DENVER — The resignation of University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman leaves the state’s troubled flagship school with the formidable task of filling five top positions, but also gives it a chance to reshape its future, experts said Tuesday.
Hoffman, who has led the 52,000-student, four-campus system for nearly five years, said she would leave by June 30 so that questions about her leadership would not distract from efforts to address the school’s problems, including a tight budget, a lingering football recruiting scandal and a professor whose views on victims of the Sept. 11 attacks sparked a national uproar.
Two chancellor positions, the systemwide treasurer’s job and the athletic director’s job are also open or about to become so.
“If there is a kind of strategic vision about ‘We want to do these things, accomplish these tasks, be this kind of institution and we have these many positions open,’ then it really is an opportunity to reshape not only each individual campus, but also the relationships between the campuses that make up the system as a whole,” said Dennis Barden, a vice president at Chicago-based Witt/Kieffer, an executive-search consulting firm.
Richard Bynny, chancellor of the Boulder campus, resigned in December. Dr. James Shore, chancellor of the CU Health Sciences Center and CU-Denver, announced his retirement in November.
Athletic director Dick Tharp resigned in November, under pressure from the football scandal. Judith Van Gorden retired in June as CU treasurer.
With the simultaneous openings, the regents will likely consider how much autonomy the chancellors of the various campuses should have and how much authority the president should have to direct them, said David Ward, president of the Washington-based American Council on Education, an advocacy group.
Historically, CU’s leadership structure has been centralized, with chancellors deferring to the president.
Ward, former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said CU’s problems aren’t unusual and shouldn’t deter most candidates.
“I think an assured president would see that as part of the job description,” he said.
Regent Steve Bosley agreed.
“We have had too good a reputation for too long that anybody who’s qualified is going to know that these things can be dealt with,” he said. “If somebody is scared off by that, that’s probably not the person you want anyway.”
One of the thorniest problems facing CU is the case of professor Ward Churchill, who wrote an essay likening some victims of the World Trade Center attacks to “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann.
The essay provoked a firestorm, with Gov. Bill Owens and others calling for the tenured professor to be fired. University administrators are studying Churchill’s works to determine whether to recommend he be dismissed and expect to release a report after March 14.
Bosley and regent Cindy Carlisle said they want to start the search for a new president quickly, even as early as this month’s regular board meeting.
“The top leadership position in the university is of utmost importance and to leave that open too long I think wouldn’t serve us well,” Carlisle said.
Bosley said the regents must be willing to search as long as necessary.
“We know we’re going to have to get there so we have to clear the decks and get that process going,” he said.
It wasn’t clear whether the full board would consider hiring an interim president. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. executive Alexander Bracken served as interim president for several months between the resignation of John Buechner and Hoffman’s appointment. Buechner had served as interim president after Judith Albino resigned in October 1995.
Regents Chairman Jerry Rutledge did not return a call.