CU-Boulder faculty oversight proposal stymied

The University of Colorado Boulder campus. Image from the University of Colorado website.

A primary race will determine whether the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents gets another CU employee with an intractable conflict of interest.

The Democratic primary for a regent to represent Congressional District 2 (Boulder, Fort Collins, and portions west) gives voters a choice among Callie Rennison, Dave Gross and Aaron Harber. The primary will determine the final outcome, as the Second District is solidly Democratic.

Although most Coloradans cannot vote in CD 2, all should care about this race.

Rennison is a faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs specializing in “victimology.” Gross works as a faculty member at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

For an array of obvious reasons, CU employees should not serve on the board that governs them. It is the essence of a conflict of interest.

Confronted with that concern, Rennison told The Boulder Daily Camera the issue is “imaginary.”

“If there’s a chance there could be a conflict of interest, I recuse myself,” Rennison said, as quoted by the Camera.

That’s why no one should vote for her. To keep that promise, she would recuse herself in all matters. So would Gross.

“The board is charged constitutionally with the general supervision of the university and the exclusive control and direction of all funds of and appropriations to the university, unless otherwise provided by law,” explains the Board of Regents’ website.

“Exclusive control of all funds.” “General Supervision.” That means every decision a regent makes directly affects the university’s faculty and all other employees.

None of those employees can make supervisory and fiscal decisions objectively in a manner that balances the interests of taxpayers, students, their parents, and those drawing paychecks funded by the aforementioned. They are too close to it. They would be superhuman to avoid voting the interests of themselves and their colleagues.

Gross has shared his intention to impose his personal interests if elected. He promises “I’ll use my finance experience to defend CU from budget cuts from Mark Kennedy.”

That’s a preposterous pledge. No one is more against budget cuts than Kennedy, the president of CU. Last year Kennedy courageously countered his employer — the Board of Regents — by supporting Proposition CC. The ballot measure would have eliminated taxpayer refunds guaranteed by Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to fund CU and other institutions of higher education.

Recent budget cuts were forced on CU, like other state-funded entities, by the pandemic recession. If Gross magically finds a way to carry out his promise — for the benefit of himself and his colleagues — he will ensure that CU lives in a fantasy bubble at the expense of everything and everyone else.

Maybe Gross would protect CU at the expense of Medicaid, K-12 education, or parks, wildlife, and public health. One thing is clear: Gross will put his employer’s interest above the welfare of people outside the ivy walls who pay for it all. Even most District 2 residents don’t have cushy tenured faculty jobs.

Harber is independent of the university, yet no one has to question his commitment to higher education. A graduate of Princeton and Harvard, Harber served for years on the governing board of Princeton. Unlike the CU employees seeking election, he has experience supervising and managing the finances of a major university. The other two have none.

A primary race centered on Boulder becomes a contest of who can be the most liberal. On that account, Harber has credentials difficult to beat. Among them, his war against conservative grand poobah Rush Limbaugh. Harber founded and hosted a radio show called “After the Rush.” It so annoyed Limbaugh that he sued Harber for $20 million, for using his name, eventually dropping the case. Harber changed the name to “Against the Rush” to make clear his opposition to the conservative’s views.

The nine-member Board of Regents contains two CU employees who consistently vote to fulfill their personal interests and those of their colleagues. It should not be allowed, and Colorado needs to look at tweaking the law to prevent this going forward. In the meantime, voters in District 2 should avoid giving us a third self-serving conflict of interest during a time of widespread economic distress.

The Gazette Editorial Board

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