CU Boulder President Search Rigged, Critic Says



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On April 27, the University of Colorado’s nine regents unanimously agreed to appoint interim CU president Todd Saliman to the post on a permanent basis, less than two weeks after declaring him to be the sole finalist for the gig.

That there wasn’t a single dissenting vote among the regents despite differing party affiliations (there are currently five Democrats and four Republicans) suggests that the process was rigged, says Mario M. Carrera, president and CEO of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization (CLLARO).

Carrera sees the university’s boasts about the diversity of candidates interviewed before Saliman’s selection as an empty attempt at public-relations spin that fails to mask the disrespect shown to eminently qualified candidates of color. And given CU’s dismal record when it comes to disrupting its homogeneity at all levels of the system, he fears that Saliman’s pledges to improve the situation are little more than lip service.

“Now that he has the job,” Carrera says, “I don’t things are going to change with respect to the expectations of having an inclusive, diverse, equitable environment on campus and acknowledging the emerging populations that we have.”

In July 2021, Saliman, a CU alum and former state legislator then serving as the university’s chief financial officer, became interim president following the exit of Mark Kennedy, a onetime businessman and former Republican member of Congress whose tenure was widely regarded as a disaster. According to CLLARO, Saliman was supposed to be a caretaker rather than a candidate to fill the gap left by Kennedy’s departure, pointing out that his original contract stated: “Todd will not apply for the position of president, but will aid the search process for the next president and the transition process.” But last September, the contract was amended to allow Saliman to throw his hat into the ring. He took advantage of this opportunity the following December, after Storbeck Search, the firm hired by CU to facilitate the hunt for a new campus leader, had already held its first meeting.

Among those who applied for the position was Joe Garcia, whose background includes stints as Colorado’s lieutenant governor and the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s executive director. Carrera stops short of saying Garcia was CLLARO’s favorite for the job, calling him one of many candidates of color with extremely impressive credentials. But while Garcia was among eleven applicants to be quizzed by the search committee, he didn’t advance to the interview stage with the regents.

After Saliman was identified as the only finalist for the CU presidency, the university issued a release contending that Storbeck Search had assembled “a highly qualified and diverse pool of 39 candidates: 13 women and 26 men — 13 candidates from Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) groups — from 20 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and international candidates.” But Carrera says that when CLLARO tried to use the Colorado Open Records Act to get details about these individuals, “the search firm said they didn’t have the information.”

The National Football League has been widely criticized for abusing what’s known as the Rooney Rule, which requires teams looking for head coaches and other senior executives to interview at least one minority candidate. sked if he sees a corollary between this alleged tokenism and how CU handled the Saliman situation, Carrera responds: “I think you’re onto something. We’ve talked to a lot of senior-level people of color, and they have a feeling that a lot of these institutions invite people of color to interview only so that they can claim there were people of color in the process. This is something where they feel they’re being used to justify the process. It doesn’t matter that they’re actually qualified, and that they can definitely take on that responsibility. It’s a sad statement, but it is true.”

Carrera adds: “My theory is that [Saliman] was a compromise candidate, and that the compromise was made long ago. There’s no other explanation for why there were nine votes on this candidate.”

Saliman is acutely aware that he’ll be watched closely for efforts to diversify CU. In an interview earlier this week with Colorado Public Radio, he said that that university had recently allocated $70 million to improving the campus from a diversity, equity and inclusion standpoint: “We’re investing in efforts to increase the pipeline for faculty and staff recruitment from underrepresented groups.”

Carrera thinks that Saliman needs to go farther. “The primary issue is representation at the student, faculty and administration level,” he notes. “Latinos are 23 percent of the total population, but that’s not represented on the campus at all. There’s a need for an aggressive enrollment campaign in the state for Latinos and Latinas, but they’ve never done that kind of outreach. I was in the media business for eighteen years, and they’ve never done that kind of campaign in Spanish-language media or in English-language media for the Spanish populations. Other institutions are doing that now: I’m a trustee at Metropolitan State University of Denver, so I know those things are critical.”

Westword has reached out to CU to ask what percentage of the administration, staff and student body is Latino.

Other things that need to be addressed “are curriculum and content,” Carrera continues. “It needs to be clear that this is an institution that really invites and encourages research degrees in areas of study that connect with Latino and Latin American students. They need to acknowledge this population — that the population is represented at CU and they’re open to doing business with them. And they’ve done nothing like that. They’ve basically done everything they could to discourage people like this from going there.”

Concludes Carrera: “The burden’s on Todd Saliman now. It’s not a personal thing at all, and God help him. I hope he sees there’s an opportunity to correct things and make things right. I’m hoping to see in the next thirty, sixty, ninety days a very forceful narrative that says, ‘This is where we’re going, this is what we’re doing.’ And we’ll be watching.”

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