Last week, news leaked that the University of Colorado Board of Regents spent nearly double the amount of money from last year on a non-mandatory, luxury three-day retreat at Gateway Canyons Resort and Spa in Mesa County. In total, the amount for the high-profile getaway came in at a whopping $83,451.86.
That’s quite a lot for elected officials to connect over a relaxing dip in the pool.
While there are certainly larger ways in which the regents have wasted our money, this particular waste of student tuition and state aid feels like a slap in the face to the CU community.
After years of faculty struggling to make ends meet — especially adjunct faculty, postdocs and graduate students who live on extremely meager salaries and contracts — and families who are struggling to meet exorbitant tuition rates during national debates of student debt, the choice to spend extra for a spa day by regents is the ultimate insult.
Critically, the annual retreat is not mandatory to board functions. It has been previously canceled with no known ramifications. There are no board votes during these three days. There is no public livestream access to supposed meetings.
In essence, it’s been described as a way for board members to spend time together in an effort to work more collaboratively on the upcoming year — and collaboration is fine, but not almost $84,000 fine.
Yet perhaps the most concerning part of the decision is the apparent dereliction of duty by the Board of Regents. According to CU’s website, “The board is charged constitutionally with the general supervision of the university and the exclusive control and direction of all funds of and appropriations to the university, unless otherwise provided by law.”
Except it appears that the regents didn’t oversee the retreat funds until after they’d already been spent. Upon acknowledging an external vendor organized the retreat, Lesley Smith, the CU Board of Regent Chair, stated, “At this point, after seeing how expensive Gateway Canyons was, the board is going to establish a clear process, (and) the board secretary and myself have been discussing which direction that will take. We need to do better and we will.”
OK, that’s great, let’s do better. But why would the board responsible for overseeing funds not think to approve or oversee the budget in the first place? More importantly, why did it take a news organization to investigate the retreat costs via the Colorado Open Record Act for a CU regent to finally suggest that perhaps, in retrospect, they went overboard in spending?
Given this incredible oversight, how can anyone in the CU community trust that the same regents who can’t manage their own retreat spending can possibly manage millions?
It turns out, they can’t, at least not well. This isn’t the first time the CU Board of Regents has flubbed expectations and been accused of wasting money. Even with slight turnovers in elections, there remains consistent concern for ethics and process, especially relating to presidential selection. One scathing release by United Campus Workers Colorado read:
“In selecting Interim University of Colorado (CU) President, Todd Saliman, as the sole finalist to be the new President, the University of Colorado’s Regents have repeated the same critical mistakes that were made in hiring former President Mark Kennedy. The Regents chose not to announce multiple finalists willing to champion increased public funding for Colorado higher education and catch up on neglected efforts to address systemic issues with diversity, inclusion, and equity that led to the last president’s censure and resignation. Instead, they wasted tens of thousands of taxpayer and student tuition dollars on a national search while clearing the way for Saliman, whose interim contract initially did not permit him to apply for the permanent position.”
After repeated missteps, members of the CU community should be concerned about the ability of the Board of Regents to perform their duties ethically and in the best interest of the community at large.
The board is already an antiquated structure, and their efforts are clearly doing a disservice to the CU community. Many universities function without such an entity. Perhaps it’s time for CU to clean house.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio
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