Brown opening the books

CU president leading reforms at troubled university

— For about the past year, University of Colorado President Hank Brown probably has felt like he's been at a bad cocktail party -- he keeps having the same conversations over and over.

Ward Churchill. Scandals in the football program. Alcohol abuse that led to a student's death. Unclear and questionable use of funds by the University of Colorado Foundation, a nonprofit organizations that raises hundreds of millions of dollars for the CU system.

But Brown said Friday that when he took the reins as CU's interim president Aug. 1, 2005, he knew that challenges were in store. And he knew that the best way to address those challenges was to have the same conversations over and over.

"I spent a lot of time talking to people about what the problems were," Brown said Friday during a visit to Steamboat Springs. "I found that most of the media in the (Denver) metro area thought we were lying, thought we were covering up. The degree that we had developed hostility with the press was phenomenal ... we're trying to develop an atmosphere where we are totally open and accountable."

University regents appointed Brown as CU's 21st president last month. He was the sole finalist for the position.

While in Steamboat on Friday, he spoke to members of the Colorado Dental Association, visited Colorado Mountain College and attended an alumni event at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. Brown also met with Steamboat Pilot & Today staff to discuss how he and his administrators are working to improve the image of a university system that has been beleaguered for the past couple of years by one bad story after another.

"My own sense is that the heart of the university never had a problem," Brown said. "Academically, the reputation is very strong. But there's no question in terms of administrative problems."

So, Brown shook out the carpet.

In addition to his hire, CU has brought in three new vice presidents, two new chancellors, a new head of the CU Foundation, a new athletic director, a new football coach, and a new accountant and business manager for the athletic department -- all in the past year.

The university's accounting system also has been revamped. Brown said he has cut the accounting staff in half while hiring seven new people with greater experience and training.

The silver-haired, soft-spoken Brown, a former U.S. senator, five-term U.S. representative and state legislator from 1972-76, said he also has directed the university to take a long, hard look at itself.

"We had audits done on everything," he said, listing examinations of the entire university system, the athletic department and the CU Foundation. The audits unearthed "truckloads of documents" that were made open to the public and press, he said.

The audits also led to change.

The university now has a "two strikes and you're out" alcohol policy, Brown said. Students are expelled after a second alcohol violation; it's "one of the toughest rules in the nation," he said.

State money now is prohibited from being spent on alcohol under any circumstance, Brown said. CU-related receptions and banquets, for example, now feature cash bars.

Although the CU Foundation is governed privately, Brown said he worked with foundation leaders to apply state fiscal disclosure rules to it. Dinners with potential donors, for example, now require itemized receipts and proof of payment.

"Our sense is that it's worth it to have a totally clean operation," Brown said about the extra logistical work required by adhering to state rules.

As for Churchill, "due process" will be followed, Brown said. Churchill is an ethnic studies professor at the university's Boulder campus who an investigative committee deemed guilty last month of "serious research misconduct." That misconduct, according to the committee, includes fabricating and falsifying information, plagiarism and improperly reporting study results.

"His political views are not something you can dismiss him for," Brown said. "The fabrication of research, those are very serious charges."

University Regent Peter Stein--hauer, who accompanied Brown on his visit to Steamboat, said CU's many outstanding professors are lost in the shuffle of "Churchill, Churchill, Churchill."

"I ask people: Have you ever heard of (John) Hall?" Steinhauer said, referring to a professor who shares a 2005 Nobel Prize in physics.

Steinhauer also touted CU's Health Sciences Center, which has a rapidly growing, state-of-the-art Fitzsimons campus in Aurora.

"In 10 years, the Mayo Clinic will be known as the Fitzsimons of the east," Steinhauer said.

That's the kind of news Brown would be happy to hear.

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