U. of Colorado at Boulder Is Criticized for Its Diversity Expenditures

By PETER SCHMIDT

A Colorado think tank critical of affirmative action has issued a report alleging that the University of Colorado at Boulder has little idea how much money it spends on various diversity efforts and poorly manages such expenditures.

The libertarian Independence Institute, based in Golden, Colo., says in a report issued on Monday that the state’s flagship campus has greatly understated how much it spends on diversity programs and devotes a disproportionate share of such funds to paying administrative salaries rather than helping minority students.

The Boulder campus’s efforts to promote diversity involve “an unknown number of programs that receive an unclear amount of funding for an uncertain number of employees who serve an unspecified number of students,” the report concludes. It recommends that state lawmakers and the university system’s central administration undertake an independent investigation of the campus’s diversity spending practices.

A spokesman for the university, Bronson R. Hilliard, on Tuesday challenged many of the report’s findings and called some of it “a distortion,” but said officials there were still reviewing the report and were not yet ready to rebut it point by point.

Mr. Hilliard said the report conflated expenditures by the flagship and the system, and he argued that the institute’s researchers had asked university officials to do an impossible task: to sort out exactly how much of the money budgeted for programs that serve all students goes toward helping minority members. “It is a very fundamental disagreement we have with their interpretation,” he said.

Ken McConnellogue, a spokesman for the University of Colorado system, said the system had in fact accounted for its expenditures on diversity programs and had been “quite forthcoming” in releasing such information. And G.P.

(Bud) Peterson, chancellor of the Boulder campus, said the report mischaracterized some spending, by, for example, classifying as “administrative” expenditures on the salaries of people who work with minority students to improve their graduation rates.

“Do I believe we are doing things in the absolutely most efficient and optimal manner? No,” Mr. Peterson said. But, he added, “Do I believe we are wasting money? Absolutely not.”

The controversy over the report highlights the difficulty in precisely tracking university expenditures on diversity, which at larger institutions may be promoted by hundreds of programs housed in a wide range of administrative offices and academic departments. In response to past Chronicle inquiries about their spending on diversity programs, officials at several colleges have said they do not track how much of their budget goes toward promoting diversity, and have privately acknowledged that they are hesitant to try to come up with such numbers for fear of providing ammunition to critics of affirmative action.

The Independence Institute’s Campus Accountability Project began pressing officials at the University of Colorado at Boulder to release budget numbers three years ago. In a written statement accompanying the report released on Monday, Jessica Peck Corry, the project’s director, said, “We’ve spent the last three years trying to find out how much CU spends in the name of diversity. We’ve finally gotten an answer: CU has no idea.”

Ms. Corry added: “In our view, diversity should be all about helping disadvantaged kids get to college, but clearly, as our report indicates, CU’s diversity leadership is more concerned with adding administrative positions than with trimming waste that would free up resources for scholarship dollars.”

The report says that, of the $21.8-million that the campus has reported spending on diversity programs, just $4-million goes toward student scholarships. It notes that Chancellor Peterson has acknowledged that the $21.8-million figure is “not even close” to a full total for the system’s diversity expenditures.

On Tuesday, Mr. Peterson said the line between expenditures on diversity and expenditures on education in general is blurry, and he likes it that way.

“My goal is to have diversity be so pervasive, and such an integral part of what we do, we can’t tell where the boundaries are,” he said.