Watchdog coalition demands CSU halt chancellor hire, wants search restarted

The historic administration building at Colorado State University. (Photo/Jason Kosena)
The historic administration building at Colorado State University. (Photo/Jason Kosena)
Three Colorado watchdog groups have joined together to demand Colorado State University rescind its decision to hire Denver Chamber of Commerce President Joe Blake as the university’s new standalone chancellor.

Spurred by news of events surrounding the search over the last month, Colorado Ethics Watch, Colorado Common Cause and New Era Colorado have asked the CSU governing board to restart the search for chancellor candidates, opening up the process to students, faculty and the community and working to restore integrity to the search.

“Nothing short of restarting the process will restore integrity to the search and to the hire,” said Colorado Ethics Watch Director Chantell Taylor speaking for the coalition. The three groups have never before formally worked in concert on an issue.

“In discussion this week, we came to the decision to take action. We decided to try to stop the clock, to stop the process from going forward because we felt that that was something CSU could actually do.”

The groups reportedly sent their request to the governing board as well as to Joe Blake specifically. Blake is vice chairman of the board and was selected for the chancellor position on May 5 by the board’s search committee in an insular process that many observers — including CSU faculty and students, state lawmakers and members of the press — have criticized as vulnerable to closed-door dealmaking and cronyism.

Blake voted with the board in December to create the new standalone chancellor position. He has admitted to weighing a run for the position for months, and rumors of his candidacy echoed across CSU campuses and in the halls of the Capitol as the candidate search proceeded. On April 29, four months into the search, Blake met privately with the board’s lawyer and with Board Chairman Doug Jones, who has worked with Blake at the Denver Chamber of Commerce. Blake submitted his application for the chancellorship that same day and was selected sole finalist a week later during a closed-door executive session of the board in what appears a clear violation of state open-meetings laws.

Blake’s selection came on the same day lawmakers in Denver were set to vote on a bill that would have set transparency guidelines on university leadership selection in the state and for the CSU chancellor search in particular. The sudden announcement of Blake as sole finalist “ended the urgency” to try to pass the new law, according to House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, the bill’s sponsor.

Taylor said she is reassured by CSU’s initial response. University spokeswoman Michele McKinney communicated with Common Cause’s Jennifer Flanagan, saying she would “follow up with the board office” to distribute the groups’ request.

“If we get a response from CSU, that’s a first step. It would be on the radar,” said Taylor. “Our issue is not with Joe Blake. The point is to establish a process with guidelines — for the communities involved but also for the search committees, for the [public university] boards in the state. That way we all know the parameters. Guidelines will just strengthen the process.”

CSU is currently being sued by The Colorado Independent and two newspapers — The Coloradoan in Fort Collins and the Pueblo Chieftan — for violating Colorado’s open-meetings laws.

** Edit Note: An earlier version of this story reported that CSU’s McKinney spoke with Colorado Ethics Watch Director Chantell Taylor. She did not. She emailed with Common Cause’s Jennifer Flanagan, as reflected in the version above.

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