CU president, regents shape goals and succession plan at retreat in Colorado Springs

By: Debbie Kelley

January 23, 2018
CU President Bruce Benson
The nine-member University of Colorado Board of Regents will start with a list of priorities from President Bruce Benson (pictured) in setting goals for the four-campus system. Denver Post file photo.

In the spirit of better teamwork, the nine-member University of Colorado Board of Regents will start with a list of priorities from President Bruce Benson in setting goals for the four-campus system, the group decided at a winter retreat last week in Colorado Springs.

“I think there’s an element of (wanting) to work collaboratively with the president on goals and initiatives, and it’s not necessarily the easiest thing to get at,” said Regent Kyle Hybl, a Republican from Colorado Springs who represents the 5th Congressional District.

The publicly elected board, along with key administrators and staff, met Thursday and Friday at El Pomar Foundation’s Penrose House for a semi-annual retreat. The regents sought clarity on roles and responsibilities, collaboration, and setting and tracking goals.

Benson listed “creating a culture of respect and collaboration – getting people to work together,” as his primary goal, followed by addressing “funding deficiencies” from state coffers and the need for more Republican support.

His final priority? “Reputation.”

“We’ve got really good people, and we need to continue to promote that,” Benson said.

Years ago, the CU system had a public approval rating of 15 percent to 25 percent, he said.

“Now it’s 75 percent, up eight points in the last year or year and a half,” he said. “It’s going to continue to go that way, as far as I’m concerned. We need to talk about the great things we’re doing, the positive steps going on.”

Benson’s ideas differed from the top priorities regents identified in a survey before the meeting.

However, their No. 1 consideration was taken up at the meeting: Work on establishing a plan for leadership and presidential succession. It’s been an ongoing issue, one the board also discussed in 2015.

In March, Benson will have been CU’s president for 10 years. While he has not announced plans to leave the post, Benson turns 80 this year and having a strategy for selecting the system’s next leader is imperative, regents said.

“Whether the search is in a year, two or five years for the next president, we thought we’d lay the groundwork to have an effective search,” said Hybl, who was on the board when Benson was hired a decade ago. “Selecting a president is one of the board’s primary responsibilities and arguably the most important thing we do.”

Benson admitted he’s been “remiss” in expressing his opinions to the board.

“I’ve not shared all my thoughts all the time,” he said.

Benson agreed to let the board know when he’s ready to present the goals to them in a more polished manner.

“I can come up with my priorities pretty damn quick,” he said.

The three goals then will be fleshed out by administrators, campus chancellors and a management team, paired with metrics and benchmarks, incorporated into next year’s budget proposal and aligned with a list of goals the regents made.

The process could start as early as the February meeting.

“We’ve done some of this in the past, but we haven’t used the tools,” Hybl said. “Where we’ve failed is we haven’t tied goals to how we budget or how we hold chancellors or presidents accountable.”

Perhaps the method could become a model for use in upcoming years, suggested Regent Glen Gallegos, a Republican from the 3rd Congressional District of Grand Junction, Pueblo and Durango.

“I think this is a substantial change,” he said. “Let’s do it right this time.”

Hybl said he thought the retreat was productive.

“The process we went through is a continuation of our ongoing efforts to ensure the Board of Regents, President Benson and the chancellors focus on the most important priorities for the University of Colorado,” he said.

The regents’ other main goals from the survey included affordability for students, online education and diversity of thought.