University of Colorado turns to pricey PR consultant in the wake of scandals
DENVER – The University of Colorado Board of Regents has retained a $350-per-hour public relations consultant amid the fallout from a football recruiting scandal and the controversy surrounding professor Ward Churchill, the Rocky Mountain News reported Tuesday.Christopher Simpson of Williamsburg, Va., signed the contract Feb. 28, hours before details were leaked to the media from a sealed grand jury report that criticizes university leaders and raises allegations that female trainers were subjected to sexual harassment and sexual assault.The contract calls for Simpson to be paid $24,000 for initial work, the News reported. Any follow-up work will be billed at $350 per hour, university spokesman Mike Hesse said. Simpson will be paid from the regents’ budget, which is funded by the university.Simpson, a former Washington Times reporter, was vice president of communications at Indiana University from 1994 to 2001. He was the university’s chief spokesman during the seven-month controversy that led to the ouster of men’s basketball coach Bobby Knight.Simpson said Monday he hopes to shift the focus of CU’s image away from controversy.”I think it’s one of the better public research universities in the country, and for the last 12 to 15 months, what I have seen and heard nationally is not that positive side of CU,” he said. “Where I am concerned, in the small amount of work we may be able to help them with, is how do we get back focused on the tremendous attributes of that institution?”
Simpson will go to work as CU deals with the fallout from the recruiting scandal that is still lingering in federal lawsuits. Churchill is under a university review of his scholarship after criticism of a 2001 essay in which he compared some of the World Trade Center victims to Nazi Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Holocaust.The fallout includes the resignation of university President Betsy Hoffman. The Daniels Fund, which has given the school nearly $2 million in the past three years, has also delayed up to $400,000 in grant requests this year in part because of the problems.The regents felt they needed someone with expertise “in the area of crisis communication in higher education,” Hesse said. “It’s kind of a whole different monster.”The school is already paying a local public relations firm, GBSM, and has several staff members who handle PR. Details of CU’s contract with GBSM weren’t available.Meanwhile, officials with the fundraising powerhouse CU Foundation said it does not intend to fund a buyout of Churchill’s contract.”We do not anticipate that there would be a situation where the foundation would be involved in any kind of financial settlement,” said Michael Byram, chief executive officer and president of the CU Foundation.The regents have already rejected a plan to use university funds to entice Churchill to taken an early retirement from his tenured position.
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