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TABERNASH — University of Colorado leaders advised the Board of Regents on the search for a new system president during the board’s annual summer retreat Tuesday at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash.

The three-day retreat is the board’s first time gathering in person since March 2020 and, for the three regents elected in November, is their first in-person meeting while in office.

On Tuesday, campus and system leaders who were involved in the 2019 presidential search — which lead to the hiring of former President Mark Kennedy — discussed what regents can expect during the search process, what different university groups want to see and what can be done better this time around.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Lightner and University of Colorado Foundation President Jack Finlaw both said they have heard from faculty members and donors, respectively, who want the board to announce multiple candidates for the job.

Kennedy was the contentious sole finalist for president in 2019, and state lawmakers this year amended the Colorado Open Records Act so that government entities are not required to name multiple finalists. The Daily Camera is currently suing CU for the name of a candidate for president interviewed by the board during the 2019 search. The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s ruling that CU violated the CORA in not disclosing multiple finalists, and the plaintiffs currently are seeking a hearing before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The Board of Regents has not decided whether it will announce multiple finalists for president, Board Chair Jack Kroll said Tuesday.

Lightner and Finlaw also said both faculty and donors don’t want a controversial search.

“They don’t want a circus,” Lightner said, specifying that he was speaking generally and not referencing the 2019 search. “The last thing (faculty) want is to have this churn up lots of energy and attention. It will get the attention it needs and it doesn’t need more than that. They would also like to see what is perceived as a fair and open process.”

Former board secretary Patrick O’Rourke, who is now chief operating officer at CU Boulder, told the regents they should be as clear as possible about their intentions for the search process.

“The first thing I would encourage you to do is be transparent as early as possible about how many finalists you are going to be in a position to name,” O’Rourke. “Last time the board said one or more finalists, and that uncertainty creates ambiguity in the community.”

In the coming months the Board of Regents will appoint a search committee, develop a charge for the search committee, put out a request for proposal for a search firm and hire a search firm.

Current regent policy dictates that faculty, staff, students, community members and alumni will serve on the search committee.

“The main thing that the search committee wants to hear is that you trust them to do their work and you are going to leave them alone to do it,” O’Rourke said. “You need to be updated on the process, but if the search committee doesn’t feel like you trust them, that is going to impact the outcome.”

The board should also consider taking a longer period of time to vet candidates between interviewing them and announcing them to the public.

“Last time we went pretty quickly from the board interviewing candidates to voting,” he said. “If I was to ask for anything as someone with prior board perspective, it’s to take a little bit more time to do some of that checking.”

Regent Heidi Ganahl, who co-chaired the search committee in 2019, advised that regents should be careful about what they say publicly about the search when it’s concluded.

“The search committee (in 2019) put their heart and soul into this and they got a lot of criticism from the media and from vocal faculty members, and they did what you asked them to do,” she said. “It was very disappointing and discouraging to them.”

Finlaw also addressed the perception that CU’s president needs to be a fundraiser when they do not necessarily need to take on that responsibility.

“Bruce Benson had that particular gift of really connecting with donors because he knew most of them from years before he became president,” Finlaw said. “Putting someone coming in from the outside to be a chief fundraiser was really unfair to (Kennedy) and distracted him, from time to time, and distracted professional fundraisers.”

The president needs to be a spokesperson for the value of higher education in Colorado, Finlaw said.

CU Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano said his top goal for the next system president was for them to be a thought leader for higher education in Colorado.

“The president should be leading that higher education progress model for all institutions in Colorado,” DiStefano said. “That’s happened before and I think it should happen again.”

The Board of Regents’ retreat continues in Tabernash until 1 p.m. tomorrow.

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