CU Forum

Regents Not Doing Their Job

Regents inexplicably decline to provide an evaluation of the state of the University
at the 10-year mark of Bruce Benson's term as President of the University

Regents fail to document major changes to the University during Benson's term

Regents fail in their responsibility to the University community to provide transparency, accountability, and open community discussion

Regents act like the privately-appointed Board of Directors of a private corporation
rather than as a state-wide body of publicly-elected officials, overseeing
a public institution of higher education

The prime responsibility of the Board of Regents is to select and oversee the performance of the President of the University.

Regent Policy 3.F.2 states "the president shall be subject to a comprehensive evaluation at least once every five years of service. [emphasis added]"

Bruce Benson was appointed President of the University of Colorado in March, 2008.

The University ofiginally offered this statement when asked about Regent plans for a 10-year evaluation of the University:

"Under Regent Policy 3.F.2, "the president shall be subject to a comprehensive evaluation at least once every five years of service." The Board of Regents accepted President Benson's last comprehensive evaluation in July 2014, and we believe that another comprehensive evaluation should be completed by July 2019. Because a comprehensive evaluation is a major undertaking that involves both internal and external constituents, as that deadline approaches the Board of Regents will identify the methodology and timeline for conducting it." [May 7, 2018]

At some point following this statement - privately and without announcement - the Board of Regents decided they were not going to perform another evaluation of President Benson, and not going to say anything about it.

Previously, the Board of Regents had said this about presidential evaluations:

"The Board of Regents takes seriously its obligation to evaluate President Benson's performance and to provide meaningful feedback to him about the Board of Regents' expectations. Consistently with the requirements of both the Open Meetings Law and the Open Records Law, these are personnel matters that we discuss confidentially with President Benson, while providing a public performance rating. We do not plan to change our practices for presidential evaluation, as we believe they are serving the Board of Regents and President Benson well."

(Statement of then-Chair of the Board of Regents, Irene Griego, November 14, 2016, at CU Regents Aloof, Isolated From Constituents, University Community).

The final line of the Regents' statement reads:

"We do not plan to change our practices for presidential evaluation, as we believe they are serving the Board of Regents and President Benson well."

This view of the role of the evaluation as "serving the Board of Regents and President Benson well" - as opposed to serving the University community - is consistent with the view that the University is now run as a private corporate entity and that the Regents function as a Board of Directors of the corporation.

A look at how the Regents conducted the 5-year evaluation of the President, i.e., secretly and in private (see below), offers confirmation of this view.

This view is also consistent with other trends toward making the University a private corporate entity.

In 2006, then-CU President Hank Brown established an off-campus, downtown Denver corporate headquarters for the University.

The offices of the President and other top administrators of CU were moved from on-campus to the new off-campus corporate headquarters.

The Regents now also work out of this building, holding their meetings there rather than in Regent Hall on the Boulder campus.

CU's off-campus, downtown Denver corporate headquarters,
at 1800 Grant St., Denver

But the view of the University as a private corporate entity is not consistent with the facts about the University and the Board of Regents.

The University of Colorado is a public institution of higher education, not a private corporation.

The Board of Regents is a state-wide body of publicly-elected officials, not a privately-appointed group of directors for a private company.

The Board of Regents is charged with overseeing the University according to standards of "excellence," "transparency," "accountability" and "academic culture," - standards which are not applicable to private corporations.

Mission and Guiding Principles of the University of Colorado

President's web page highlights two newspaper editorials on his 10-year performance

What the University has done is post links to two newspaper editorials regarding the 10-year performance of the President to the web page of the Office of the President.

On the web page of the Office of the President, at the bottom of the image, in blue, are links to editorials from the Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette on the President's 10-year performance. The Denver Post is part of the Alden Global Capital hedge fund's conglomerate of newspapers, Digital First Media, and the Colorado Springs Gazette is part of the Clarity Media Group, owned by Philip Anschutz (CU's Anschutz Medical Campus is named in recognition of donations from the Anschutz Foundation).

The editorial from the Denver Post, dated March 9, 2018, and titled 10 years in at CU, Bruce Benson still the right choice begins:

"On March 10, 2008, we joined a bipartisan group of rebels calling for a multimillionaire conservative oilman with but a bachelor's degree to his name to lead the state's flagship institution of higher learning.

Now, as Bruce Benson marks his 10th anniversary as president of the four-campus University of Colorado system, we couldn't be more pleased at such risk-taking. Benson has been an open-minded powerhouse and we hope his accomplishments convince more university boards to look to outsiders as viable leaders, and not always to academics rising through the ranks.   .   .   ."

"10 years in at CU, Bruce Benson still the right choice"

The editorial from the Colorado Springs Gazette, dated March 10, 2018, and titled Ten years of Benson takes CU to pinnacle begins:

"We have an idea for fixing higher education throughout the country, which has largely devolved into an embarrassing mess of declining enrollments, activism, and left-wing indoctrination disguised as academic instruction.

It is simple. Clone University of Colorado President Bruce Benson and install him as president at each of the country's 4,726 colleges and universities. The predicted outcome: financial stability, growing enrollments and endowments, increasing cultural and ethnic diversity, a move toward academic freedom and ideological balance, better placement of graduates, lower defaults on student loans, and more.  .   .   ."

"Ten years of Benson takes CU to pinnacle"

Regents' previous evaluation of the University at 5-year mark of Bruce Benson's term as CU President

A look back at how the Regents conducted the 5-year evaluation of President Benson's term offers a perspective on how the Regents view their responsibility to the University community for evaluating the President.

The conduct of the 5-year evaluation was delayed for over a year, the evaluation process was kept secret, the resulting report was treated as private information until a lawsuit was filed by a Forum reporter against the University seeking release of the document, and the report was finally revealed to be substantially incomplete, ignoring significant University issues.

A Delayed Evaluation

President Benson completed five years in office in March of 2013.

Yet no notice of the 5-year evaluation was given until June 27, 2014, at the regular meeting of the Board of Regents, when Board secretary Patrick O'Rourke announced the completion of the 5-year evaluation of CU President Bruce Benson:

"Report: 2. Summary of President Bruce D. Benson's 5-year Comprehensive Evaluation

O'Rourke said the University of Colorado completed a five-year comprehensive performance evaluation of its president, Bruce D. Benson, for the period 2008-13. The comprehensive evaluation is separate from the annual evaluation. The comprehensive evaluation is in accordance with regent laws and policies. Because of the broad scope of the evaluation, the board engaged an outside firm specializing in human resources consulting within institutions of higher education, Pepper Consulting Group, to receive and compile the confidential input and prepare the report. Seventy-one respondents representing all CU stakeholder groups provided input to the comprehensive evaluation of Benson. [Board Chair Michael] Carrigan noted that the overall assessment provided by the respondents is overwhelming favorable."

Regent Meeting Minutes June 2014 (page 7)

A Secret Evaluation

However, not mentioned in the announcement was the fact that the evaluation was conducted in secret:

- there was no public announcement of the start of the evaluation;

- the evaluation was announced publicly only when it was completed;

- there was no opportunity for public participation in the evaluation in the sense of self-selected public individuals volunteering their assessments of the state of the University, or the President's performance, outside of the private participant-selection process implemented for the evaluation;

- there were no open meetings or town hall meetings or other public forums held in connection with the evaluation process in which members of the public or the university community could discuss this matter, or voice their views directly to the Regents, or other members of the CU community;

- only the announcement of the completion of the evaluation and a summary of the evaluation were made public: no information beyond the announcement and the summary were released to the public.

A Private Evaluation

Although the work of the president is to implement policies and procedures for the University, a public institution, the specifics of what the president had done over a five year period were deemed a "personnel" matter by the University, and therefore not public information.

The University released a short summary of the evaluation but refused to release the complete report.

The University denied a Colorado Open Records Act request by a Forum reporter to release the complete original report of the evaluation.

It is unclear why the University would regard the actions of the President of the University as private "personnel" information regarding the President and Regents only, and not as public information regarding the policies and programs of the University.

A Forum reporter then brought suit against the University in Denver District Court (Case Number 16CV295) and obtained the complete evaluation document in a settlement with the University.

Here is the complete text of the 5-year report:

Comprehensive Evaluation of Bruce D. Benson, President, University of Colorado,
for the period 2008-2013

An Incomplete Evaluation

There were many important University issues not addressed in the evaluation.

A prime example of an issue not addressed in the report are the low graduation rates for the University of Colorado.

- CU Boulder is no longer a '4-year college.'

- Less than 50% of incoming freshmen graduate from CU Boulder in four years.
The implications for students and parents of CU Boulder no longer being a 4-year college are very significant, yet there is no mention or discussion of this issue in the evaluation.

There are no financial statements included in the evaluation to indicate the direction and current status of the University's financial condition, a central responsibility of the President. The finance section of the evaluation (Key Successes, 3. Finance, Comprehensive Evaluation p. 7, overall document p. 14) is based largely on anecdotal information, not on systematic or comprehensive analysis.

The President also controls a large President's Initiative Fund, and apparently also makes private donations to the university for specific purposes. There is no information in the evaluation regarding any of these financial transactions.

The actions of a publicly-appointed head of a public institution in making personal and secret financial contributions to the institution raises substantive questions of institutional integrity, transparency and accountability - questions not addressed by the Regents.

The lack of attention in the evaluation to these core matters of presidential responsibility renders the actions of the Chief Executive Officer of the University in large part unaccountable to the Board of Regents.

The Regents did not respond to a request for comments on this article.

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