As you might remember, I was a critic of Bruce Benson’s initial appointment.
But too often in our time, citizens and others feel license to offer nothing but criticism of our leaders once they are in office. But in the person of Colorado University President Bruce Benson we have a leader that, so far, is well worth praising.
Benson has thus far proved to be both visionary and action-oriented. He has demonstrated a grasp of the possibilities of his office.
I know that, in conjunction with the University of Colorado Foundation, he has played a critical behind-the-scenes role in convincing Coloradans to make their investment in the University of Colorado.
But what is most impressive about President Benson thus far is not his skill per se, but the completely straightforward, frank style from which it springs. Bruce Benson, the person, clearly understands the boundaries between himself and his office.
He has already demonstrated an ability to work with the Colorado General Assembly on terms that clearly state the university’s case without ruffling feathers.
He has shown a keen understanding of the important partnerships that must be forged with the private sector in order for the university to fulfill its mission of preparing students for an ever-changing workplace.
Finally, he has risen above the intra-campus conflicts that often plague the CU system, and under his leadership the university has a “chance” to truly become an integrated system of higher education rather than a loose confederation of campuses.
It is on the last subject that I want to encourage President Benson to continue his efforts. What sometimes plagues the university most is a narrowness of vision for what the entire CU system could be.
From the department level on up, our CU system sometimes in the past has suffered from a narrow vision
and an overly proprietary orientation.
Professors who seek to create truly interdisciplinary programs and experiences for students face a shortage of resources compared to their colleagues who pursue more “pure” agendas of research and teaching.
Department chairs — right up to deans and chancellors — too often work to secure tighter control of their faculties and budgets rather than demonstrating true vision and leadership for what those budgets and faculties can achieve.
Faculty struggle all the while with lower salaries than many of their counterparts around the country, low public esteem, and their own low expectations for the university that rise from the other factors I’ve listed.
Where President Benson can truly make a profound change in our midst is to continue to refocus CU’s collective gaze outward — toward students, the public and their representatives — while, at the same time, working to shore up the various internal challenges that hamper CU’s progress.
Based on what I’ve seen of his leadership thus far, real progress on these and a host of other issues is within our grasp. This progress will require equally visionary leadership from the Board of Regents, a Legislature willing to see CU in a new light, parents and business leaders willing to act as advocates for the university and, finally, a strengthened, rejuvenated faculty.
This is the proverbial tall order. But, as John F. Kennedy reminded us, “This will not be accomplished in the first
100 days or the first 1,000 days, but let us begin.”