A Message from the President
December 2009
In This Issue...

Dear Alumni and Friends,

President Bruce Benson
President Bruce D. Benson

Colorado's public colleges and universities are in a precarious position. State funding, which supports crucial operations such as technology infrastructure, faculty and staff salaries, and operation of our physical plant, continues the steady decline that we experienced even before the economy went south. State funding per resident student (in which Colorado ranks 48th nationally) at CU is now at 1981 levels, $2,630 per student, which is not adjusted for inflation.

Clearly, we must address this abysmal trend. I made a proposal (described in some detail below) to state lawmakers recently which I believe is a good first step. We recognize that before we ask for any changes, we must do all we can to ensure our operations are efficient, effective and closely adhere to our mission.

Even before the recession was in full swing, we were examining our operations for efficiencies. We have reduced bureaucracy, improved business practices and made strategic cuts. We absorbed $29 million in cuts over the past 18 months and will enact an additional $21 million in budget balancing measures through a combination of more efficiencies, revenue enhancements and strategic cuts. Our guiding principle throughout is to sustain our academic and research enterprises. We are grateful for the breathing room federal stimulus funding provides but are planning for when it goes away in 18 short months.

We cannot continue on a path of steady decline. Higher education in Colorado is too valuable to slowly starve. CU provides an educated workforce, has a $7 billion impact (including the University of Colorado Hospital) on the state's economy annually, attracts $711 million in mostly federal research dollars (which has a significant multiplier) to our state, and creates startup companies that contribute to economic health. Additionally, we are the state's only provider of physicians, dentists and pharmacists. Our high-quality nursing programs also fill crucial needs.

CU is Colorado's fourth-largest employer. We have been a stable presence in the state since 1876. We meet compelling state needs in renewable/sustainable energy, health care and biosciences, and are a key part of Colorado's space economy, which is second in the nation (behind only California). We are an important contributor to Colorado's economic, social and cultural health.

So what can be done to ensure we continue our contributions? For starters, we can establish a new partnership with the state and with Coloradans that will be an important step in sustaining higher education. I proposed such a partnership this week to the Colorado Legislature's Joint Budget Committee. It has four primary facets:

  • Passing flexibility legislation in the 2010 session for higher education that lawmakers and college leaders collaborated to craft this fall. It won't solve structural funding problems, but will help us to operate more efficiently by cutting bureaucracy and unnecessary or duplicative regulation. There are two pieces of the proposed legislation that are particularly important: Allowing us to continue our fiscal stewardship by cutting red tape that inhibits our ability to operate efficiently; and allowing us to increase the number of international students (now limited by non-resident caps) to help position Colorado globally, to enhance the experience for our students and to generate revenue. We would guarantee that the increased international focus would not take a spot from any qualified Colorado student.
  • Investing in professional health programs, particularly the CU School of Medicine, to ensure Colorado continues to have first-rate health care.
  • Ensuring access and excellence by allowing us to price tuition and invest in financial aid that will directly benefit middle-income families. Our elected Board of Regents would provide a check and balance, and market forces would ensure appropriate price levels.
  • Easing the restrictions on selective use of state retirees (110 days to 150), which would allow us to make better use of a veteran workforce with high-level training and experience, which is particularly important as we operate with a reduced workforce.

We believe this modest proposal is a good start in setting us on a path toward higher education that is efficient and sustainable. We will be collaborating with lawmakers, citizens, the university community and our Board of Regents over the coming months to add detail. We fully understand our obligation to be accountable, and we are working on measures that will demonstrate that we are.

We can act now or we can continue the steady decline of higher education that will have significant and long-lasting negative consequences for Colorado. Alumni and friends of CU often ask me what they can do to help. I tell them to spread the word about the value of the university and higher education. Universities are often seen as a private good, benefiting only the individual. Therefore, we all have an obligation to demonstrate that is also a public good, benefiting our state and nation in myriad ways.

For feedback, please contact officeofthepresident@cu.edu


Bruce D. Benson

Learning to Teach

When most people envision Nobel Prize winning scientists, they see someone in a white coat in a laboratory, surrounded by test tubes, microscopes and assorted high-tech equipment. At CU, you can find our first Nobel laureate, Tom Cech, in such a setting in his position as director of the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology. But you would just as likely find him in a classroom in the Cristol Chemistry building, teaching chemistry to freshmen.

Cech and his colleagues are dramatically changing the way we teach science. They are working off a blueprint developed by another of our Nobel laureates, Carl Wieman. Wieman and Cech share the distinction of earning one of the world's most prestigious awards, but they also share a passion for teaching science.

Wieman has long been fascinated by the effectiveness of teaching. He asked himself if students really absorbed and learned from the lecture method that has been the staple of college teaching for centuries. Like any good scientist, he developed and tested a hypothesis. He found that no matter the professor's depth of expertise and no matter how clearly a subject was presented, student learning was not what it could or should be.

So he developed a better way. Now Cech and others on our science faculty employ a method that is hands-on and engages students. It divides them into small groups and encourages them to collaborate with each other and other groups. Active participation, rather than passive listening, is the key. Professors also use learning assistants, former students who have been through the course and serve as coaches and mentors.

Cech, Wieman and their colleagues at CU (and at the many universities across the country who are adopting the method started in Boulder), continually test and improve their methods, and they are making a real difference in student learning. It's great to be able to brag when one of our faculty scientists win a Nobel Prize. And it's equally great to see how their passion for teaching is nurturing the next generation of scientists.

If you'd like some more insight, you can read an op-ed Professor Cech and I wrote for The Denver Post at http://www.denverpost.com/guestcommentary/ci_13876207.

School of Medicine Challenges

I would like to clarify some information you may have seen in recent media reports regarding the accreditation of CU's School of Medicine. Let me be clear, the School of Medicine remains fully accredited. Accreditation, particularly of professional schools like medicine, happens in multi-year cycles (every eight years for medicine). The intent is for an independent body with specialized knowledge to affirm that a program or campus is meeting high standards and is operating effectively and efficiently. The accreditation agency for the School of Medicine is the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).

During its most recent visit in April, the LCME applauded the school's new curriculum as a major strength. However, it also expressed concern in three areas: the declining amount of state funding, the debt carried by graduating students, and the diversity of the student body. The team stressed that the lack of state funding was a major contributor to the latter two factors. We submitted a plan to address the issues, and the LCME called it "well conceived." LCME will return for a site visit in 18 months to check our progress. For perspective, a typical site visit finds eight areas of concern.

Regarding their concerns, the agency gives us the latitude to define diversity using nationally accepted criteria. We have committed $10 million of institutional funds over the next five years to improve our diversity.

We are making our case to the Colorado Legislature about the decline in state funding. That is why you saw investment in professional health care programs as one of the key facets of the proposed new partnership with the state (detailed above). Our School of Medicine is near dead last in the United States in revenue from state funding and student tuition. For the health of Coloradans, we simply must do better.

We are also concerned about student debt upon graduation, which averages $160,000. Scholarship support and ongoing merit-based awards will certainly help reduce debt load and bolster recruiting. The school's scholarship committee will direct awards to areas of greatest need. Additionally, the CU Foundation has increased its efforts to generate scholarship support.

Our School of Medicine is a tremendous asset to Colorado, the nation and region. We are the state's only public provider of physicians. Our high-quality faculty researchers are at the leading edge of issues in disease prevention, management and cures. They are innovative, expert and world-class in many areas. We annually donate thousands of hours of medical services to low-income and indigent Coloradans.

Ensuring the health of our School of Medicine is part and parcel of ensuring the health of Colorado.

Regents Merchant, Bishop honored

We're pleased to let you know that two of our regents received honors recently. Regent Monisha Merchant, D-Lakewood, has been awarded a prestigious Marshall Memorial Fellowship for 2010, a traveling program that will send 54 emerging U.S. leaders to several European cities to learn about common political, economic and social issues and institutions.

The group of fellows, representing 18 states and the District of Columbia, was chosen through competitive national and regional processes. Participants come from politics, government, media, business and nonprofits. Merchant is one of four Coloradans taking part.

The German Marshall Fund of the United States is a nonpartisan American public policy and grant-making institution that promotes cooperation and understanding between the U.S. and Europe.

Regent Tilman "Tillie" Bishop, R-Grand Junction, was honored with the Soviet Jewry Freedom Award, presented by the Russian Jewish Community Foundation at the group's October meeting in Boston.

While a member of the Colorado legislature, Bishop and former Rep. Jerry Kopel took up the cause of the Leningrad Three, who were imprisoned in Soviet Russia after an unsuccessful attempt to hijack an airplane to escape the Soviet Union in 1970. Bishop and Kopel enlisted some of their legislative colleagues to help, as well as prominent Coloradans. The prisoners eventually were released after an effort that spanned more than six years.

The Russian Jewish Community Foundation is a grassroots, all-volunteer charitable organization seeking to preserve and enhance Jewish identity among Russian Jews and to support Israel.

News From Our Campuses

The United Nations is seeking an agreement on reductions of greenhouse gas emissions that will either extend or replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the University of Colorado at Boulder will soon play an important role in monitoring the process. Next week, a group of scientists from our Boulder campus will attend the U.N.'s annual climate conference in Copenhagen. Known as the 15th Conference of the Parties, or COP 15, the conference will include the participation of representatives from 192 countries. To add to its growing list of accolades as a "green university," CU-Boulder has been admitted as an observer organization under the U.N.'s Framework Convention on Climate Change. The designation will entitle the campus to nominate representatives to observe discussions about extending or replacing the Kyoto Protocol. Several CU-Boulder faculty members and graduate students will attend the COP 15 from Dec. 7 to Dec. 18, and give presentations or act as observers. We wish them well, and thank them for representing CU at such a prestigious international event.

The University of Colorado Denver is a major partner in the establishment of the new Phoenix Center, dedicated to the prevention of sexual assault, stalking and dating and domestic violence. UCD and its partner institutions hope to raise awareness among students, staff and faculty as part of efforts to eradicate all forms of interpersonal violence on the Auraria Higher Education Campus. Located in downtown Denver, Auraria encompasses UCD, Metropolitan State College of Denver and Community College of Denver. With more than 43,000 students combined, it is the state's largest higher education campus. UCD's School of Public Affairs was instrumental in garnering funding for the project through a U.S. Department of Justice grant. The school's Center on Domestic Violence, the only federally funded domestic violence prevention center in the nation, learned of the three-year, $500,000 grant in November 2008. Safety is a major concern for all of our campuses and we applaud UCD for taking the lead on expanding public awareness on the issue and providing critical services to our students, staff and faculty.

A lot of important medical research is taking place on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and I'm delighted to share one of our recent funding success stories. Christopher Porter, M.D., an assistant pediatrics professor at the School of Medicine, received a two-year, $1.4 million grant to support his research, which seeks to discover better treatments for patients diagnosed with leukemia. Porter will apply the federal stimulus funding, made possible through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), to dynamic research in acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. He will use the funds to employ high-tech screening tools to look for AML genes that can be turned off, making it easier for conventional therapies to kill cancer cells. In addition to teaching our medical school students, Porter also is a pediatric oncologist at The Children's Hospital, and is a good example of the high-quality researchers driven to find cures for serious human maladies.

Our University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus continues to expand its scenic campus, which offers students, faculty and staff stunning views of the Pikes Peak region. As it grows, UCCS is doing an excellent job of ensuring that its facilities will serve students, faculty and staff far into the future. In fact, one of the campus's newest and most cutting-edge buildings recently won high praise for its design and green construction features. UCCS' sleek, new Science and Engineering Building earned a first place Colorado Sustainable Design Award in the commercial building category. Colorado Business Magazine judges said the building demonstrated a strong link to the education system, and was "an engineering building that is smartly engineered in every way." Among the building's many sustainable features are waterless urinals, low-flow lavatories, showers and sinks, high-efficiency irrigation, water-conserving plant species, thin-film solar panels, and abundant recycling areas. The building is a great example of the new generation of campus structures on all four CU campuses that are helping our university conserve, become more efficient and add to our sustainability efforts.