New president of Colorado’s university system has fundraising background, no advanced degree
February 21, 2008
DENVER ” As a candidate for president of Colorado’s university system, Bruce Benson came under attack for his Republican activism, ties to the oil industry and, perhaps most importantly, his lack of an advanced degree.
Yet Benson’s supporters argued that he would deliver what the university desperately needs: cash.
“The bottom line is, finances are critical to the university. We can’t do anything else if we don’t have a constant stream of funding,” said Regent Patricia Hayes, acknowledging she hadn’t decided whether to support Benson until a few hours before the vote.
The regents board on Wednesday approved the 69-year-old Denver businessman as CU president. All six Republican regents backed Benson, and the three Democrats voted against him.
Supporters stressed that Benson is a persuasive fundraiser who has the ability to talk to legislators from both parties about state support for higher education.
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper suggested that Benson not only puts his money where his mouth is, “he actually manages to put other people’s money where his mouth is.”
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Benson’s detractors were less enthusiastic about his fundraising skills.
Faculty members at CU’s flagship Boulder campus last week voted down a resolution supporting Benson. Some professors expressed concern about his ability to attract top faculty.
The student government had passed a resolution asking Benson to withdraw his candidacy. They and others questioned his ability to oversee a university with a $2 billion budget, 52,000 students, 24,000 employees and campuses in Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs.
Others insisted Benson lacked the academic credentials for the position.
State House Majority Leader Alice Madden, a Democrat and CU law school graduate, had said Benson would be “the least educated president ever considered in modern history.”
Benson earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from CU-Boulder and was pursuing a master’s degree when he left the university to form his own company, Benson Mineral Group, Inc.
A 2005 survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education found that fewer than 1 percent of college presidents and chancellors held only a bachelor’s degree. More than 83 percent held a doctorate.
Regent Tom Lucero dismissed criticism of Benson’s educational background. “We’re not hiring Bruce Benson to go in the classroom to teach,” he said.
Some at CU, whose climate researchers shared a Nobel Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, were nervous about Benson’s commitment to research in global warming.
Critics also questioned Benson’s contributions to the Trailhead Group, which aims to put more Republicans in office.
But Benson has often worked with prominent Democrats in advocating more resources for education in Colorado and chaired a $1 billion fundraising campaign for CU. He also successfully lobbied for a referendum calling for taxpayers to forfeit potential refunds to provide more funding for higher education and other items.
Benson, an unsuccessful candidate for Colorado governor in 1994, replaces Hank Brown, who is stepping down after 30 months as CU president.