The University of Colorado Board of Regents and system leaders kicked off their annual mid-winter retreat Thursday by yet again discussing how to better work together and respect one another.
The issue of respect and board cohesion is not new — for years, regents have hired consultants and done studies to look at why and how partisan and personal agendas interfere with governing the four-campus system.
For their annual mid-winter retreat, regents hired Christine Chopyak of Denver consulting firm Arlosoul to lead a workshop about respect. The retreat, including hotel rooms and catering at the Gaylord Rockies Resort, will cost the system approximately $51,000.
Chopyak asked the group to consider what respect is, how it’s experienced and what it feels like.
The all-day session ranged from discussing optical illusions and drawing to talking about the feeling of being disrespected.
“Somebody can help me see what I don’t see or explain something to me that I haven’t understood before,” Chopyak said, standing in front of an optical illusion of a man with a leaf crown. “It doesn’t mean I agree with it, but it challenges me and helps with building neurons in a new direction in the brain.”
The need for respect at the CU system isn’t necessarily about the regents, said board Chair Glen Gallegos.
“I don’t think (the regents) don’t have respect for each other,” Gallegos said. “I think we work together a lot, we have disagreements and different points of view, but I would never say I don’t respect them.”
Gallegos said the issue of respect needs to be addressed at the campus level, and qualified it is a national issue not unique to the CU system.
He disputed that heated board discussions are an issue of respect — like when tensions flared at a November regents meeting over instituting a systemwide civics graduation requirement.
“I think that’s a board working through a process,” Gallegos said of the November disagreement. “I think we disagree and we quibble and have differences of opinion a few times a year, but for the most part we are in agreement and make very good decisions with regard to our students and campuses.”
Gallegos said he couldn’t answer whether that view was shared by the general public.
Regent Linda Shoemaker said though they might disagree on the issues, regents respect each other.
“The public has a perception that we don’t respect each other and that’s not necessarily true,” Shoemaker said. “I think we do respect each other on an individual basis but we definitely do get into conflict, and I think that’s to be expected when you’re elected from such different congressional districts.”
President Mark Kennedy’s hiring, which was approved by the board on a 5-4 party-line vote, is the perfect example, she said.
“I voted against Mark Kennedy as our president, but as soon as he won the vote, I let that go because he is our president and I need to respect him and I need to help him be as successful as he can be. That’s my obligation as a regent,” Shoemaker said.
The meeting was not all work — small toys and gadgets littered the tables for attendees to fidget with during the session, and laughter was common.
During a wrap-up session, regents and system leaders were asked to think about how they could exemplify respect going forward.
“We thought how we might lead with respect is to always buy the first round at the bar,” said system spokesman Ken McConnellogue to laughter.
“Always remember why we’re here, for the good of the university, the students and the state,” he continued.
Regent Heidi Ganahl added the goal is “to make our best effort to learn to disagree without being disrespectful.”
The retreat continues Friday morning with discussions about governance, leadership and strategic planning.