By Jimy Valenti
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Three candidates vie for the at-large seat on the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents amidst a chaotic economic forecast, a concealed weapons lawsuit and charges of political bickering.
Republican incumbent Steve Bosley of Broomfield — the 24-year CEO of The Bank of Boulder and founder of the Bolder Boulder 10K — is seeking his second six-year term. His challenger, CU law professor Melissa Hart of Denver is the Democrats’ hope to gain a majority on the board. Libertarian Jesse Wallace of Denver says both Hart and Bosley will continue to erode the student’s constitutional rights and run CU farther into the red.
Colorado has cut higher education funding statewide by nearly 60 percent since July 2009 in an effort to balance the state’s projected $1.7 billion budget shortfall. The cuts have been temporarily offset by one-time federal stimulus dollars, but they expire next year. CU trimmed $51 million off its budget, raised tuition nine percent and eliminated 339 positions while educating 2,100 more students than in FY 2008-2009. Colorado’s financial support for higher education ranks among the worst in the country.
“I’m not whining or griping about our situation,” Bosley said. “It is what it is, just like all of America. Every family, every business, every institution and we are no different in having to deal with it.”
Each candidate asserts that their background better equips them to deal with CU’s budget crisis. Bosley said he gained an in-depth understanding of complex budgets and large organizations when deciding on loans for The Bank of Boulder.
“My background is far more necessary and relevant than her background, which is a background in employment and discrimination law and class action lawsuits,” Bosley said about his main rival Hart.
Hart said the board does not need a banker, but an educator. Hart is a CU law professor. She said CU has numerous people working on the budget who provide financial insight for the Regents.
“What I bring is what is missing on the board,” Hart said. “I teach at CU and I know what’s going on inside the university. I understand the needs and the concerns that people inside the university have. I also bring fresh ideas and I will look at creative and new solutions to thinking about CU’s budget problems.”
Bosely said the university is currently attacking the budget crisis through a two-pronged approach — income and spending. He said currently enhancements to CU’s income stream must come from increased fundraising, technology transfers and research.
Technology transfers bring discoveries by CU professors into the market place. Bosley said both CU and the innovative professor benefit from increased technology transfers. He said CU brought in $122 million during the program’s seven-year life span and will continue to accelerate. Bosley noted that CU ranks tenth in the nation for the most start-up companies initiated from faculty discoveries.
The university currently has $847 million in research grants — an all time high. Bosley said research dollars generally come from outside sources and not only provide a boost to Colorado’s economy, but also helps keep the lights on.
On the spending side, Bosley said the university must use a scalpel to make hundreds of small strategic cuts that will add up to big savings. This means the university must continue to restructure and streamline its offerings.
Bosley wants to see a more efficient operation that evaluates each program for possible places to restructure, streamline or merge with another program. He said the recent discontinue of the university’s journalism school and planned restructuring is a good example.
Hart said she hopes restructuring and streamlining doesn’t equate to more programs being discontinued or cut at CU. She said the university’s belt must be tightened, but feels Bosley’s approach to CU’s budget isn’t a new idea.
“Bosley is saying the same thing that everybody is saying,” Hart said. “Certainly one of the ways to cut costs is going to be to restructure and streamline. The question is where do you restructure and streamline? Where do you choose to focus resources?”
Hart said giving professors more guidance and support in finding steady grant streams is one way to beef up the university’s general fund, an idea modeled after the medical school. However, she said making the case to Colorado’s Legislature and to the people of Colorado about the need to adequately fund and ultimately increase funding for higher education is the most important step in securing financial stability.
Hart said a healthy CU is good for all Coloradans, not just those who attend the university. She said a business’s willingness to move to Colorado is tied to the state’s higher education system in being able to employ a competent workforce.
“As Colorado’s flagship university, CU is an important part in that,” Hart said. “You see this in terms of the work that gets done at CU and in the students we graduate. If we give up on this great pubic institution we are really losing something vital for the state’s economy.”
Bosley said the university cannot ask Colorado’s taxpayers for more financial support until CU does everything it can to cut costs and run a more efficient institution.
“What is it worth to Colorado to have an educated work force and an educated populous?” Bosley asked. “What portion should the state be investing in? In three years we will say, ‘OK people of Colorado, here is what we have done. We have done our job and have not once come to talk to you about more state funding. Now lets have that discussion.’”
Hart said that discussion cannot wait. She said the Board of Regents must make CU’s case to the people of Colorado and to the Legislature constantly. She said holding off until the university tightens its belt doesn’t make sense because CU’s importance to the state’s economy as well as other programs around the state, such as medical residencies in rural communities, is just as pertinent now as it will be in three years.
Bosley wants to surgically slim down CU’s operating costs with a scalpel, but Libertarian candidate Wallace said he would take a chainsaw to the university’s budget. Wallace wants the university to implement across-the-board cuts and would like a return to the school’s budget of a decade ago.
“We are dealing with a big red 0,” Wallace said. “We don’t need a scalpel. We need something bigger, otherwise it is never going to get done.”
Wallace said looking to the state for increased funding is unacceptable. He said Coloradans cannot afford new taxes and that throwing money at CU will have no correlation to the university’s performance.
Concealed weapons or Regent autonomy?
Last June the Board of Regents narrowly voted to appeal a Colorado Court of Appeals decision overturning a 1994 Regent ban on concealed weapons on its campuses. The 5-4 vote hinged on former Republican state Sen. Tillie Bishop, of Grand Junction, who voted with the board’s four Democrats. He cited the need to maintain Regent authority to set policy for the university. Bosley voted against the appeal. The June 25 action item was entitled, “Preserving the Independence of the Board of Regents.”
“I think the fact that Steve Bosley was willing to cast a vote against standing up for the regents’ authority to set policy because he wanted to make a point about this political issue of guns on campus, is a perfect example of the kinds of politics that the board really shouldn’t be getting involved with,” Hart said.
According to Hart, the concealed carry ban was not at issue in the debate. She said if Bosley and others who voted against an appeal wanted to allow concealed weapons on CU’s campuses then they should have waited until after successfully appealing to the State Supreme Court, thus upholding Regent authority.
Bosley said he voted against the appeal because he thought it was not the proper case to prove a point about Regent autonomy. Bosley affirmed that his vote was not in conflict with his long-standing view on gun rights. He boasts during campaign stumps that while CEO of The Bank of Boulder he once gave free rifles to customers who purchased certificates of deposits.
“I know there will be other cases in the future, so we are not losing an opportunity to stake out that ground,” Bosley said. “One case does not make or break the subject of whether or not we have forfeited regent authority.”
Hart said Bosley’s reasoning is ridiculous. She said the case broke with precedence when overturning CU’s gun ban and severely threatens Regent authority.
Wallace said the university’s concealed carry ban is another example of CU’s infringement on student rights. He pointed out that the city of Denver challenged the state to ban concealed weapons and lost on multiple occasions. He would have not voted to appeal the decision and said Regent autonomy was not in jeopardy.
“If they want to practice autonomy over things they should do it by restraining their budget and getting that under control,” Wallace said.
CU would be a safer campus if students were allowed to exercise their second amendment right, he said. In light of the recent University of Texas shooting Wallace believes that it’s imperative students be able to protect themselves.
“Students shouldn’t be a sitting duck hoping that the campus cops or state police show up to do something about it,” Wallace said. “They have a right to defend themselves and shoot back if necessary.”
On the campaign trail
Bosley’s ’95 Dodge and ’84 Ford pickup trucks featuring a large yellow campaign sign in the truck bed traversed the state all summer. He logged 30,000 miles campaigning across the state and plans to hit 50,000 miles by November. Bosley hopes to meet with all of the state’s 204 newspapers.
“I don’t want to be an expert in campaigning,” Bosley said. “I want to get it over with, so I can continue with the job I signed up for.”
Bosley’s Democratic challenger has pulled in record fundraising totals. As of Oct. 13, Hart raised $101,172 while Bosley reported $66,703. With just over a week to go, Hart’s bankroll gives her the all-time individual fundraising total for a regent candidate, surpassing Gail Schwartz’s 2000 regent campaign in CD 3, which netted $53,830.
The $167,876 combined fundraising totals makes 2010 the most expensive regent race ever, surpassing the 2004 statewide at-large race between Bosley and Democrat Jennifer Mello that combined for $95,411.
Hart said the large outpouring of support for her campaign is a little overwhelming.
“I feel a great sense of responsibility to work hard to try to stand up for those people,” Hart said. “I have received checks in the mail with little notes. People that I have met at the Fiesta Day Parade down in Pueblo or people I have met out in Grand Junction have sent $20 checks with notes saying thanks for standing up for us.”
Hart plans to plow a majority of her resources towards statewide mailers over the next couple of weeks. Bosley declined to comment on how he plans to allocate his campaign funds.
Wallace is not accepting donations for his campaign. He said many people have offered money, but that he cannot accept campaign contributions at a time when taxpayers are over burdened by big government. Wallace believes he has a shot at winning.
“It seems like people are willing to take a chance on a regent compared to these poor Libertarians running for Senate or something,” Wallace said. “They feel like it’s their last chance and they will take the lesser of two evils to try to save the country, but when it comes to a regent its like, ‘Oh well, we’ll throw you a bone, you can’t screw that up too bad.’”