The summer of 2005 could not have been a worse time to become president of the University of Colorado. [IMGCAP(1)]
The incumbent head football coach had said of a female placekicker charging that she was raped by a teammate, “Katie was a girl — not only was she a girl, she was terrible … she couldn’t kick the ball through the uprights.”
Allegations that sex, drugs and booze were being used to entice sports recruits were popping up left and right.
A professor ignited a firestorm with a published paper calling victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Holocaust administrator Adolf Eichmann, who were “too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants.”
This was the situation when former Sen. Hank Brown (R-Colo.) decided he would leave his job doling out money from a philanthropic organization (“It’s tough to find a better job than that,” he said) to become president of the university system.
“I wanted a challenge — that was the attraction,” Brown said in an interview recently, while he was in Washington, D.C., to lead a course on art in the Capitol with influential University of Colorado at Boulder alumni. “Colorado is my university. I went to undergrad and law school here.”
So how low did CU sink? By nearly any measure, pretty low. [IMGCAP(2)]
Applications, enrollment and fundraising took huge blows in the wake of the school’s scandals. According to Brown’s office, 43 percent of news coverage of CU-Boulder in the second half of 2005 was negative.
After taking the helm as interim president in August 2005, Brown began tackling problems immediately. He boasts that CU-Boulder now has the strictest athletic recruiting guidelines in the nation. Both recruits and students hosting their visits must sign documents pledging that the recruit will not use alcohol or drugs or be entertained where alcohol or drugs are present. There is a midnight curfew.
“We want athletes who are primarily interested in education,” Brown said. “If they’re not, we don’t want them.” As to whether CU teams can win with those restrictions in place, Brown said, “We’ll see,” noting that the football team has one of the top recruiting classes in the nation coming in the fall — “a remarkable achievement for a team that went 2-10 last year.”
To combat substance abuse campus-wide, CU-Boulder has a “two strikes and you’re out” policy. The second time a student is caught using or possessing alcohol (if under 21) or drugs, they are expelled.
“I’ve never considered those rankings of the best party schools in America to be scientific, but to the extent they’re worth anything we’ve dropped completely off those lists,” Brown said.
The controversy surrounding Ward Churchill, the ethnic studies professor, has proved to be more lasting. Because of the tradition of academic freedom, the university would risk legal trouble if it fired Churchill, a tenured professor, only because it disagreed with the content of his paper. But Churchill’s views sparked an investigation that turned up evidence that he may be guilty of plagiarism and misrepresenting his ethnicity.
“The whole fuss is over what he said, and that’s what got the attention, but the disciplinary matter is really related to whether he plagiarized,” Brown said. “There’s a tradition that faculty are allowed to have their own views on things.
“I have my own views and I’m allowed to stay,” he added with a smile.
Brown has steered clear of publicly evaluating Churchill’s paper, instead focusing on the disciplinary process — which hasn’t calmed the critics clamoring for the professor’s head.
Brown went on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” shortly after taking the CU job and was accused of “putting a happy face” on the matter by the host, who lamented that “you’ve got to go due process because [otherwise] the ACLU will skunk you.”
Churchill is not going down without a fight, and a CU tenure committee is scheduled to weigh in this week on whether it thinks the professor, who is on paid leave, should be fired. If the committee recommends dismissal, Brown can agree with its finding and send the matter to the university’s Board of Regents for a final vote, or disagree and send it back to the committee for review.
Either way, Brown and CU are likely to be back in the news soon. When it was suggested that O’Reilly and other conservative talkers might not appreciate the nuance of the issue if Churchill stays at CU, Brown smiled and said, “I suspect you’re right.”
But with applications, enrollment and fundraising at or above their pre-scandal levels, Brown believes his school has regained its footing and has announced his resignation effective Feb. 1, 2008. He said he hopes to then teach a political science class or two at CU, as he did at Denver University after retiring from the Senate in 1997.
“The university has made such a fantastic recovery, and we’ll have enacted all the reforms we had in mind by next year, so the work will be finished,” he said.
As for his old profession of politics, Brown described former Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) as a good friend and said he liked McInnis’ chances next year of succeeding retiring Sen. Wayne Allard (R), who replaced Brown in the Senate. But McInnis dropped out of the race on Wednesday.
While he still follows national and Colorado politics, Brown said he doesn’t exert much influence anymore.
“I’m not aware of anyone who would want me to be a kingmaker of Colorado politics,” he said with a smile.