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The three Democratic candidates vying for the University of Colorado District 2 Regent position participated in a virtual forum on Friday ahead of Tuesday’s election.

The questions — gleaned from both members of the university community and viewers of the event — discussed racism, mental health, the financial state of the system and what’s to come following the coronavirus pandemic. Before the forum, 13 questions were prepared and shared with the candidates, and the questions from the audience were submitted live via a chat.

Each candidate called out the CU Boulder professor accused of making racist and sexist social media posts this week and expressed frustration in how current University President Mark Kennedy was approved by the current Board of Regents.

In the opening statements, the three outlined their campaign and what they hope to accomplish.

Dave Gross, a CU alumnus and current associate chair of the finance department and faculty director of the MS finance program, said he wants to make the university more affordable, accessible and sustainable. He said his real-world financial experience is what the regents need since one of their primary roles is to set the budget.

“This job is the nexus of what I do,” Gross said. “Now more than ever we need a progressive, educated finance expert on the Board of Regents.”

Callie Rennison, a professor in CU Denver’s school of public affairs, said she has seen how the university does not work for everyone, including lower-income households and people of color. She called herself the most progressive of the three.

“We must demonstrate institutional courage to swiftly call out hateful rhetoric,” she said.

Aaron Harber is the host of the Aaron Harber Show on PBS and a former governing board member at Princeton University. He said the Board of Regents needs “significant leadership,” and said his vision includes expanding efforts both nationally and internationally to bring CU additional revenue. He also said the other two candidates being faculty members is a conflict of interest.

“We’ve had faculty members on the board before and it was not a good idea,” he said.

Gross said he has been an educator for 25 years and believes in the importance of an emotional connection in the classroom. When asked about addressing racism, he said the police should be defunded and that free speech does not include hate speech. He said CU needs to prioritize students of color and be a place where students feel comfortable and ultimately stay. He believes prioritizing mental health is “absolutely necessary,” and said the university should issue municipal bonds to fund housing and food when he was asked about homelessness among students.

Rennison said she has spent her career mentoring people of color and cited her criminology experience and her book “Women Leading Change in Academia” when asked how she would address racism. She stressed the reality that many of today’s typical students are older than 25 with full-time jobs, and she wants to ensure CU offers degrees and certifications that working professionals need. She said all upper-level positions at the university should be examined and considered to be removed in response to the current financial situation. She said she does not want the burden of financial difficulties to fall on students or non-tenured staff.

Harber asserted that CU has all of the right policies in place, but that they just need to be put into action concerning racism. He has proposals to defund administration and put the money towards “programs that would actually have an impact.” He said that university’s mental health programs are well intentioned, but are poorly staffed and inadequate. He said he marched for Civil Rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and his background has been in helping people of color. He said he believes in open records and thinks the board should hold less executive session meetings.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican candidate Dick R. Murphy in the November election.

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