Our View: CU step-down a needed step

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The scandals that have enveloped the University of Colorado in the past year involve only a few people and have little direct affect on the university overall.

But taken collectively, the football program and the Ward Churchill saga have badly tarnished the image of CU. The university may rank among the nation's premier research facilities, but try selling that notion to prospective students and/or professors who see only a campus mired in turmoil.

The university stumbled, badly in our estimation, in handling these crises. For that reason, University President Betsy Hoffman's decision to step down in June is the right one. "It has become clear to me that, amid the serious matters the University of Colorado now confronts, my role as the leader of the university has become an issue," Hoffman wrote in her resignation letter.

We applaud Hoffman for holding herself accountable. Hopefully, her resignation will allow the university to move past the scandals and get on with the business of higher education. Our state desperately needs that to happen.

Ironically, Hoffman's resignation may not have been necessary had she chosen to hold others accountable for the problems at CU.

Hoffman is not to blame for the football program's woes -- which include allegations, some predating her tenure, of sexual assaults, slush funds and using sex and alcohol to recruit players. Neither is Hoffman responsible for the dubious decision more than a decade ago to grant tenure to Churchill, whose academic credentials were spotty at best and possibly downright fraudulent, and make him a department director.

But Hoffman's decisions in the wake of these scandals have been questionable. After a months-long investigation into the football program, Hoffman implemented reforms but stood by Athletics Director Dick Tharp and football coach Gary Barnett when many thought they should have lost their jobs. When criticism of Churchill, who compared those who worked in the World Trade Center to "little Eichmanns," began to mount, Hoffman defended Churchill's right to free speech by suggesting that others not exercise theirs: She said Churchill's critics, including Gov. Bill Owens, were only making matters worse for the university and that they should keep their mouths shut.

The scandals began to affect the university's bottom line, evidenced by the sharp drop in out-of-state applicants this year, down about 4,000 from the year before. Alumni donations also are down.

During this time of deep cuts in state and federal funding (things are so bad Hoffman was toying with the idea of taking CU private), CU needs its focus to be on the financial challenges it faces, not on football and Churchill.

CU's achievements during Hoffman's tenure have been praised, including increases in enrollment and research funding and a Nobel Prize for two school scientists. Still, her decision to resign may do more for the university than any of her other actions.

Because CU is the state's largest university, the scandals have had a trickle-down effect on higher education throughout the state. Ultimately, Hoffman came to understand that, whatever the reality of the problems, the perception was so great that something had to be done. Her resignation was the most direct way to begin restoring the university's image for the benefit of the students, the faculty and the state.

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