Guest Post: What the University of Colorado needs in its next president

Guggenheim Geography Building, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.
Guggenheim Geography Building, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Ken Lund/Creative Commons/Flickr)

Aaron Harber
Aaron Harber is the host of “The Aaron Harber Show”

As a former member of Princeton University’s governing Board of Trustees and as an alumnus of Harvard and Princeton, I have seen what the nation’s top educational institutions can achieve and how they do it. These experiences have convinced me the University of Colorado — an already impressive national university — can be even greater than it is today, if it is led by the right person.

With 70,000 students system-wide, 10,000 people teaching, and 35,000 employees, CU is a Colorado gem.  What does the institution need for the decades to come if we want it to excel?  


The heart of any educational institution is its faculty. CU has an extraordinary group of instructors and researchers — many of whom have raised the bar for scholarship and instruction.

But CU must aggressively improve the consistency of its instruction. Poor instructors unintentionally convince students to avoid certain subjects. CU has the attributes which allow it to seek great scholars who also are great teachers. It is these exceptional individuals who often have the greatest impact on students’ lives.


The University exists to serve its students. Students are the “customers” of CU and need to be treated accordingly. This also means demanding more of students — many of whom do not take their academic studies seriously.

A customer orientation is important not only for the future of each attendee but also for the development of an alumni community which will give back to CU in the form of volunteers and financial support. There needs to be a sea change in the institution’s culture so the experience of students is more positive.


CU has done an admirable job diversifying its student body but much more is needed. The university’s effort to go into a wide range of communities to encourage high school students to apply for admission needs to be expanded by an order of magnitude and start at the middle school level.


The cost of college today is beyond the reach of numerous families. Too many graduates have trouble finding employment in their fields of study. And, even if they do, student loan burdens often make their degrees a bad financial proposition. CU needs to directly address these challenges.


CU has many outstanding administrators who provide impressive leadership and continuity for the institution. Given options for automation as well as the need to review the “necessity” versus the “desire” to add administrative staff, CU still can significantly reduce administrative costs.

Technology and Artificial Intelligence

To be competitive, CU must deploy more and superior technology in all aspects of its operations to create better classroom results and out-of-classroom experiences as well as streamline administrative functions. It often does a poor job integrating new technology and has faculty and staff members who struggle with hi-tech advancements. CU has a vast array of unused opportunities to deploy artificial I=intelligence, especially given the expertise it already within its faculty and staff.

The Public Role

The need for leadership in the political arena to make the case for higher education today is greater than it has ever been. All Colorado institutions of higher education have seen public financial support decline precipitously due, in part, to the failure of leadership. It’s time to “make the case” and turn this around.

Research and Innovation

CU has done a superb job developing pathways to monetize inventions, patents, and other advancements so the university benefits from the support it gives faculty, staff, and students. It now is time to produce far more significant financial results from these efforts.

The Need for Bold Leadership

I have been involved in academic leadership selection processes and, as a journalist, have done programs with exceptional major university presidents of elite institutions such as Brown (Christina Paxson), Chicago (Robert Zimmer), Denver (Rebecca Chopp), Princeton (Harold Shapiro, Shirley Tilghman), Stanford (John Hennessy), Vassar (Betsy Bradley), and Wellesley (Paula Johnson), among others.  CU needs and can have such a leader today.

What I consistently have seen firsthand is the amazing influence just one person can have on an institution. The CU Board of Regents needs to find the person who will provide the bold leadership the future requires.  Let’s hope those nine members fulfill their most important responsibility — selecting a president — with great success.  Go Buffs!

Go to for an expanded and highly detailed version of this analysis. To hear my discussion of some of these issues on “The Rick Lewis Show” on 103.5 FM The Fox, go to

The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact or visit our submission page


  1. The primary responsibility of higher education in a society is to provide students with learning skills. The major is less important than the skills gained. With those students can cope with the responsibilities of life (marriage, parenting, investing in one future, caring for elderly parents, dealing with illness and accidents…).Learning skills also enable the student to be confident that she(he) can take on unfamiliar challenges and opportunities when they arise. In that sense, “… employment in their fields of study.” is an unnecessary restriction in moving ahead!

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