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Opinion: A workers’ wish list for picking the next CU president

Colorado deserves not only the right candidate, but the right process

Higher education is under siege. Costs go up while Colorado continues to defund state universities.

Increasingly, Americans voice skepticism of the value of college; nearly 60% of Republicans hold an unfavorable view of higher education. Complicating the picture is that the average length of tenure for a university president in the U.S. is only about six years.

Burton St. John III, left, and Eilex Rodriguez

The last president of the CU system didn’t even make it half that long.  And now our Board of Regents are going through the process again.

As members of the United Campus Workers Colorado, part of the Communication Workers of America Local 7799, we asked our membership (consisting of faculty, staff, and student workers across all four of the system’s campuses) to tell us their wish list of attributes for the next University of Colorado president.  We compiled the master list for a membership vote; almost 100% of the respondents approved the list, indicating that the next CU President:

  • Must have a scholarly academic background.
  • Should understand the mission and importance of higher education and should be willing to advocate to Colorado state officials the need to enhance public funding for the state’s higher education institutions. Furthermore, this person should understand Colorado politics so as to effectively make a public case for removing the the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights from the state Constitution, given how it undermines our ability to sufficiently fund public education,as well as other public goods.
  • Should display a commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives by, for example, supporting anti-racism initiatives, eliminating Colorado Correction Industries as a vendor until they pay prison laborers at least the state minimum wage, and advocating for improved accessibility to higher education for in-state first generation learners and persons of color. The next CU President should support students’ demands to divest funds from CU Police so as to provide to students more opportunities for scholarships and grants, enhance mental wellness support for students, and increase pay for all student workers. Additionally, this person should advocate for increased funding for programs aimed at recruiting staff and faculty from historically underrepresented backgrounds and for programs that support their retention. This person should not be affiliated with racist or anti-LGBTQ+ movements or causes.
  • Must be committed to an actual shared-governance model where students, faculty, and staff have meaningful decision-making power over our university. As such, this person also must be committed to academic freedom of speech and the full range of academic inquiry that accompanies such freedom.
  • Should be committed to working in support of different sustainability and environmental initiatives, including the divestment of CU finances from fossil-fuel investments.

Our union membership recognizes that, although it didn’t work well with the selection of past-president Mark Kennedy, some viable candidates may come from political backgrounds. Our members state, unequivocally, that the next CU President, whether they have a political background or not, must have experiences that demonstrate their support for diversity, equity and inclusion, academic integrity, and the value of a public education – orientations that are important to our fellow union members.

The United Campus Workers recognizes that it isn’t only the candidates, but also the process, that needs change. Searches for CU’s next president, as well as future top administration hires, ought to be transparent and include mechanisms for students, faculty, and staff to have a say.  At a bare minimum, this requires putting forth multiple finalists who can be publicly vetted and engaged with before any decision is made.

Doing any less risks inviting a divisive selection and hiring process. But, if the CU Board of Regents use this checklist, we just may have the gift that keeps on giving: a CU President committed to strengthening higher education for all in Colorado.


 Burton St. John III, of Broomfield, is a professor of public relations at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Eilex Rodriguez, of Peyton, is a writing fellow and a history graduate student at UCCS. Both are members of the UCWC Steering Committee.


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