The University of Colorado’s Board of Regents already has a bad track record with transparency. So one might be forgiven for assuming that this embattled board would avoid hosting its ostensibly-public summer retreat at a cost-prohibitive resort clear on the other side of the state, while declining to live-stream the event. But we all know what assuming does.
To be clear, the regents’ summer retreat, which began Wednesday, is not an official board meeting. No votes are held. No policy decisions are made. The summer retreat is, above all else, a chance for the regents to attempt to form something resembling a truce. The overtly partisan members often struggle to see eye to eye, and the retreat offers a few relaxing days to iron out some personal wrinkles before the start of the new school year. Like all work retreats, the change of scenery is meant to help form bonds and establish working relationships that might otherwise be difficult to initiate in a buttoned-up office setting.
It makes sense, then, for the meeting to take place in some picturesque Colorado locale. In previous years, that picturesque locale was Tabernash, a quaint mountain town less than two hours from Boulder, complete with plenty of hotels and amenities for a curious public — or the journalists who serve as their emissaries.
But this year, instead of Tabernash, the regents have chosen Gateway. And while Gateway looks to be another picturesque Colorado locale, it is clear on the other side of the state — five long hours from Boulder — and has exactly one source of lodging: Gateway Canyons, a $480-per-night resort where the regents are hosting their retreat.
The transparency red flags seem to almost wave themselves. If the retreat must be luxurious, why not hold it at one of Boulder’s many resorts? If it must be outside of Boulder, why not return to Tabernash? If it must be somewhere expensive, why not live-stream it?
The answer, one is left to assume, lies in the board’s misunderstanding of the relationship between transparency and autonomy. Maintaining the board’s autonomy was the reason then-Chair Glen Gallegos cited in 2020 for appealing a district court judge’s ruling that the board had violated open records laws regarding the disclosure of the finalists in their 2019 presidential search. Transparency, the board’s majority felt, was a threat to its autonomy.
The reality, of course, should be the opposite. The regents’ autonomy should be dependent on their ability to work transparently. Because autonomy is a thing that should be earned — especially by elected officials. And regents, after all, are elected officials, beholden to the voters — the students, staff, faculty and general Colorado population — that they serve.
It is troubling, then, that the regents have continued their pattern of flouting transparency by holding their summer retreat at a cost-prohibitive resort clear on the other side of the state. In part because it seems that if the regents had it their way, all the public would be able to do is make assumptions about what was going on behind those fancy spa doors.
Though, with this Board of Regents, one shouldn’t be forgiven for assuming anything.
— Gary Garrison, for the Camera Editorial Board