- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

DENVER The University of Colorado has approved top Republican fundraiser Bruce Benson as its next president over the objections of the faculty, student body and critics who called him unqualified for the job.

The university’s board of regents voted 6-3 on Wednesday night to select Mr. Benson after weeks of debate. The vote split along party lines, with the board’s six Republicans voting in support and the three Democrats opposed. After the vote, Mr. Benson, a millionaire oilman and philanthropist who once headed the state’s Republican Party, vowed to mend fences.

“When your votes are over, you just forget everything in the past,” Mr. Benson said. “You embrace everybody.”

Mr. Benson, 69, becomes the second well-known Republican to head the state’s pre-eminent public university system. He will replace former Sen. Hank Brown, a conservative who served in the U.S. House and Senate before retiring from politics to enter higher education. Mr. Brown has been hailed for taking over the university at the height of a football-recruiting scandal and restoring its good name. He plans to step down in the next few months.

Mr. Benson’s nomination to the presidency was a fight from the start. Critics said he was too closely tied to partisan politics, citing his involvement with the state Republican Party and the Trailhead Group, a tax-exempt 527 organization that ran ads against Democrats in the last election. His lack of an advanced degree he holds a bachelor’s degree in geology from Colorado also was considered a strike against his candidacy.

The Faculty Assembly at the university’s flagship campus in Boulder, known for its liberal bent, voted 40-4 last week to oppose Mr. Benson’s nomination. The student government also voted to denounce his appointment.

“Never in CU’s history has a presidential nominee received such broad-based opposition,” said Regent Michael Carrigan, who voted “no.”

Students held campus protests featuring a rolling 6-foot oil rig opposing Mr. Benson, claiming that his lifelong work in the petroleum industry shows his insufficient commitment to reversing climate change.

“I’m not saying Benson is a bad person. The issue is that he does not meet the qualifications for this position. He’s divisive to the student body, and he’s divisive to the faculty and staff,” student Taylor Levy said at a public hearing Wednesday before the regents.

In Mr. Benson’s corner were some of the state’s biggest names, including several Democrats, who lauded the candidate’s ability to form coalitions, solve problems and raise money. The university is struggling with a funding crisis as state education dollars are increasingly committed to K-12 education. Mr. Benson’s ability to tap into private financial wells was seen as a key qualification.

“I don’t know anyone who works harder or who is more passionate about CU and higher education,” Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said at the Wednesday hearing.

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