Remove the ‘R’ and the ‘D’ from the regent elections
By Jim Martin
The University of Colorado has named Todd Saliman interim president. His commitment to the university and his experience as a CFO, along with his ability to work with Republicans and Democrats, could bring temporary peace to the Board of Regents.
My hope is that board members can put aside their political agendas and extreme polarization, and follow his leadership as they conduct their second search in two plus years for a president.
While this is a big step forward in creating stability for CU’s leadership team, the board of directors has become so polarized that the Colorado legislature should step in and change the law on the how regents are elected.
The legislature would be wise to consider changing the regent elections so that they are not conducted on the basis of political parties, but rather as non-partisan candidates, ending the use of (R) or (D ) after their names. Non-partisan elections would attract more qualified professionals to run because education is their passion, not political party allegiance.
Additionally, all regent candidates should run statewide, as statewide candidates to represent all of Colorado, rather than hanging out in their safe congressional districts.
This year’s legislative session recently ended. But ahead of the 2022 election, they must address the electoral status of the regents due to the state’s creation of an 8th Congressional District. It affects the way regents are elected.
Some misguided regent candidates say they will run as a member of a political party and then take a neutral stance on the board. But this is not true ; they’ve proven to be as political as any die-hard Democrat or Republican from the moment they take their seats.
Many people do not know what a regent is and therefore revert to voting only on party affiliation.
I have served two terms on the board of directors in one of the three seats statewide, and I firmly believe that its members should lobby for what is best for CU, not what will please. most to partisan voters who don’t have CU’s best interests in mind.
The litmus test for the first time I ran in 1992 was where I stood on abortion. What did it have to do with being an impartial board member? I would have preferred smarter questions about how I planned to improve CU operations, do my fiduciary duty, and provide a great educational experience for every student.
Unity and optimism over the hiring of Mark Kennedy in 2019 as CU president quickly dissolved along party lines.
“Mark Kennedy is on trial for the serious crime of not being a Democrat or a leftist scholar,” said Regent Heidi Ganahl, a Republican regent. Some sources believe she is using her seat on the board as a political springboard.
Former Regent Linda Shoemaker said: “The process was not a problem with Kennedy’s election. The problem is, Republicans were only interested in going forward with someone with certain political credentials. “
While I would prefer the regents to be appointed, it would require an amendment to the Colorado Constitution which could take years.
Colorado and Michigan are the only states where regents are affiliated with a political party. All Michigan regents operate statewide. And they’re as politically charged as those in Colorado, maybe even more so.
Michigan Regents recently called on fellow Regent Ron Weiser – also leader of the state’s Republican Party – to step down after calling the state’s three top Democrats “witches.”
Weiser was referring to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and said the GOP needs to make sure “they’re ready to be burned at the stake.”
One can only imagine how much his words will poison the meetings of regents, consuming precious time that should be spent for the benefit of higher education. Hopefully, Colorado’s partisan regents never fall to that low.
Peter Spear, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at CU-Boulder, said many regents had an “antagonistic attitude towards the university rather than defending it.” … I have long attributed this to the fact that CU regents are elected and play for their constituencies and their party rather than acting on what is best for the university.
Former regent Irene Griego, who served on the board for nine years, said of the benefits of an elected non-partisan body:
that would create a spirit of fairness and responsibility.
He has the potential to strengthen the action needed towards meaningful change for all students, faculty and staff.
If we cannot move towards non-partisan governance of a public university, there is little hope that we can do so elsewhere, such as in Congress.
Jim Martin, a former statewide elected regent, can be contacted at [email protected]