Criteria for the University of Colorado’s
Next President and the Future of CU

With the selection of Mark Kennedy as the new President of the University of Colorado, it’s an ideal time to take stock of where CU and Higher Education are in Colorado. Kennedy, at the request of the governing Board of Regents, already has begun the process of developing a strategic plan for CU.

As a former member of Princeton University’s governing Board of Trustees and as an alumnus of both Princeton and Harvard University, I have seen what the nation’s top educational institutions can achieve and how they did it.  I am convinced the University of Colorado can be an even greater institution than it is today, especially if it is led by the right person.

Looking ahead, what are the challenges CU faces and what kind of leader will the institution need for the next decade if it wants to excel at preparing students and meetings the needs of Colorado and the nation?  Here are a few examples of some possibilities for the Board of Regents to consider when working with CU’s new President.

To hear my discussion of these and other issues on “The Rick Lewis Show” on 103.5 FM The Fox, go to bit.ly/YCollege. 

Photo Credit: University of Colorado (CUBuffs.com)

THE HEART OF THE INSTITUTION:  THE FACULTY  

The heart of any educational institution is its Faculty.  CU has an extraordinary group of instructors and researchers — many of whom have raised the bar related to research, scholarship, and instruction.— winning many national and international honors with CU’s four campuses impressively securing over $1 billion in research contracts in a single year.  Relatively few Coloradans recognize the magnitude of this truly extraordinary achievement — one whose size and impacts have been poorly communicated across the state.

CU has over 7,000 faculty members across its four campuses — split evenly between (a) tenured and tenure-track faculty members and (b) full-time, albeit non-tenure track instructors.  To reach the heights of academic scholarship, CU must aggressively seek talent from around the world.  It also needs to reinforce hiring criteria to place a greater emphasis on the teaching ability of new hires.  

Many universities have accepted a dichotomy between great scholars and great teachers while others have rejected that bifurcated approach.  CU has the attributes which allow it to seek great scholars who also are great teachers.  It often is these exceptional individuals who have the greatest impact on the lives of students and institutions.

CU’s Strategic, Targeted, Accelerated Recruitment program should be expanded significantly so the University can be more competitive.  This often means hiring or finding relevant employment for a target’s spouse or partner as an enticement to come to CU.  Given how Boulder, Colorado Springs, and the Denver metro area offer so many great opportunities as well as are wonderful places to live, CU has attractive conditions for dual-employment opportunities many universities don’t have.

 

WHY THE COST OF INSTRUCTION INCREASES FASTER THAN INFLATION

Almost every institution of Higher Education faces tremendous financial pressures from the costs of instruction for a number of reasons.  First, instruction is labor-intensive and the competition for the best faculty members means paying six-figure salaries to those who may teach only one course a semester.  

In addition, the cost of facilities and equipment in many fields has skyrocketed (especially in scientific and engineering arenas) — as has the cost of simply constructing or even maintaining academic buildings (including scientific laboratories which require equipment, mechanisms, and facilities which can add tens of millions of dollars to a single structure).  The result is these costs almost inevitably exceed the annual rate of inflation — often by 100% or more. 

TENURE TRACKS & TEMPORARY FACULTY MEMBERS

Many institutions have tried to address this challenge by hiring temporary faculty who are not allowed to get on a tenure track — the traditional path which almost guarantees a lifetime appointment.  Getting tenure often is the pinnacle of academia for a faculty member due to the academic independence and long-term financial security it can offer.

A tenure track gives junior faculty members an opportunity to prove — via excellence in scholarship, instruction, community involvement, and other contributing factors — they should be given permanent positions at the University.  These positions are highly desired because they assure tenured members of the best working conditions, opportunities for research, and salaries and benefits, often for decades.

Instead, CU and many other universities have opted to reduce expenses by hiring instructors on a short-term basis.  These low-cost faculty members may be instructors, adjunct professors, and similar positions who may receive a fraction of what a full (i.e., tenured) professor earns.  At CU, the number of non-tenured faculty members greatly exceeds the number of tenured faculty.

Many of these instructors are forced to view CU as a minor stop in their efforts to acquire a more stable position at another educational institution.  They know, when they arrive at CU, they will not be there very long — e.g., sometimes as short as one or two semesters.

While many of these instructors do a fabulous job — and simply could not qualify for a tenure track — they often do not have the ties or commitments to the University which are ideal for creating the community CU seeks to achieve because they have to spend so much of their time searching and positioning themselves for their next job.  And, due to their low salaries, they often must have other jobs just to survive financially.

A non-tenured instructor, however, may be a great teacher.  CU should refocus its hiring on a targeted division of (a) those exceptional persons who are great scholars and great teachers, (b) those persons who are great scholars or brilliant researchers, and (c) staff members who are exceptional teachers but are not focused on scholarship.

ADDRESSING SPECIFIC NEEDS FOR FACULTY MEMBERS

The University also needs to do more to provide subsidized housing to its wide range of faculty members, especially given the seemingly nonstop increases in Boulder County housing costs as well as the expense of living elsewhere in the Denver metro area.  Even Colorado Springs housing, while more reasonably priced, still is out of the financial reach of most instructors.  

A major initiative on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars is needed to provide adequate faculty housing (especially for junior faculty members) but the good news is any investment in real estate — from purchasing houses and apartments to construction on University-owned properties of new apartments and houses — is likely to appreciate in value.  Such an effort also would reduce criticism of the University’s impact on neighboring communities.

Having more members of the faculty live in the Boulder area helps foster a closer bond between faculty members and the community.  It also means faculty members are likely to be more invested in the University and more accessible to students so efforts should be expanded to assist as many faculty members as possible.

Expansion of other benefits, such as daycare and medical benefits will keep CU competitive in the marketplace as it seeks the best scholars and instructors in the nation.

CHALLENGES PRESENTED BY VARIATIONS IN TEACHING QUALITY

One area which requires substantial improvement is the process CU uses for student assessment of teaching quality.  The current system uses a numerical averaging format which results in what appear to be nominal differences between “good” and “bad” teachers.  The system actually shows statistically significant variances but, to the untrained eye, they appear too similar or marginal, at best.

The University should switch to a Faculty Instructional Rating System for students to use which parallels its own grading for students by using a simple, easy-to-understand “A” to “F” format along with the option to include comments.  This would better serve both students and faculty as well as the University as it evaluates its instructional cadre.

The University immediately needs to begin a comprehensive review of the teaching quality of its staff and weed out those who do a poor job.  While CU has some great teachers, the variation in the quality of its instruction is unacceptable.  

CU’s fantastic faculty members do an amazing job of motivating and inspiring students.  They have a lifelong impact on their protégés which can last decades from just the exposure of a single class.  In one case, a faculty member was so impressive and impactful in the class experience she created and the extraordinarily high level of instruction she offered that one student switched majors simply to be in her department.  CU should be proud to have faculty members such as this but needs many more.

ILLUSTRATIONS OF HOW INSTRUCTIONAL QUALITY CAN BE IMPROVED

At the same time we praise the faculty, the University needs to be far more cognizant of the damage inferior instruction can create.  A poor instructor can demotivate students, can convince students to abandon a field, and can create a negative experience which reflects poorly on the institution — permanently damaging the relationship between students (who become alumni) and the University.

While poor instructors are in the minority at CU, their impact on students can be great because they are negatively impacting large numbers of students.  This is why it it vital for the University to take action immediately.

For example, one professor at the University told her students “Everything I say is important” — indicating an abysmal failure to understand her job was to encourage critical thinking.  By arrogantly saying everything she said was of equal value, there was no opportunity to critique or prioritize the concepts she presented to her class.

Another professor, a department chair, told her class, “I want you to remember for the rest of your life what I teach you in this class.”  Again, this is the opposite of the University’s professed goal of teaching critical thinking.  Far too much of CU faculty instruction is based on memorization and long-outdated rote practices.

One professor who required students to view a film then included a test question which asked them what other film — which they had not seen — was obliquely referenced in the film-ending credits of the movie they were required to watch.  Not only was the question nominally qualified for the CU Trivia Bowl of yore, but it was a wasted opportunity to use that question to ask students about something relevant which would demonstrate their analysis of the actual film or some other element actually related to critical thinking.

This faculty member was more intent on using a “trick question” to see who had watched the film in its entirety rather than focusing on a question related to important content.  Too often instructors take the easy way out and create tests and exams which focus on trivia — which, while easier to grade, degrade the educational process and the benefits of a course.  This misguided emphasis also sends the wrong message to students about what information truly is important.

Another tenured faculty member suffers from multiple memory lapses but continues to teach — repeating in its entirety a lecture from Friday on the next Monday without realizing it.  The same professor forgot to post the question students were supposed to answer for an essay and did not do it until the Saturday prior to the paper’s Monday due date.  This failure to recognize the variation in learning styles and writing speeds among students was indefensible as was the fact she thought she had posted the assignment prompt long ago.

This professor repeatedly mixed up days of the week, went over a lecture about material that could be useful in the last paper the same day it was due, and seemed to grade randomly at times.  While she certainly had other great teaching abilities, the fact the University was not aware of her significant problems or their impact on her students was inexcusable.  Either this faculty member needed an assistant who could keep her on track or she needed to no longer be in the classroom.

Yet another example of a tenured faculty member who taught a music course and required his students to memorize 62 songs for a test which ultimately included only a dozen of the 62.  He also required his students to memorize how various artists died — and tested them on these allegedly important facts.  Again, while the information may have been of interest, none of these approaches met a nominal test for critical thinking and none of them belong in a Higher Education exam, especially given the limited number of questions most tests or exams have.

In other cases, instructors who tell their entire classes that the average test score was a 75 out of 100 and that was “good,” need to have someone explain, “No, 75% on a test is not a good score and it certainly is not a ‘good’ average for an entire class.”  Perhaps those instructors realized the low score for the entire class may have been, in part, a reflection on them but such assurances are unfounded and self-serving, at best.

And yet another example of the undermining of Academic Integrity by faculty members occurred in a course team taught by a Professor and a non-tenured Instructor.  One was a tenured Professor and the other was an Instructor.  The teachers gave the class of approximately 70 students an exam and the results were very positive.  Instead of being pleased with the outcome, the pair was displeased the class’s test average was so high.

What followed next was difficult to believe in any context.  The two faculty members ordered the course’s Teaching Assistant to take 20 of the 70 exams and “re-grade” them downward so the class average would be lowered.  This gross violation of several academic principles was astounding.

First, to re-grade a test when there was no factual or academic basis was inexcusable.  Second, even if there were some kind of justification for the re-grading, it should have been done for all 70 students — not just 20.  Third, the way this was executed not only resulted in two or more different sets of standards being applied to the same test but also was even more unfair because the Teaching Assistant did not even randomly select which tests were to be re-graded. 

The result was some students who did well and received an “A” on their exam later found they received a “C.”  Even more stunning was the fact there wasn’t even an effort to hide the original grading so students could see, on some of the exams, what their original scores were for each question and to what those numbers were downgraded.  

Perhaps what was most disturbing was, when this was generically discussed with other faculty members outside of the two relevant departments, they did not see anything wrong with what had been done.

Again, these examples are the exception — not the rule — at CU and similar problems can be found at most other institutions.  But this does not mean CU shouldn’t take these challenges seriously.  And the University continues to have much to lose by not correcting these deficiencies.

WHY FEEDBACK IS SUCH A VITAL PART OF THE EDUCATIONAL PROCESS

During the semester, many faculty members give their students little or no feedback on their work; rather, they simply issue a grade.  At the end of the semester, many faculty members upload final grades to the University site immediately without allowing students to see them first.  They even will upload a final grade without informing their students what their final exam grades are.

While some faculty members inform their students of their final paper and/or final exam grades as well as give them feedback explaining the basis for the grade, most faculty members fail to do this.  Often the timing of the end of classes and the time grades are finalized is very short — and everyone is eager to start their break.

This is a lazy and bad practice the University needs to reevaluate for a number of reasons.  First, by failing to give feedback on papers and final exams — i.e., explaining the basis for scores and grades — the University is sending the terrible message that the only factor which matters is a student’s grade.

The vast majority of faculty members are missing an opportunity to have their students learn what they need to do to improve their work.  By having an Academic Calendar which makes feedback difficult for both faculty and students, the University is failing one of its most important responsibilities to its students — i.e., helping them understand how they can improve.

Certainly, if you get a 75% on a test or a “C” on a paper, you know you need to improve but that is difficult if the reasons for your low score or grade are never explained to you.  Just as unfair is the current dominant process which gives students little opportunity to identify grading mistakes which might have been made as well as to appeal such mistakes.  It’s tough to appeal something you don’t know or for which the facts have been kept from you.

In another instance, one academic department requires its majors to take a course which intentionally only uses long-outdated technology which not only constantly breaks down but has almost never again been used in the field for well over a decade.  Even more challenging is the reality that the technology generally is unavailable.  

While the department’s goals are laudable — i.e., (1) to create a better understanding of the historical development of tools in the field, (2) to gain an appreciation for the artistic and creative processes involved at different points in time, (3) to teach students about the history of the development of the field, and (4) to heighten the appreciation for the wonders of today’s extraordinary technology — dedicating a full semester to outdated and unused technology is a gross misplacement of priorities.  The reality is all of these are lessons could be learned in one or two weeks within another course.

What the faculty and department leadership fail to recognize is the Opportunity Cost which overwhelmingly outweighs the net benefits of requiring an entire course centered on an outmoded technology which is expensive to support and which constantly breaks down.  To dedicate one of the relatively few required courses to such a subject when students could be learning about truly relevant topics and gain contemporary skills in their field indicates poor decision-making by the department’s faculty and a lack of oversight by the University.

THE USE OF GRADUATE STUDENTS

Another issue is the use of graduate students in the classroom.  As discussed previously, many universities commonly use this form of cheap labor by requiring graduate students to assist with instruction as part of their acceptance of admission and the benefits they receive.  This means a significant number of poorly qualified and even unqualified people are in the classroom.  And some of them are quite unenthusiastic about being what they see as “Forced Labor.”  Many of them make it clear they have little or no desire to be there.

This isn’t to say most graduate assistants don’t do a good job.  Many do well in the classroom and even perform exceptionally.  And the fact they are closer in age to undergraduates than faculty members often creates better opportunities for communication.  Nevertheless, in terms of improving the quality of instruction and the experience students have at CU, a review of the University’s practices in this arena is a must.

The use of graduate students, however, does not mitigate the fact CU’s Student-Teacher Ratio is significantly worse than the national average (almost 40% worse with an 18-to-1 ratio compared to a national average of 14-to-1).  The University needs to embark on an ambitious effort to decrease the ratio so class sizes are reduced and faculty members can spend more time with students.

The good news is CU has a higher percentage of full-time faculty members than the national average and, on a percentage basis, does not “overuse” graduate students compared to other institutions.  But is it clear more full-time faculty members are needed, despite the cost.

Making life better for graduate and professional students should be a key goal of the University because this will positively impact how they see their roles at CU.  The University needs to do a better job addressing their needs by seeing what else it can do in terms of providing more and better subsidized housing, more extensive day care, transportation support, superb health care and medical coverage, and better financial compensation for the work they do.  The graduate experience can vary greatly, especially for those students tied to a specific faculty member.  And there often is a tremendous financial gap between someone in a science lab versus a humanities department.  That gap is even greater for those in humanities versus those in professional schools.

As someone who began examining how teaching can be done most successfully when he was a 14 year-old consultant to the Ford Foundation Teacher Training program at the University of Chicago, I have been aware of the enormous differences in the quality of instruction from my days in elementary school through those in graduate school.  I know CU can do much better.

CLASSROOM TECHNOLOGY & ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE 

There is no question CU has many opportunities to deploy more and better technology in all aspects of its operations to improve its functioning, create better classroom and out-of-classroom experiences, and streamline administrative functions.

The average level of expertise on the part of CU’s faculty and staff when it comes to using technology is unacceptable.  Many faculty members and instructors are incapable of deploying technology to their own and their students’ greatest advantage.  The University immediately needs to create an initiative to bring all of its teachers up-to-speed so their instructional efforts take advantage of what the world has to offer today — not a decade ago.

It should not be acceptable for instructors to constantly fumble with presentations, fail to find critical documents, not timely respond to emails, take days or weeks to return assignments and tests processed by machines in minutes, or have classrooms where the technology fails them repeatedly despite their being knowledgeable and well-prepared.

Similarly, many administrative offices function with technology that is out-of-date or inefficient.  And some administrative staff members, similar to faculty members, need to be better trained to use the technology available to them.

With advances in a number of technological fields — including Artificial Intelligence — there are extraordinary opportunities in methods of instruction, learning, administration, and management of all aspects of the University.  CU needs to do a better job of planning and implementing strategies which take advantage of these advances.  Fortunately, for the most part, it already has the talent in-house to do this.  The deployment of this talent should be expanded immediately to make the University a leader in how technology is used in Higher Education.

CU already has “hybrid” courses which combine in-class instruction with online work.  There often is confusion about these, however, and the University needs to do a better job establishing standards for such courses.  For example, one course misleadingly stated it met “Monday through Thursday” during the term but actually had an instructor who met the class on its first day and then told the students they would be on their own for almost the entire course until they were next scheduled to meet only two more times at the end of the course because everything actually was online.

There also are rapid developments in the world of MOOCs — Massive Open Online Courses — which present a range of challenges to institutions of Higher Education.  The extent to which CU embraces MOOCs and how it uses its resources in the world of MOOCs are constantly evolving decisions.  How the University can use MOOCs to advance its agenda, provide learning opportunities, and promote the image and reputation of the academy all are strategic issues which CU needs to further debate and then exploit.

For example, CU Boulder is located in a community with what probably is the greatest concentration of Climate scientists in the world (detailed, below).  If it created a MOOC such as “Climate Science Today & The Future of the Planet,” it could provide an extraordinary service to the world while showcasing how special the University is.  

Such a course likely would attract tens of thousands of new students who would learn about issues critical to their future — especially for young people who will be the ones experiencing the impacts of Climate Change — and who would see the University as the global center for what many of them believe is the most important issue of their generation.  Unlike most institutions, CU has all the assets in place to do this on an extraordinary scale today.

Because the advances in on-line learning present special opportunities and challenges for institutions of Higher Education, a new President who understands, at a deep level, the opportunities technology offers is a must for CU today.

THE PRIME CUSTOMERS:  UNDERGRADUATE AND GRADUATE STUDENTS

The University exists, in greatest part, to serve its students — undergraduates, graduate students, life-long learning students, and those who audit classes or are there for occasional instruction.  Students are the “customers” of the University and need to be treated accordingly.  

CU’s “customers” need to be given a higher priority and more respect.  The reality is students come and go in a matter of several years and are constantly replaced while faculty and staff often are part of the University for years — even decades.  This creates an understandable warping of perspectives for those who see students as transitory members of the community.

Changing this attitude is important not only for the future of each attendee at CU but also for the development of an alumni community which, in turn, will give back to CU and will support the University as volunteers, financial donors, engaged citizens, leaders, and voters.  At CU, there needs to be an immediate change in the institution’s culture so the experience of students is made as positive as possible.

Whether it be (1) ending constant and frustrating logistical failures in daily elements such as University-provided campus transportation, (2) tolerating inferior classroom instruction, (3) imposing too many rules that have little or no value, (3) forcing students to incur numerous and sometimes avoidable expenses, (4) unintentionally creating unnecessary barriers to positive educational experiences, (5) requiring nonsensical academic work with little or no value,  or (6) providing erroneous academic advising, the University often fails to remedy — or even recognize — deficient situations quickly enough.  

FOR UNDERGRADUATES, IT ALL STARTS WITH ACADEMIC ADVISING

In regard to academic advising, CU has a great team of advisors.  As a rule, their knowledge of the requirements, rules, and regulations is impressive and vast.  Yet there simply are too many incidents when an advisor has not given a student accurate information.  This can result in a student finding out he or she needs to take additional courses in order to qualify for graduation — hence, incurring additional expense and forfeiting the opportunity to take more valuable courses.  There needs to be higher quality and greater uniformity in CU’s academic advising.

A related issue the University needs to more closely examine is the age-old concept of imposing distribution requirements on students.  While these adhere to the philosophy of a “Liberal Education” by exposing students to fields and topics they otherwise would ignore, it probably makes more sense to further reduce or even eliminate these requirements so students can focus more on their major and other areas of interest, especially given their limited time at the academy and the costs they incur.  Just as “in loco parentis” has fallen by the wayside, the overly paternalistic attitude of the University when it comes to course selection needs to be abandoned.

Many institutions have realized that “forcing” students to take certain courses has little or no value.  Studies definitively show when students are forced to take courses, they learn very little and retain even less.  In the past, this paternalistic approach had more success but it just doesn’t work anymore.  

CU needs to do a better job analyzing the tradeoff between (1) requiring students to take certain courses and (2) the reality a majority of students taking forced courses simply go through the motions necessary to complete the requirement, do not gain a real appreciation for the subject matter, remember little of what was taught, and resent being forced to take a course in which they have no interested and which took the place of a course in which they had great interest.

One solution, however, could be to create a required survey course for all incoming students.  This course could address several major life-impacting issues in two- or three-week segments.  The relative brevity of the time spent on each topic could make them more palatable.  This also would give the University great flexibility in swapping out certain topics each year for more relevant ones.

For example, in a 12-week course, if five topics were selected, they could be ones critically important to the youth of today while simultaneously addressing one or two major societal needs.  A sample line-up for each short period might be 

(1) Climate Change — because young people today will be impacted far more than those of us who are parents (and CU probably has more in-house and locally available expertise on this and related topics than any other university on the planet); 

(2) The Federal Budget — because young people can see the priorities set for the country and also will  be the most impacted by growing annual Federal Deficits and the gargantuan National Debt which will extraordinarily burden them and their children; 

(3) Civics — so students will be given the rudimentary elements of what it means to be a citizen of the United States (i.e., regardless of whether or not they are) and what those responsibilities are, especially in terms of political engagement opportunities, founding documents (the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, et al); 

(4) Threats of War — examining the potential for Nuclear War and other conflicts, especially given the proliferation of nuclear weapons across the planets and the reality that students and their families could be greatly impacted, especially given that a majority of them are of the age most likely to be called for service — voluntarily or involuntarily; 

(5) Violence in America — an examination of why there seemingly is so much violence in our country (although the actual numbers are down, in many respects), what some solutions might be, how we treat each other, and standards when it comes to respecting women and minorities; and,

(6) The Concept of Critical Thinking — examining how students should view their opportunities at CU and the best ways to engage in debate and discussion as well as what their expectations of CU’s Faculty should be.

One idea could be to ask incoming students to vote on what topics they want to see included in the required survey course.  This could take place shortly after admission.  The students could take the responsibility for selecting one even two of the topics.  It would give matriculating students “ownership” of the course and reverse the traditional academic approach by having students be the ones to impose requirements upon themselves.  This also would be a way to keep the course fresh, attractive, and relevant.   

The advantage CU has is the expertise already is on hand to create the survey course and, at times, to make topical changes on relatively short notice.  The capacity of the CU Faculty is extraordinary and its members would rise to the challenge — resulting in a valuable course which informs and inspires students while accomplishing multiple goals for students. The University, and Society.

THE CHRONOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES IN PERSPECTIVES

By not being cognizant that a student’s long term perspective of CU often is made during his or her first year, the University can permanently “lose” thousands of them with little likelihood of recovery. Understandably, faculty and staff, on the other hand, more often take a longer view.  As a result, they may see fixes taking several year periods as quite acceptable — i.e., joining administrators in failing to see how thousands of students then become alienated in those interim periods.

It’s easier to be patient if your career at CU is measured in decades.  For students, change cannot come quickly enough.  While many needed changes will take years and, therefore, current students will not see or benefit from them, other changes can be made quickly.  And, at the minimum, the University could do a better job explaining to students the changes it will be making, the time required for those changes, and how the institution is working hard to address student needs and concerns over the long term.  Just knowing and understanding this can be a positive experience for students even if they won’t be on campus to benefit from the improvements.

TECHNOLOGY AND ACCOUNTING

The University also needs to improve its technology systems to make them more efficient.  One example is the opportunity to consolidate its billing practices and stop sending students and parents bills with numerous, small charges which once were part of a consolidated billing statement.  Do we really need to see $7 and $10 charges when a statement totals thousands of dollars?  Rather than claiming “transparency,” the reality is these are expenses which once were included in tuition but now are separated out to give the University the ability to claim tuition isn’t going up as much as it actually is.

CU should simplify its accounting system and just tell students what the total is to the greatest extent possible.  By unintentionally appearing to be overly detailed, the University unwittingly looks like it is “nickel & diming” its customers.  It also is reminding many students they are paying for services they don’t use.  This only contributes to creating a poor student (and parent) experience which ultimately contradicts the long-term interests of the University.

THE LUDICROUS COST OF TEXTBOOKS

The University also needs to take a much stronger lead in the effort to reduce textbook costs and move much faster towards electronic, open access versions as soon as possible.  Many students are required to purchase textbooks which individually cost $100 or more.  Many of these textbooks are used sparingly and sometimes barely at all.  At best, these books can be resold at the end of a semester for only a fraction of their original cost.  

Academic authors and publishers across the nation resist the change which is necessary due to the billions of dollars they reap annually from forced textbook sales — nationally averaging $1,200 per school year for each student.  Students also often are required to buy the latest editions of textbook which, in some cases, have only minor variations from previous, less expensive editions.  This, too, is part of the financial gaming of students and parents.

Many CU faculty members not only are aware of this problem but do everything they can to minimize the additional cost of taking their courses.  They are thoughtful about what texts they require, they give students options to view materials online without having to purchase them, and they even print copies of their own material and that of others which can be accessed legitimately so as to ensure the costs to students are minimized.  But these individual efforts of faculty members, which should be applauded, simply are not enough.

The University could lead the state by aggressively seeking legislation in Colorado similar to that passed in California, which would fund comprehensive Open Access materials for students from kindergarten through graduate school as well as seek to coordinate efforts with other states by sharing publications and, perhaps, even creating them (i.e., original textbooks and classroom materials) via collaborative projects in specific fields.

CU also could lead an effort to encourage and financially reward scholars who write textbooks (typically an arduous and multiyear process for the author) to support the Open Source revolution in a call to do what’s best for students, parents, the state, and the nation.

Most importantly, CU needs to do a better job understanding and designing the undergraduate and graduate student experiences so a greater number of alumni succeed in their chosen fields — whether as scientists, artists, teachers, other professionals, or parents.  In this manner, alumni in any field or endeavor will be more likely to be lifelong participants in the greater CU community and will want to reciprocate in any way they can.

Many institutions, which are cognizant of the importance and value of their post-graduate community, do a far better job cultivating this sense of community while students are on campus as well as after they have been graduated.  CU can and should do better because it’s a win/win/win/win/win for students, the University, faculty & staff, future generations of students, and Colorado.

Given the reality that Higher Education institutions are relying more and more on private financial support, this approach can only be beneficial to CU but it needs to be done in a sincere and authentic manner. 

THE CHALLENGES & BENEFITS OF DIVERSITY  

CU has done an admirable job being proactive in its efforts to diversify its student body but much more needs to be and can be done.  The University has made an ongoing effort to go into a wide range of communities to encourage high school students to apply for admission.

Because many of the elite institutions — which can easily cost $75,000 annually — are able to offer 100% scholarships to the best students academically who also are financially disadvantaged, CU and other public colleges and universities often actually are at a competitive disadvantage for this elite group.  That is, although CU’s published tuition and costs almost always are lower than those for elite private institutions, the net cost for an exceptional student who qualifies for a scholarship at an elite school actually can be far less than the cost of attending CU or any other public institution.

But CU — with all of its academic and extracurricular assets on four extraordinary campuses — can compete with any college or university on the planet.  The amazing beauty of its Boulder campus, the incredible opportunities at its Anschutz campus, the convenience and cosmopolitan nature of its Denver campus, and the close-knit community and excellence of its Colorado Springs campus (one of my mentors, Dr. Larry Silverman, was that campus’ first Chancellor) give students across the nation and around the world an array of options which can attract the best and the brightest.

CU needs to expand its outreach efforts so it has a truly significant presence in every Colorado secondary school (i.e., middle and high schools).  While working with the approximately 1,000 public and private secondary schools in our state seems daunting, a strategic program involving faculty, staff, students, and alumni could (a) help excite students — starting in middle schools — about the opportunity to attend college and (b) inspire those students in specific fields which, in turn, could heighten their interest in post-secondary education.

Professional sports do this by having “farm clubs” (e.g., minor leagues for baseball as well as colleges and universities for football, basketball, and other sports) so CU could do the same academically by recognizing the need to start its inspirational efforts with students in middle school.  By significantly expanding its current efforts — possibly in conjunction with Colorado’s other institutions of Higher Education —CU could reach and impact far more prospective students.

The University always has done well competing for international students and needs to expand those efforts as well.  International students bring a wide range of diversity benefits to the school and positively impact all students in a world where progress and competition are both global in nature.

Historically, international students also pay the full rate of tuition and, therefore, to a certain extent subsidize Coloradans who attend CU.  So, from a financial perspective, the University benefits greatly by having more international students.  

Unfortunately, the current Administration of President Donald Trump has created and promulgated policies which have made American colleges and universities both less attractive and less accessible to international students.  This has been particularly detrimental to institutions who have made special efforts to recruit international students.

For the United States, it can be a huge advantage — as well as a significant financial benefit to the nation’s Balance of Trade — to provide educational services to international attendees.  These undergraduate and graduate students often represent the “best and brightest” other countries have to offer.  To have them be educated in America and learn firsthand about our country as well as to make potentially lifelong friends offers our nation extraordinary long-term benefits.

In the presence of international students, every CU faculty and staff member, as well as every student, becomes an ambassador for our country.  There is no better way to improve understanding than for people from all over the world to get to know and be part of the University of Colorado family.

International students have both similar and different needs than their U.S. colleagues so the University needs to be sensitive to this and respond accordingly.  CU has done a superb job of this to date and already is aware how it can further improve.  This needs to be a higher priority, especially in the context of the current political negativity and barriers related to these educational opportunities.

By ensuring the experiences international students have are as exceptional as what should be the expectations for American students, CU can benefit greatly as well as provide a significant service to the nation.

EXPENSES & COSTS IN A TIGHT-MONEY ERA 

The cost of a college education today is beyond the reach of far too many families.  In addition, many graduates continue to have trouble finding employment in their fields of study or expertise.  And, even if they do, the burden of student loans often makes their degree a bad proposition financially.

A relatively new phenomenon in Higher Education is the reality that the assumption getting a degree was the only path to career success — especially financially — is now seriously being called into question.  Cost-benefit analyses demonstrate that degrees in certain fields have little value and, in many cases, their costs cannot be justified by the expected earnings in those fields.

At the same time, looking to a future in which creative thinking, writing and other communication abilities, and specialized knowledge all will be needed to succeed, it seems most likely having a college degree will be more important than ever for the majority of careers.

CU’s tuition and other cost increases have significantly exceeded the rate of inflation, especially when numerous mandatory “fees” are included in any numerical analysis.  Though the annual cost of attending the University remains half or even a third of many private institutions, as an institution meant to serve the citizens of the state of Colorado, CU needs to more seriously develop ways to slow down rate increases, reduce loan burdens, increase financial aid, and cut its own costs, wherever and whenever possible.  It needs a new leader brave enough to do all of these.

Simultaneously with these efforts, the University needs to provide better guidance to its students so a greater percentage finish their degrees in four years, rather than five or more (or not at all).  With less than half of its students currently graduating within four years of matriculation, CU could save its students millions of dollars by improving its advising systems and doing more to guide students from the day they accept admission.  There also is a need to far more quickly identify and actually assist students in need of academic support — an area in which the level of the University’s proactivity is too low.

Financially, CU students can benefit from the Colorado Opportunity Fund and the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship as well as Pell grants and other available scholarships but the University needs to be far more hands-on assisting applicants and students in taking advantage of the financial aid opportunities which are available.  A better organized effort to inform and assist every student eligible for various forms of aid — starting with the high school senior year application process — could bring millions of dollars more to the University and reduce the debt burden for students and their families.

Outstanding student loan debt now exceeds $1½ trillion dollars nationally — a total greater than Americans’ auto loan debt ($1¼ trillion) or credit card debt (over $1 trillion).  This debt can severely impact a graduate’s life in terms of limiting career and other major life choices because it forces graduates to select careers which make the most money which, in turn, may not always be most beneficial to the individual or to Society.  It also can affect a student’s decision to stay in school or even attend in the first place because the daunting financial obligations can sway someone from pursuing a course which, ultimately, would have been best for him or her.

CU needs to immediately undertake an effort to find creative ways to reduce student loan debt.  These could include more and better-paying student work opportunities, debt arrangements with repayment based on future income, University-funded loans and loan guarantees, and fundraising to replace loans with scholarships.  Some elite institutions have substituted additional scholarship funding in place of all loan obligations so students, upon being graduated, leave their schools without any debt.  CU could seek endowment funds to initiate and expand such an effort.

CU also should far more aggressively support — in conjunction with its Higher Education brethren — expansion of opportunities for loan forgiveness in exchange for graduates working in critical fields and locations where the state’s needs are the greatest (e.g., teaching or providing medical care in rural Colorado).

A phenomenon the University could support — with one caveat — is the expanding popularity of students attending lower-cost community colleges for two years and then transferring to CU.  Colorado’s exceptional community college system is able to provide instruction at a fraction of the cost of the state’s major universities.  Students who complete core courses at a community college and then complete their education at the University receive the same degree as those students who attend CU for all four years.

If this approach were taken on a large scale, CU’s instructional emphasis could shift to more higher level courses because so many basic courses would have been completed at participating community colleges. 

The one caveat goes back to the concept of creating an even more loyal and involved alumni body.  It’s reasonable to assume a student with a great four-year experience at a university is almost always going to have a stronger bond with that institution than if he or she attended that institution for just two years.  

The challenge is for the University to design a special program for its transfer students that compensates, to the greatest degree possible, for the loss of time on campus.  It could include outreach efforts by CU while students are in community colleges so they are involved in various ways with the University from Day One.  This needs to be done on a significant level so it actually has the desired impact of creating a high degree of appreciation and loyalty which carries past students’ graduation.

THE CONSTANT CALL FOR EFFICIENCY IN ADMINISTRATION

When it comes to efficiency and cost-cutting, the public’s universal refrain always is to reduce the cost of the University’s Administration.  This is easier said than done although President Benson and previous President Hank Brown both undertook serious efforts to consolidate operations and reduce unnecessary staffing.

CU has a team of highly experienced, knowledgeable, and effective administrators on all four of its campuses.  Few members of the public know or appreciate the complexity of operating multi-billion dollar organizations with such a wide array of diverse and often conflicting stakeholders.  CU administrators are charged with making certain thousands of daily functions occur and that every department meets the expectations of the University and seemingly innumerable regulatory entities — all while keeping the primary mission of the academy at the forefront.  It’s not an easy task.

One of the challenges Higher Education institutions face is the growing volume of regulatory demands imposed on them by various state & federal laws and agencies.  With each new regulation or expectation, the institution must either identify existing staffing to address the requirements or hire additional personnel to meet the need.

Most research grants impose administrative requirements but also contribute towards the cost of meeting those requirements.  They even may add a small increment of funding which helps cover the University’s other expenses.

As the institution’s legal obligations also evolve and expand — such as in the arena of sexual assault and harassment (where CU has fallen down too many times and needs leadership to better address these issues) — the University also finds it must add staff to address those new obligations.  And, in some cases, for an institution which wants to stay ahead of these phenomena, it is strategic and valuable to staff up early.

HOW CAN CU FIND MORE ADMINISTRATIVE EFFICIENCIES?

Despite the aforementioned challenges, the University of Colorado still has room to improve its administrative efficiency.  In some cases, positions exist based on outdated requirements.  Other positions could be combined to reduce headcount.  Attrition could be strategically deployed to reduce administrative positions.  Cross-training could make employees more valuable and provide for gradual staffing reductions.  And, given advancements in Artificial Intelligence, AI could be used to make administrators more efficient and effective by consolidating both offices and the responsibilities of certain individuals.

One of the challenges of a large institution is that, as positions are added over decades, it is very difficult to currently determine which ones are no longer needed, in part or in full.  An initiative by the new President could reveal opportunities for staff reductions and generate substantial savings.  While many positions do “good things,” the University needs to begin applying a test using a higher standard — i.e., asking “Does this absolutely have to be done?” rather than “Is this a good thing to do?”  Even if the task is a positive one, it may be time to eliminate it as other priorities have become more important.

The bottomline is there is tremendous inertia when it comes to administrative positions — including many at the highest levels — in any institution which is one and a half centuries old.  By using his or her lack of the extensive personal relationships (which presidents develop over the years and which can result in friendships and professional relationships getting in the way of doing what’s best for the University), a new President, without those concerns, has the one-time opportunity to actually reduce the size and related costs of the University’s Administration.

The University also could examine how it responds to external demands and seek ways to streamline and even limit its responses — e.g., doing the minimum, at times, so as to reduce administrative costs while still meeting any regulatory obligations.  This could be a strategic approach to redundant and even unreasonable regulation to which the University is subjected.

In addition, it is time for CU to band together with other institutions of Higher Education and push back against external impositions which have little or no value.  These, too, may include requirements from previous eras which simply are less germane or not even relevant at all today.

Even if a regulation is well-intended, CU and its sister organizations may have opportunities to demonstrate that the cost of compliance exceeds the value of the requirement.  This creates a separate set of opportunities to modify and even eliminate what now may be superfluous regulations.  The new President could lead such an effort which would benefit hundreds and even thousands of institutions — freeing resources which could be directed to faculty, staff, and students.

An initiative expanding on the cost-cutting and efficiency leadership of Presidents Bruce Benson and Hank Brown likely could have the potential to save the University millions of dollars while simultaneously changing CU’s culture so greater administrative efficiency becomes imbued in daily operations.  The new President has this singular opportunity.

At the same time, the University must be careful where, how, and when it make changes.  And, in some cases, it’s clear CU needs to do more or, at least, do a better job managing its operations.

For example, the University-run bus system on the Boulder campus often leaves students, faculty, and staff stranded when there are not enough seats available at certain times.  And, at other times, there are multiple empty buses running routes together.  One would think that, by now, CU would have figured out how to optimize the transportation services it provides.  There are hundreds of undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty members who could aid staff members to get this done.  It’s about time.

Another example is the University’s failure to provide adequate parking for its faculty, staff, and students.  This seems to be a function of CU’s rapid growth, especially on the Boulder campus.  There are numerous signs the University has planned poorly for that growth and continues to welcome additional students without the operational improvements needed to make certain all aspects of the University run smoothly.

In the case of parking, CU’s Parking Services changed the way it allows spaces to be reserved just a matter of days before the system went online.  University community members did not get any advance notice of the changes; rather, they had to constantly log onto the system on a daily basis for multiple weeks if they wanted to know what was happening.

Rather than simplify the system and allow customers to keep the spaces they had — thus reducing the volume of activity for the annual sign-up process — the University makes everyone start all over every year.  This makes relatively little sense.

Even worse, a number of customers who logged onto the system were kicked off due to the Website not being robust enough to maintain traffic in an orderly manner.  These people then lost their priority position and, in some cases, forfeited their already assigned spot (and possibly ended up not getting a spot at all).

This kind of confusion is indicative of what happens when you add people and do not make adequate provisions for them.  It also does not speak well of a planning process which appears to be very last-minute in nature.

There likely are hundreds of suggestions students, faculty, staff members, alumni, and community members can make.  It’s time CU broaden its communication avenues to solicit this help.  The University has nothing to lose by doing this and could reap great benefits on all four of its campuses. 

With an Ombudsman who would report key suggestions to the community and track the University’s response, everyone would be empowered to improve the institution.  Because this represents a wonderful “win/win/win/win” opportunity for all concerned, it should be done immediately.

THE FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING

In Higher Education today, many institutions place a greater priority on its top leader’s ability to fundraise more than anything else.  With the aforementioned decline in public (taxpayer) financial support and the pressure of costs increasing at a greater rate than inflation, it is incumbent upon university presidents to effectively lead their institutions’ fundraising campaigns.

In CU’s case, under Bruce Benson, the transfer of responsibilities from the autonomous CU Foundation directly to the University wisely provided for the direct supervision and coordination of all fundraising activities.  And the University’s fundraising efforts have achieved contribution records in recent years.

But CU needs to be more thoughtful and strategic in the development of relationships with existing and prospective donors.  One example of poor decision-making is the practice of immediately soliciting parents whose offspring have just started school as freshmen.  Many of these matriculates’ parents already are writing tuition and other expense checks to the University, are getting or guaranteeing loans (and, in some cases, beginning to pay them), and are faced with other new costs related to their students’ enrollment.

Rather than immediately asking for money, the University should be cultivating these new prospects for the long-term by inviting them to free events in their communities, providing personal contact, having them come to the campus as guests of the school, and providing them with more information about CU.  These can be great opportunities to create and nurture long-term relationships which influence both students and parents in ways that can pay off in the decades ahead.  However, by hitting up parents right away, the University can appear insensitive and avaricious. 

With an endowment of $1 billion (compared to the nation’s largest university endowment of $40 billion at Harvard), CU should undertake a major, multi-year capital campaign on the order of $5 billion with a focus on endowing student aid so the University remains accessible in the decades ahead.  The earnings on these funds also could address critical mission needs for which funding has yet to be found.

DEVELOPING CREATIVE SOLUTIONS TO LONG-TERM FUNDING NEEDS

One of the areas in which President Benson did not succeed was achieving a permanent solution to the funding crisis.  As a long term, well-respected leader in the Oil & Gas Industry, Benson was the ideal person in the entire state to broker a deal in which the ad valorem tax credit — which reduced the effective rate of Colorado’s severance tax to less than 2% for some energy companies (compared to rates of up to 11% for neighboring states) — could have been modified to return the rate to the state’s severance tax official 5% level.  

That, alone, would have provided the permanent funding boost all of Colorado’s institutions of Higher Education needed by adding approximately $250 million annually (enough to bond $7½ billion in construction costs for the campuses of Colorado colleges).  Its potential attraction to the Energy Industry was that their leaders already have a sophisticated understanding of the need to support Higher Education, especially as they already are watching their own relatively mature labor force age into retirement without adequately-educated replacements.  Benson, alone, as a highly respected Energy Industry insider, may have been — and still may be — the only person in the entire state who could effectively make this case.  Maybe he can be coaxed out of retirement to help make this happen?

With 450,000 alumni, CU has the opportunity to reach for the financial stars in its effort to further its independence and long-term financial viability.  Only a superb new President will be able to lead such an effort.  With adequate resources, the University could become the best public institution of Higher Education in the nation.

Starting with this extraordinary base of alumni, CU’s next President needs to lead the formation of a comprehensive and cohesive coalition incorporating all Colorado’s colleges and universities in an effort to develop new funding mechanisms to stop the decline of public support for Higher Education and to secure the resources needed for every Colorado institution to achieve excellence in its own goals.  While academic coalitions exist today as do state agencies supporting Higher Education, there are a number of options for such a new initiative which are specifically focused on amassing the significant political capital needed for the tasks at hand.

This consortium also offers a powerful opportunity to partner with the Colorado General Assembly and Governor, Jared Polis (a long-time supporter and leader in educational fields) to increase state funding for Higher Education by targeting specific programs such as (a) deploying Higher Education faculty and staff in secondary schools for short stints to assist teachers and inspire students, (b) expanding teacher training for K-12 positions across the state, and (c) financially supporting teachers, doctors, dentists, and other select professionals who work in rural areas which urgently need them (e.g., possibly assisted in the form of scholarships and expanded loan forgiveness programs).

For example, today, CU’s Medical School graduates less than 200 doctors every year.  By gradually but aggressively expanding this number by just 25 a year for ten years (and doing the same with nurse practitioners), with the open slots exclusively made available to those willing to serve rural communities, the University could partner with the state to place doctors in Colorado counties desperately in need of health care professionals.  

The reality is that, while adding only 25 students annually at each school sounds like a small number, it actually presents surprisingly significant faculty recruitment, facilities, and other financial challenges.  However, the need is there and the resources likely could be found.  Post-graduation, private sector funding (including from insurance companies) and federal funding could also be deployed to address salary, equipment, and facility needs in the communities with the greatest needs.  This would result in the provision of high quality health and medical care to rural communities and simultaneously reduce the cost of medical care for all Coloradans.

At the Capitol, CU could solidify its leadership by making certain the requests it makes as a member of any consortium are no greater, at least on a per capita basis, than its academic colleagues so Colorado’s other Higher Education institutions would view the consortium led by CU as an enterprise the University sincerely believes needs to engender success for everyone.

The members of the University’s leadership and their educational colleagues need to do a better job of “making the case” for the value to the state and to every family of the education, services, and other benefits these institutions provide Coloradans.  This means blanketing Colorado with an information campaign which is relevant to all citizens — with Higher Education leaders and CU’s new President at the forefront.

It also means avoiding mistakes, such as the $2½ million expenditure for sponsorship of RTD’s “A” train to DIA.  Any objective analysis of this forces one to conclude this was and remains an unmitigated disaster.  To have made this expenditure before the train even functioned properly was a mistake which could have easily been avoided.  More importantly, there were many other options for the $2½ million which would have had a great impact for the University.

Of course, given the recent payoff to fired football coach Mike MacIntyre of $10½ million and the $15 million contract given to new coach Mel Tucker, the University needs to do a better job negotiating contracts and explaining the rationale for each one — including how funding for these positions may not be as easily transferred to other priorities as many would hope.

Issues which need to be addressed by CU not only include the financial analyses of collegiate sports but health issues such as the reality that the University undoubtedly is contributing to the likelihood many of its football players will get Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in the future.

As someone who has helped raise money for the University, starting long ago as a member of the Macky Auditorium (Renovation) Campaign Cabinet (where my mentors included Co-Chairs Walt Koelbel and Tom Moon), I was able to see the extraordinary leadership CU and its alumni could provide when faced with a significant financial challenge.  And I saw firsthand what an institution could do — and how to do it effectively — when I helped one of my own alma maters with fundraising at the multi-billion dollar level.  In every instance, the role of the institution’s President was paramount.  CU needs to be certain its next leader can fulfill that role.

SUCCESS AND ADVANCES IN RESEARCH & INNOVATION

CU has done a great job developing pathways to monetize inventions, patents, and other advancements so the University benefits from the support it gives faculty, staff, and graduate students.  This effort has been expanded recently and it now is time, with a new President’s leadership, to move to the next phase.

In this phase, the University could further integrate the technical talents of those in various fields creating innovative solutions, products, patents, et cetera, with the talent of those in fields such as organizational development, finance, marketing, sales, and distribution.  Industry leaders such as MIT (which has given birth to over 32,000 companies yielding over $2 trillion in revenues) or Stanford (over 40,000 companies created which produced $3 trillion in revenues) have demonstrated the financial and employment potential a university’s intellectual property can generate.  CU’s efforts have yielded only a tiny fraction of these numbers to date but that shouldn’t stop the University from setting high expectations.

CU’s single-year achievement of securing over $1 billion in research grants places it in the stratosphere of the competitive world of government and private funding.  This success should be celebrated and expanded.

CU has strong technical and administrative leadership in the research arena and definitely has the potential to increase, by an order of magnitude, the fungible revenues it receives from intellectual property developed at the University as well as via partnerships with businesses.  Such a goal could help provide a key portion of the long-term funding the University needs for financial stability.

THE PUBLIC ROLE OF A NEW PRESIDENT

Today, the need for leadership in the political arena is greater than ever.  CU and every major institution of Higher Education in Colorado have seen public financial support for colleges and universities decline precipitously.  Colorado is 50th in per-student financial support out of 50 states when it comes to public funding of its institutions of Higher Education.  On an inflation-adjusted basis, in the last full-decade analysis (2000 to 2010), the state’s financial support for Higher Education in Colorado plunged over 50%.

In addition, as referenced earlier, public support for Higher Education is weakened by controversies over the value of a college degree — with many arguing a degree no longer has the financial value which had been assumed in the past.  And debate related to political concerns about Free Speech and what some see as the tilted political orientation on many campuses also has damaged the public’s level of support for Higher Education.

CU needs leadership which can and will aggressively make the case regarding (a) CU’s economic and non-economic contributions to the state, (b) the demands for and values of a college-educated citizenry and job force, (c) the fact CU encourages critical thinking and does not restrict Free Speech, (d) how the University has made efforts to diversify presentations regarding a wide range of political thought and philosophy, and (e) how the University does not discriminate politically in its hiring and, instead, always has and continues to base its employment decisions on pedagogical and scholarship criteria.

For example, while CU has received tremendous publicity — and created extensive discussion and debate — related to its efforts to bring conservative thought leaders on campus, the next President will need to address issues such as the academy’s responsibility to Society in terms of educating students about Government, Citizenship, Civics, and how their country’s democracy works — as well as what each student’s responsibilities are as citizens of the United States of America (for those students who qualify).  In an era where civility has vanished and democracy is under attack by foreign powers, CU’s responsibility to educate its students has become more important than ever.

Similarly, issues directly impacting the lives of students, such as Climate Change, will force the University to decide how much each student should know about specific topics.  With local, regional, national, and global impacts already occurring, will CU want its alumni to look back and say, “Why didn’t we learn about and address these issues when we were in school?”  This may be especially poignant given the fact CU’s Boulder campus is part of the nation’s Climate Change research world.  

Having the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s major national satellite facilities, the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Cooperative Institute for Research In Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the Extreme Ice Survey, other related Department of Commerce agencies and additional scientific entities and projects located in Boulder — with many being part of or directly affiliated with CU — offers a singular educational opportunity.  How CU manages this as young people watch their world change could be one of its most impactful decisions.

Another example, in terms of telling “CU’s Story” to the public is the reality that only a relatively small percentage of Coloradans are aware of the extraordinary and leading edge services available to all Coloradans at the Anschutz Medical Campus (go to www.HarberTV.com/Anschutz to see a special program describing that campus) or the benefits all of us receive from myriad research projects which have been completed and are ongoing there.

CU alumni across the state and nation are outstanding in every imaginable field — and need to be both heralded and asked to play more prominent public roles.  Asking more of alumni — including to serve as role models and mentors — is an opportunity which benefits all concerned.  Additionally, it provides opportunities to increase access and support at all of CU’s campuses.

THE DESPERATE NEED FOR BOLD LEADERSHIP

Having been involved in Higher Education for several decades in different facets and levels, I again cannot overstress the importance great leadership by one person can have for any institution — especially one which strives to be truly exceptional.

I have been involved in various academic leadership selection processes and, as a journalist, have done television programs with presidents while they served as leaders of elite institutions such as Brown (Christina Paxson), Chicago (Robert Zimmer), Denver (Rebecca Chopp), Princeton (Harold Shapiro, Shirley Tilghman), Stanford (John Hennessy), Vassar (Betsy Bradley), and Wellesley (Paula Johnson), among others.  Each of these presidents, however different from each other, had an impressive set of leadership qualities.  They all rose to the occasion as they faced difficult challenges.  CU needs and can have such a leader today.

Most importantly, what I consistently have seen firsthand is the amazing influence just one person can have at an institution such as CU.  With almost 70,000 students system-wide, almost 10,000 people teaching in various capacities, and a total of approximately 35,000 employees, the University of Colorado is a gem for our state.  It and we deserve exceptional leadership.  

The time right now for CU’s new President and Board of Regents to provide the bold leadership the University and all Higher Education institutions in Colorado need to meet the demands of the future.  This is the charge which has been given to the University of Colorado as the State’s flagship educational institution.  Let’s hope the nine members of CU’s governing Board and their new President fulfill their most important responsibilities with great success.  Go Buffs!

Aaron Harber is the host of “The Aaron Harber Show,” seen in Colorado on Channel 3 KCDO-TV.  
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