a politician than a higher education leader.
And as a politician, he routinely appoints his cronies — rather than higher education leaders recruited nationally — to chancellor and other top positions in the university, denying faculty and students (and the state itself) the benefit of national-level leadership.
For example, Benson sidestepped the search committee process to install one of his cronies as chancellor at CU Denver.
His wife Marcy tails him at campus meetings, where he presents her as the “first lady of the University of Colorado,” a position that does not really exist and that demeans female faculty, staff and students.
Fewer tenure-track CU faculty are focusing their research on Colorado’s unique social or economic problems. Instead, many faculty across the University’s four campuses study the problems of developing countries — or to use the au courant term, the “Global South.”
There’s a strategic reason that many CU faculty prefer to study other countries’ problems and ignore those here in Colorado, and it has to do with tenure and academic evaluation. Faculty know evaluation committees are much less likely to deny tenure or give poor research evaluations to researchers conducting research on developing countries.
This is because tenure committee members and deans fear being accused of racism — the cardinal sin of higher education — if they negatively judge research on developing countries, or research on racial or ethnic minorities, especially those in Latin America, Africa and Asia, regardless of the actual quality of the research.
Therefore, faculty seeking an easy ticket to tenure and promotion simply need to focus their research on a country such as Mali, for example. It’s a proven strategy: conduct research on race, ethnicity or a developing country, and a faculty member is all but guaranteed tenure. Political correctness will prevent any evaluator from questioning the quality of one’s research.
The University of Colorado therefore focuses more research on the problems of Africa and Latin America than it does, for instance, on places like the Western Slope, the Eastern Plains, or the Front Range Urban Corridor.
Benson’s tenure has seen the University of Colorado transition from a state university system to a corporate enterprise. Now advertising is a central function of the university, something we’re reminded of with every train trip to the airport.
Instead of developing and improving unique research specialties, public universities in Colorado, especially CU, focus resources, such as advertising, on attracting or luring away students from other public universities in the state.
We are witnessing an increasing corporatizing of CU. It is competing with other Colorado colleges and universities for the same pool of customers — the students — essentially engaging in rent seeking instead of fulfilling the role of a university dedicated to improving the lives of Colorado residents.
The number of middle managers — vice chancellors — at CU has skyrocketed. There is a vice chancellor for every conceivable function, each with support staff.
The University’s Board of Regents has been complicit in CU’s decline, merely rubber stamping tuition increases and bureaucratic policy revisions.
It’s time for change at CU.
The University of Colorado is not living up to its mission, chiefly due to tired, incompetent leadership. The university has great potential, but the time for new leadership has come.