We would be remiss if we failed to note yesterday’s announcement that University of Colorado President Bruce Benson, a former Republican candidate for governor and top-tier GOP financier/kingmaker for many years, will retire at the end of the 2018-19 academic year. Denver7 reports:
Benson, 80, has served as president of the university system since March 2008. A CU graduate himself, Benson’s tenure as president was the longest at the university in decades. He is the former chairman of the state Republican party and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1994…
In a statement Wednesday, Benson said he made the announcement this week so the board of regents can have enough time to find his successor.
“It has been my honor and privilege to serve as president of the University of Colorado for the past decade,” Benson said in a statement.
In the statement, he said the university has a “bright future” ahead of it and praised the CU system’s four campuses, students, alumni, employees and his wife, Marcy. He also touted the system’s contributions to the state economy and health care systems, and its work with state lawmakers to pass higher education changes.
Appointed under Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter on a party-line vote of the Board of Regents, Benson earned credit from lawmakers and administration of the state’s flagship university for stabilizing the school’s shaky finances–a considerable feat of both philanthropy and statecraft given Colorado’s notoriously stingy budgeting that frequently left higher education to fend for itself over the past two decades.
In terms of the university’s reputation for academic leadership, however, that has suffered considerably under Benson’s political agenda to impose greater “ideological diversity” on campus. Benson and the conservative members of the CU Board of Regents have made “conservative affirmative action” a central plank in their agenda, and the results haven’t been pretty–from the “visiting scholar in conservative thought” who insulted LGBTQ people and to the PR debacle of a Republican presidential debate in October 2016 before a mostly empty stadium while protests raged outside. And today, the conservative majority on the Board of Regents remains as focused as ever on this highly questionable objective:
During their annual summer retreat in Tabernash, several of the Republican regents gave impassioned speeches about the need to prioritize encouraging diversity of political thought and measuring how each campus does so. Some said increased support for conservative perspective programs was a critical issue that would also help the university raise money.
As much as the shiny new buildings on the University of Colorado’s four campuses, Benson’s political quest to shoehorn more “conservative thought” into the academic programs of the university is a major and controversial part of Benson’s legacy. If you believe, as Benson and the GOP majority on the Board of Regents does, that conservatives need affirmative action to be better represented among university faculty, you’ll love what he’s done. If you believe that scholarship should not be tainted by political trends at all, in either direction, ever, you’re in agreement with the overwhelming majority of actual scholars–as opposed to politician university presidents of elected board members.
The reality is, Benson’s campaign for “ideological diversity” on the CU campuses, backed by the Republican majority on the Board of Regents has become a grave threat to the integrity of the University of Colorado’s scholarship. While it’s maybe not as important as choosing a Supreme Court Justice, Benson’s successor next summer needs to be part of the debate over who will be Colorado’s next governor–not to mention the three Regent seats up for election in 2018.