Former CU professor Lesley Smith running for statewide regent seat, says regents need academic experience
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EDWARDS — Lesley Smith says the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents needs her 30 years of education experience.
Smith, a Democrat from Boulder, spent 30 years as a teaching professor and researcher with the University of Colorado. She is running for CU’s statewide regent seat against Republican Ken Montera, a retired corporate executive living in Colorado Springs.
“Nobody has the long-term experience that I have at CU. I would be the only voice of the faculty to serve on the board,” Smith said. “My track record has focused on education through the teaching faculty at CU, the Boulder Valley school board and as the director of a science education program. The Board of Regents seemed like a natural fit.”
Smith, 60, migrated to Colorado 30 years ago for a CU fellowship.
Smith came through the region as part of the Democrats’ statewide bus tour on Friday, Oct. 26, and has campaigned extensively on her own. Everywhere she stops, people have two concerns, she said:
1. CU has forgotten about us.
2. CU is too expensive.
Controlling college costs
The turn of this century may feel like a long time ago, but it wasn’t. She said that in 2000, the state covered two-thirds of the cost of college, leaving students and families to pay for the rest.
In those 18 years, tuition at CU Boulder has increased four-fold.
Smith points to CU Boulder’s policy of guaranteeing tuition rates for students — the rate they pay as freshman doesn’t increase as they matriculate. She said she would like to extend that to the entire CU system. She also wants to limit class fees, which students pay in addition to tuition, fees and other costs.
She said much of the blame lies at the feet of state lawmakers, who she said have cut higher education funding.
“If we want to maintain our highly educated workforce and do right by our residents, we must reverse this public defunding of higher education,” Smith said.
Many of CU’s 65,000 students are taking classes online, another part of a potential solution. Of those, up to 7,000 could earn degrees by taking classes only online.
Picking a new president
One of the first things CU’s Board of Regents will do is hire a new president. Bruce Benson, a former governor and fundraising machine, has doubled CU’s endowment during his tenure. The 80-year-old Benson will retire in July.
As she campaigns in rural areas, Smith often hears some version of “CU doesn’t love us any more.” She swung through several areas of southern Colorado, including Cortez, where CU used to bring the arts, performances or presentations in the sciences. For some reason, CU doesn’t any longer.
“When that went away, they felt like CU went away,” Smith said.
The new president needs to be visible, as well as faculty and staff, she said, not just on the Front Range but all over the state. Smith said she would be a true statewide regent, more visible with town halls around Colorado.
“Education should be nonpartisan. Unfortunately, this board has tended toward being very partisan. We need someone who can lead CU into new territory,” Smith said.
She pointed out that graduation numbers will decline by 2025.
“The new president should be someone who can move us into the future. We must all move forward together,” Smith said.
Low-income schools and rural districts need more of CU’s attention, she said. Toward that end, she’s helping CU reach out to communities, as well as community college presidents, looking for ways to leverage their strengths to stretch the state’s education dollars, especially with the gender gap in STEM programs.
“Sciences and engineering are critical to our society, but that does not mean everyone should be in the STEM field,” she said. “It starts at a young age. If they don’t get involved by middle school, you’ve lost them.”
Smith was the first woman aquanaut to live and work in the Aquarius Underwater Research Lab — sort of an underwater space station. She has done aquatic research in the Amazon, the Artic and Colorado’s alpine lakes.
In fact, she filmed a campaign ad in the water in a scuba suit.
She served eight years on the school board of the Boulder Valley School District and four years on Boulder’s Water Resources Advisory Board.
“I love CU and care about it. If I were elected, I would be the only voice of faculty when they vote for a president,” Smith said. “Different backgrounds are important.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.