Jim Martin

Jim Martin

The University of Colorado Board of Regents needs a reset and a bolder attitude to solve problems that challenge our flagship university.

That’s why I’m urging you to vote for Alice Madden, the Democratic candidate for the at-large seat, in the upcoming election. If the Democrats take control for the first time since 1979, a transformation of the board may be possible.

I am weighing in on this race because there is always something personal about the seat that you once held. I served as a Republican in this at-large seat after winning elections in 1992 and 1998.

The board has nine regents. There are three seats being contested. Experience tells us that Democrat Jack Knoll and Republican Sue Sharkey will win in their safe districts.

So that takes us to Madden vs. Heidi Ganahl, a Republican who is best known for being the founder and leader of Broomfield-based Camp Bow Wow, a large pet-care chain. Ganahl also sits on the University of Colorado Foundation board.

Madden represented House District 10 in the state Legislature from 2000 to 2008 and was House majority leader from 2005 to 2008. She knows how to reach across the aisle and has demonstrated leadership as a moderate and in getting things done in the public arena.

Perhaps their main difference is their views on how to fund higher education. The state’s funding shortage for higher education looms large. Since 2001, Colorado has halved its support and tuition has doubled (it’s risen 38.5 percent alone since 2009). We rank 48th nationally in funding at $197 million (down from $207 million in 2001) for the 2016 fiscal year.

The status quo just isn’t working regarding the state’s commitment to educating people beyond K-12. CU is a public institution; it’s for everyone. But we have failed to advocate enough for public funding. The Legislature simply hasn’t created a solution. The result has been staggering student debt, caused by tuition and fee raises.

Madden favors a new commitment to public funding to solve this problem; Ganahl favors private sources. And yes, we should embrace the latter, but if we’re going to move forward now, the state must increase its funding.

One solution is to exempt the $1 billion hospital provider fee from TABOR. Madden’s legislative experience would help here. Gov. John Hickenlooper and statehouse Democrats favored this action during the 2016 session. The proposal drew bipartisan support but legislators didn’t vote on it.

Are we sure these dollars would have gone to the CU system? No, but there won’t be an opportunity to find out unless the money is freed up. That will require board advocacy at the Statehouse.

Some of the other key issues:

Time for a switch: A Democratic majority would be a welcome change, as Republicans have been in charge for far too long. It would force the board into different methods for budget analysis and to re-examine the ways it does business, particularly with students, faculty and staff. Some of the board’s spending defies belief.

To name a few: It spent $600,000 to create a new logo. Dreadfully, it spent $5 million on the University of Colorado A train to DIA. Another $700,000 went to McKinsey and Co., a New York City-based consulting company, to study what drove increases in construction costs and time delays on projects.

Diversity: Madden seeks more ethnic diversity among faculty, staff and students. For example, there are only 121 black faculty and staff members out of a total of 6,100. Latinos represent 580 faculty and staff members. And black students (1.6 percent) and Latino students (10.6 percent) are under-represented on the Boulder campus.

Ganahl is more interested in political diversity among faculty members, and students which extends the tired old argument that there are not enough conservative voices in the classrooms.

Bruce Benson: A switch in board control will change the dynamic for choosing his successor and for setting the board agenda. Benson has done a fine job, but at 78, it’s time to think about his replacement.

Madden is the executive director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado Law School. For those that dislike the idea that Madden will govern her employer, be aware that CU employees, such as Bob Sievers, have served on this board with distinction.

Ganahl supporters say her success in business will enable her to attract private money and that there’s no public funding to spare.

But we do have money in the public arena. Now we need a board of regents that has experience in and will strongly advocate getting that money.

Email: jimmartin@att.blackberry.net