Vice president for diversity position on hold

Regents defer search, instead call for study to identify best practices

The CU Board of Regents on Friday indefinitely postponed the search for a systemwide vice president for diversity, inclusion and retention. The board instead directed its strategic planning committee to develop a white paper that identifies the best practices of organizational structures in systems of higher education with multiple campuses.

Approved on a 6-3 vote, the resolution states that the strategic planning committee, chaired by Regent Linda Shoemaker, D-Boulder, will work with Patrick O’Rourke, secretary to the board and legal counsel, to “develop a request for proposals, review for proposals, develop an appropriate scope of work and consider retaining a consultant” to help research and create the white paper.

The resolution was approved after a friendly amendment introduced by Regent Kyle Hybl, R-Colorado Springs, that changed the original wording, which would have required retaining a consultant.

Like last September’s vote that called for the university to establish a new vice president for diversity position, which passed 5-4, the discussion preceding the vote on the white paper illustrated sharp differences of opinion among board members.

Voting no on Friday were Regents Heidi Ganahl, R-Superior, John Carson, R-Highlands Ranch, and Sue Sharkey, R-Castle Rock. They questioned the necessity for the endeavor, citing costs – especially those for outside consultants – and the speed with which the resolution came forward. Both items were added to the board’s agenda on the second day of the two-day meeting.

Before the vote, President Bruce D. Benson also questioned the need for a white paper.

“I think we are working darn well together. I don't think I need to be told to fix something that I don't know that's broken,” Benson said. “I would wait until we get a new president, talk to the president – do it at that time. I’m happy with the structure, and we have a great leadership with the campuses.”

Sharkey said she was bothered by the political nature of the initial vice president for diversity proposal and the white paper resolution.

Ganahl said she opposed the choice to spend “precious CU dollars … to fix what I’m not sure is broken.”

“I’m also uncomfortable with an open-ended check on this – how much it’s going to cost and the scope of work. We just came off an expensive consulting gig over the vice president for diversity. I’m not comfortable diving into this.”

Kathy Nesbitt, vice president for employee and information services, said the consulting work cited by Ganahl cost less than $15,000 and was covered by president’s initiative funds. Carson said he doubted that a study such as the one called for in the white paper resolution could be achieved for less than $50,000.

“It’s unclear to me what the objective is and what we’re going to do with this. It’s a good example of how costs grow,” Carson said. “We haven’t thought through what we want to achieve here as a board.”

The resolution states that “while there is significant guidance that addresses the nature and operations of single campus institutions of higher education, there are few resources that have addressed how university systems can best structure the operations of their governing boards and senior executives to achieve an optimal balance of connectivity and autonomy.

“Recognizing that the University of Colorado is unique, even among university systems, because of its elected governing board and campuses with different areas of strengths and opportunities, the Regents believe it is necessary for it to commission a white paper that will identify best practices for the University of Colorado system.”

Regent Stephen Ludwig, D-Denver, said that board members bringing the resolution forward could have better communicated in advance with fellow regents. But he said the recommendation to pursue hiring a consultant to develop a white paper wasn’t done “on a whim.”

“We haven’t looked at how (CU is) structured in more than a decade,” Ludwig said. “The reason that companies hire external consultants is to get away from inside bias … and have an impartial view as much as possible.”

Shoemaker also defended the need for the study and consultant input.

“Any corporation that has doubled in size in 10 years wouldn’t hesitate to spend $50,000 to hire a consultant,” she said, citing CU’s budget growth from one of $2 billion to one approaching $4 billion.

The board voted 8-1 to defer search for the vice president position after approving the strategic committee white paper, reserving for later discussion on monetary limits to be set if consulting is deemed necessary.

“Now that we have approved the study, we should wait to see what it says,” Carson said.

Shoemaker voted against deferring action on the vice president position.

“This was a vote by the Board of Regents and we voted twice to have a vice president of diversity,” Shoemaker said. “This seems to just say that we may or may not hire a vice president of diversity or any kind of system-level authority on diversity and I think that goes against what we previously voted on.”

O’Rourke clarified the deferment does not rescind a prior resolution of the board to hire a vice president for diversity, inclusion and retention. “What it does is defer the active date of implementation of that resolution. It would allow the Board of Regents at any point in time to put this back on the agenda.”

In deferring the search for the vice president for diversity position, the board charged Nesbitt and Michael Lightner, vice president for academic affairs, to coordinate with officials at system administration and the campuses to identify and implement initiatives that improve diversity, inclusion and retention and report to the board quarterly.