D.R.: Hank Brown’s da man | VailDaily.com
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D.R.: Hank Brown’s da man

Don Rogers

It’s impossible not to have confidence in Hank Brown.

Congressman, senator, turnaround specialist CEO type with recent success at the University of Northern Colorado and the Daniels Fund. Now he’s saving the University of Colorado from its largely self-inflicted wounds of hubris.

He’s a rock star to me. So I confess leaping at the chance to meet him a little over a week ago when he visited Vail for a CU alumni gathering, and fundraising opportunity. Vail is a good place for politicians, philanthropists and university presidents to collect donations. And substantial ones at that. This is Vail after all, where presidential candidates all come with their hats off and hands out.

I’d skip all but a couple of rock stars, actually, to meet Brown. He could run for governor and win easily, if he was of mind. The speed he’s moved to put CU back together has been phenomenal. He’s Colorado’s hero for our time. Sure, I gush. But only when I believe it.

He guessed maybe two more years at CU before he felt confident in the turnaround and ready to move on, or rest. The challenge of the turnaround is what appeals to him, obviously. Tenure isn’t in the cards. Too boring?

Brown might really be a hard-charging, demanding jerk of a person ” the caricature of fast fixers. But I sure didn’t see that.

At the paper, this guy looked everyone in the eye in a way that made the lobby receptionist feel important. He laughed at our jokes, and made some of his own wry ones.

He explained that CU’s faculty and students were not the problem. The administration did not have an atmosphere of accountability or particular openness.

I think he was being humble. The tough press took in student partying, capped by a CU student’s death of alcohol poisoning. To be democratic, I guess, UNC and CSU each had the same, if I recall correctly. In any case CU’s party school atmosphere at the Boulder flagship certainly was part of the university system’s issues.

As was the infamous Professor Ward Churchill. Most students who have taken courses from him swear by him, I understand. Maybe he is a great teacher. But there’s an awful lot lacking in this guy as far as scholarship goes. He’s an advocate, not truly an academic. How does an august university NOT see that much? It’s so obvious.

Cutting off the head of CU was long overdue, but the single biggest step the system could take. And hiring Brown was brilliant.

He clearly understands symbols. One small decision ” yet huge ” was simply eliminating assigned parking at the administrative offices. Symbolic steps, along with focusing on overhauling the organization and systems, would clear the way for the schools themselves to show they still shine.

So, goodbye athletic director, chancellor, football coach. The replacements all look solid, and they need to be. No liquor sales on the side, no even appearing to tolerate football players as boys being boys, no poor mouthing critics and cultivating an image of secrecy. And I hope the extravagant tastes of the regents have been quietly reined in, too. The regents who remain are part of the problem; they’ve very fortunate to have Brown leading the team now.

Of course Brown touted CU’s place as a top research university that offers over 150 fields of study, and its place at the head of Colorado’s higher education table. All true, and we hope the football team finds its place, too.

He said the biggest challenge is fundraising, why he was in Vail with other CU officials and alumni. The passage of Referendum C has helped, but mostly with the community college system. CU still runs with 26 percent less state funding than it did five years ago, he said. And tuition increases are not covering the gap, steep as they have been.

I should note that Colorado’s public university tuitions remain much lower than most other states’. Thank God for that, since my eldest is headed to Fort Lewis College in about a week. That’s a CSU system school.

I told Brown that CU’s troubles turned our son away from considering CU, although choosing Fort Lewis had mostly to do with what he wanted to study, the school’s offerings and small size, and the chance to run on their cross country team.

But maybe Brown and team will have CU turned around enough when our now-15-year-old daughter begins thinking seriously about where she’d like to go.

She may not choose CU when the time comes, but I do feel confident that their house will be in order by then.

Like I said, too bad Brown isn’t running for governor. He’d be a fine one.


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