CSU board member Blake selected chancellor

CSU Board member Joe Blake, left, and board president Doug Jones congratulate a 2008 graduate. (Photo/Colorado State University)
CSU Board member Joe Blake, left, and board president Doug Jones congratulate a 2008 graduate. (Photo/Colorado State University)
The Colorado State University Board of Governors named CSU Board Vice President Joe Blake its sole pick for chancellor on Tuesday just hours after Senate Majority Leader Brandon Shaffer killed a bill he co-sponsored that demanded greater transparency in the state’s public university leadership appointments.

Shaffer said it had become clear that the bill wouldn’t gain enough supporters to pass the Senate even though the rushed and secretive CSU chancellor search smacked of exactly the kind of insider non-transparency the proposed legislation aimed to combat.

“It was too late in the [legislative session] to pass it,” said Shaffer. “But it’s the right thing to do. Next time, the CSU search will be our case-in-point that we need greater transparency in the future.”

The sudden introduction of the bill last week and the equally sudden selection of Blake as chancellor-finalist last night confirmed that the CSU board and members of the legislature were in a race to get control of the process.

Concerns over the shadowy search being conducted at a public university led state legislative majority leaders Rep. Paul Weissmann and Sen. Shaffer to introduce the transparency bill, HB 1369, which set out uniform search timelines, required greater community representation on committees and called for public presentations on the part of the applicants. The bill easily passed a first vote Friday in the House but, after reported intense lobbying by CSU over the weekend, barely weathered fervent opposition on its second vote Monday.

Tuesday morning the bill moved to the Senate Education Committee for discussion, drawing Blake to the Capitol, reportedly, along with Dick Robinson, co-chair of the CSU search committee, who was scheduled to testify against it.

Shaffer announced his decision to kill the bill during the hearing.

Weissmann, the House sponsor of the bill, admitted he was surprised and disappointed by the bill’s swift demise. He also admitted that the urgency of the bill had passed with the expected official appointment of Blake as CSU chancellor.

“We’ll come back at it next session,” he said. “I mean, look, again we’re presented with one choice by a public university board. This just highlights the problems the bill would work to fix.”

The process by which CSU selected Blake for the top spot echoed the process that put Bruce Benson into the presidency at the University of Colorado, a process that sees the university governing board deliberate back stage and present a “sole finalist” for the larger university and state community to simply accept.

“I have no beef personally with Blake,” said Weissmann. “But is he the best man for the job? What does he know about agriculture? Veterinary sciences? University extension programs? That’s CSU… [In Blake] we’ve got another guy who’s not an academic. We’ve got another money guy.”

CSU political science professor John Straayer, an outspoken critic of the decision to create a new chancellorship, said the shotgun finish to the search only heightens concerns that the five-month process was a pretense.

“Having now raced ahead to beat the possible passage of HB 1369 doesn’t erase suspicions. Rightly or wrongly, this will appear to many to be a case study in how to waste a lot of other people’s time and money to dress up a pre-cooked decision.”

Indeed, the rapid selection of Blake confirms widely held suspicions among people who have been watching the search, few of whom were convinced by statements issued by the committee that it was seriously reviewing as many as 30 applications.

The search committee was made up almost entirely of Blake’s CSU board colleagues and his peers from the executive ranks of corporate Colorado.

Rumors flared again yesterday in the halls of the Capitol and in the blogosphere upon reports that, at the search committee meeting Tuesday — only the second such meeting held during the speedy selection process — a mere two applicants had been interviewed, one of whom was Blake.

As board vice president, Blake played a key role in the controversial decision to establish a new stand-alone chancellorship at CSU in the wake of President and Chancellor Larry Penley’s resignation last fall. Faculty and board members have subsequently questioned the decision to create a new expensive administrative spot at a time when CSU funding has drastically contracted. After already making deep staff cuts this quarter, CSU interim president Tony Frank this week proposed cutting 40 more jobs and raising tuition 9 percent.

Straayer published an op-ed in the student newspaper Monday arguing against the appointment of a chancellor altogether.

“A new chancellor would command a higher salary than that of any of the university presidents and by the time a full-blown staff came on board and an expense budget put in place, the annual price tag would surely exceed $1 million.”

That’s a calculation that concurs with one made by former CSU financial officer Gerry Bomotti, who estimates that a new university chancellor position will cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.

Joe Blake has held a long string of appointed positions. He was tapped by Gov. Bill Owens to join the CSU board and by Gov. Bill Ritter to serve on the Transportation Finance and Implementation Commission. He also chaired the Colorado Transportation Commission and the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.

The Denver Post reported that Blake wept when asked about leaving his current position as Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president.

Correction: The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce disputes another news report, and noted by the Colorado Independent, that erroneously placed Joe Blake at the Capitol while lawmakers discussed the bill. Chamber spokeswoman Kate Horle said Blake was not in Denver on May 5 and the business group did not take a stand nor participate in lobbying efforts against HB 1369.

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