Ilana Spiegel, Richard Murray face off in race for CU Board of Regents 6th CD

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Republican Richard Murray and Democrat Ilana Spiegel will face off in the race to represent Colorado’s 6th Congressional District on the University of Colorado Board of Regents, a closely watched race that could shift the board’s partisan split.

Colorado is one of the only states in the nation that has an elected partisan board of regents for its university system. The nine person board currently has five Republicans and four Democrats. Carson, the current representative from the 6th, is a Republican. If Spiegel succeeds in winning the seat the board’s majority will shift from Republican to Democratic.

That’s a change that many in the state’s Democratic political majority would welcome, and Spiegel’s endorsements are a veritable who’s-who of the Colorado Democratic Party, including Congress members Jason Crow and Joe Neguse and state AG Phil Weiser. Among others, Murray has received the nod from former CU president Bruce Benson, the Republican scion who led the university for 11 years.

Both candidates would be newcomers to elected office — Spiegel ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the state Board of Education in 2016, this is Murray’s first race. Both boast ties to the university — Murray, a Denver lawyer, received his bachelor’s and J.D. from CU Boulder, and three of public education advocate Spiegel’s four children are current or incoming students.

The eventual winner will join a board that has a history of conflict. The regents have faced ongoing criticism for partisan infighting and an inability to get along, and the board was embroiled in controversy last year for its handling of the election of CU president Mark Kennedy, who was criticized by many in the university community for his conservative voting record in the House of Representatives and a lack of experience in running a large university system. After a contentious public hearing process, Kennedy was ultimately voted in 5-4 along partisan lines.

But as the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the state’s budget and reshaped the higher education landscape, the controversy has taken a backseat to discussions of how the board will manage the university’s response to the crisis. 

In a questionnaire they answered for the Sentinel, Murray and Spiegel both acknowledged that the university needs more funding. Spiegel said she believes that in able to ensure a sustainable financial future for CU, the university needs to dramatically increase its enrollment of low-income students. Murray said that the university should conduct an in-depth review of its budget to determine how to make it more efficient. Both support keeping costs low for in-state students. Spiegel was much more critical of adjuncting, which she said is no longer workable financially for most people.

Spiegel criticized the recent requirement that communications staff submit messages about sensitive topics, including COVID-19 science, the First Amendment and racial issues, to the office of the president before publishing them.

“This is yet another example of the dysfunction created by the current board of regents majority,” she said.

Murray said it seemed reasonable that the president be informed of positions that the university takes, but agreed that it should not be applied to faculty, staff or students.

Spiegel and Murray also both agreed that the university system needs to do better by its students of color. The university has faced longstanding criticism for its track record of recruiting and retaining students of color, and faced a renewed round of scrutiny following the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality this summer.

Murray said that providing more scholarship opportunities and recruiting more diverse faculty are two of the steps the university should take to better recruit and retain students of color. Spiegel said that the university system should implement action items written by the Black Student Collective at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, which provides a step-by-step road map for improving student and faculty diversity.

According to campaign finance reports, Spiegel has significantly outraised Murray. Murray’s campaign spent almost $30,000 as of reports filed on Sept. 21 and had several thousand dollars remaining, while Spiegel’s campaign spent almost twice that at just under $60,000 and still had over $19,000 left.

Whether it’s enough to tip the balance remains to be seen.

Meet Democrat Ilana Spiegel

Ilana Spiegel

Ilana Spiegel is the Democratic candidate running for CU Regent in the 6th Congressional District. Spiegel attended Wellesley College and then received a master’s in education from Columbia University. She spent five years as a teacher in public and private schools in New York, and 15 years working for the Public Education and Business Coalition, after which she worked as a public education advocate. In 2018 she received the Colorado Education Association’s award for outstanding service in support of public education. She lives in Englewood with her family; several of her children are current or incoming CU students. Spiegel’s endorsements include representatives Jason Crow and Joe Neguse, attorney general Phil Weiser and current Democratic regents Linda Shoemaker, Jack Kroll, Irene Griego and Lesley Smith.

Ilana Spiegel policy questions

How much say should the regents have in the student curriculum? 

Academic freedom is a building block of our democracy and education systems. CU is a university that respects faculty and educators. Proposals that dictate curriculum are disrespectful and dangerous policies that violate academic freedom and jeopardize the legal boundaries of the  CU Regents. CU operates best when we trust our educators to teach a curriculum that does not put them in danger of losing their job or targeted for repression. Our students benefit most when our faculty and teachers are able to address controversial subjects in the classroom. The people of Colorado do not elect Regents to set the academic curriculum. They elect Regents to ensure CU has the highest quality of faculty and staff and to make tough decisions around CU’s budget. 

 

The current board majority has voted time and again to micro-manage student curriculum, against the concerns of faculty, staff and administration. That’s why students, faculty, and the community are asking for changes in leadership. They want the University of Colorado to have compassionate, courageous, and capable regents who provide oversight, make sense of situations, and have foresight and insight.  

 

 

Given that COVID-19 will have a major impact on the system’s budget, should Colorado cap CU tuition costs for in-state residents, forcing the university to either draw revenue from any other source, or cut expenses?

Capping tuition costs for in-state residents is only one piece of a challenging budget puzzle.  While we should always prioritize cost savings, years of reduced funding from the state and high health insurance costs have already resulted in a lean budget.

 

Our ability to enroll low income students is key to the future financial stability of CU.  The only populations of high school graduates expected to grow are minorities and low income students.  To provide the next generation with pathways to higher education, we must fundamentally reform our system for financing higher education by:

  • Expanding the scope and size of PELL grants
  • Moving federal financial aid means testing to tax filing
  • Moving away from debt financing to Income Sharing Agreements
  • Creating Promise programs that offer free tuition

 

CU now has several campuses spread across the state. Is there a point where the institution gets too big? Would you support further physical expansion of the university?

The University of Colorado is the 3rd largest employer in the state, and produces over $14 billion in economic impact, $8.4 billion from the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and its affiliates.  Each of CU’s 4 campuses provides value to local communities.  Further physical expansion of the university must include robust community input, including considerations for affordable housing, education partnerships with K-12, community colleges, and early childhood providers, as well as first responders, and paramedics.  

 

Do you believe the university should hire more adjunct professors to save costs and create a more varied faculty, or should it work to grow its base of tenured instructors?

 

A few months ago I met with Denice, an adjunct in both Women’s Studies and Religion.  She could afford to be an adjunct because she was semi-retired.  She shared stories of a PhD student who went on food stamps, and another adjunct who lived in her car and had to work on all four campuses.  These experiences are unacceptable.

The model of an adjunct is from the 1950s when men were the primary bread earners and women took care of everything else.  Men could work full time and adjunct very part time in a supervisory advisory role.  Over the past several decades, being an adjunct has become a full time, lower wage alternative to offering full tenure faculty positions, particularly for educators of color. We must create more pathways to expand the base of tenured faculty, especially faculty of color.

 

Do you believe the university could reduce the number of administrators and non-faculty working in its system?

 

While some cost savings can be found by reducing the number of administrators and non-faculty, CU already runs a pretty lean administration. Additional cuts could be taken, but it's not nearly enough to make a significant impact. We currently fund higher education 48th in the nation. CU builds its budget and sets tuition excluding state funding.  This needs to change.  I have a proven track record of making the case that public education works and is the best return on public investment for not just educators and students, but for the entire state. CU also needs bold leadership to advocate for adequate state resources by addressing conflicting Constitutional Amendments. 

 

The university has recently directed communications staff to submit messages about "sensitive topics," including the First Amendment, COVID-19 science and race relations, to the office of the president before publication. Do you support this policy? How do you view the role of free speech on campus?

I do not support the “purple pen policy”, a move to control speech and free expression of ideas of central importance to the campuses and broader public: COVID19 science, racial issues, healthcare, climate change, DACA, and LGBTQ+ issues.  This is yet another example of the dysfunction created by the current board of regents majority as they attempt to micro manage all forms of communication and why students, faculty, and staff want a change in leadership.  The role of free speech on our public university campuses is to engage in a civil discourse of ideas, not to threaten, intimidate or harass.

 

The University of Colorado has faced criticism for failing to create a supportive learning environment for students of color. Do you believe those criticisms are legitimate and if so, what policies would you implement to change things?

I do believe these criticisms are legitimate given that CU also ranks last in diversity in the PAC-12.  To address this issue we need to listen to our students, faculty, and staff by adding and following a system-wide CU Anti Racist Creed, and implementing action items for the reduction of racial injustices from the Black Student Collective on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

 

Student groups are challenging CU to engage all BIPOC led student, staff and faculty groups in every planning meeting, conversation, document and implementation of anti racism efforts across CU and include accountability checks at every step of the way. This process can start by expanding the pre-collegiate outreach program into more communities of color.  It’s time to do more.  It’s time to have representation in CD6 and a board majority that is responsive to these student concerns.

Meet Republican Richard Murray

Richard Murray

Richard Murray is the Republican candidate running for CU Regent in the 6th Congressional District. Murray attended CU Boulder as an undergraduate, where he was a tri-executive in the student government. He also received his law degree from CU, and last year was chair of the CU Law Alumni Board. After law school he clerked for Colorado Supreme Court Justice Nathan Coats, and then went on to work in private practice. He currently works at Polsinelli, a Denver law firm specializing in business and healthcare litigation, and in 2018 was named young lawyer of the year by the Denver Bar Association. He lives in Highlands Ranch with his family. Murray’s endorsements include former CU president Bruce Benson, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler and current Republican regents Heidi Ghanal, Sue Sharkey and Chance Hill.

Richard Murray policy questions

How much say should the regents have in the student curriculum? 

 

Under Regent policy, the Board of Regents is charged with approving the formation or discontinuance of academic units and degree programs. The Board does not set specific curriculum to be taught within those units and programs. But Regents have a responsibility within the shared governance structure of the University to ensure that all members of the CU community have the right to free expression and academic freedom in the classroom and on our campuses.

 

 

Given that COVID-19 will have a major impact on the system’s budget, should Colorado cap CU tuition costs for in-state residents, forcing the university to either draw revenue from any other source, or cut expenses?

 

We must find ways to lower in-state costs for our students. This issue is multiplied by the pandemic as revenue decreased. I will work closely with the CU Administration on solutions so CU comes out of the pandemic more innovative, more cost efficient, and stronger, all with the goal of minimizing layoffs, lowering tuition, and increasing financial aid sources. This includes an in-depth review of the budget, working with our alumni and business community on advancement and scholarships, and seeking increases in state funds (which have dropped dramatically over the past 20 years).

 

CU now has several campuses spread across the state. Is there a point where the institution gets too big? Would you support further physical expansion of the university?

 

The CU System is four campuses strong but is Front Range centric with the campuses located in Boulder, Denver, Aurora, and Colorado Springs. With over a $4.5 billion budget and four campuses to operate, yes, there is a point where the institution can become too large. Whether CU is currently at that size or not is unknown. There have been some suggestions of expansion with a Western Slope campus over the years, but in this revenue depreciated time, it is difficult to say whether such a capital expenditure would be pursued. CU has expanded its offerings through partnerships on the Western Slope through, for example, Colorado Mesa University and Western Colorado University. I would be supportive of exploring and analyzing an expansion option if it was fiscally sound, at the right time, and would be in the best interests of the people of Colorado.

 

 

Do you believe the university should hire more adjunct professors to save costs and create a more varied faculty, or should it work to grow its base of tenured instructors?

 

During my time as an undergraduate and law student at the University of Colorado, some of the most interesting and engaging courses I took were taught by adjunct professors. These faculty members not only taught courses but were working full-time in their respective fields. They brought a different viewpoint to the classroom that I personally found very rewarding. An increase in adjunct professors could be a means to reduce the costs of delivery for certain programs, and increase a more varied and diverse faculty. The University will always necessarily need to recruit and retain tenure-track professors, and it should continue to do so; but adjunct professors also provide a unique opportunity for students and the University and diversify the faculty.

 

 

Do you believe the university could reduce the number of administrators and non-faculty working in its system?

 

Potentially, and as revenue sources continue to decline in the era of COVID-19, the University will need to reevaluate its operations and how it can best deliver world-class education to our students in an efficient and high-quality manner. The repercussions of revenue loss sustained to-date by the pandemic, as well as the future losses yet to be realized, will force CU to address this question.

 

 

The university has recently directed communications staff to submit messages about "sensitive topics," including the First Amendment, COVID-19 science and race relations, to the office of the president before publication. Do you support this policy? How do you view the role of free speech on campus?

 

I view the role of free speech as a critical pillar of not only college campuses but our American society. College campuses should be places where individuals can freely express their viewpoints in a civil, safe, and constructive manner. On the issue of communications, it seems reasonable for University leadership to be apprised of positions being taken by the University before such positions on behalf of the institution are announced to the public in order to ensure consistent and unified messaging.  However, this instruction does not – and should not – apply to faculty, staff, and students.  There are policies in place protecting free speech, free expression, and academic freedom.

 

 

The University of Colorado has faced criticism for failing to create a supportive learning environment for students of color. Do you believe those criticisms are legitimate and if so, what policies would you implement to change things?

 

According to the 2019-20 CU Diversity Report, students of color enrolled in Fall 2019 across the CU System represent 30% of students, up 92% since Fall 2010. Per the Report, in Boulder, undergraduate enrollment of diverse students was 26.5%, whereas 10 years ago it was 15%, and 37% of freshman being diverse. However, over those 10 years, enrollment of Black students did not increase and Latino student enrollment increased just 5.5%. While progress is being made on overall enrollment of diverse students, I agree we need to do a better job attracting, recruiting, supporting, and retaining students of color—including promoting scholarship opportunities, fostering a community where everyone has a sense of belonging, increasing the number of faculty members from diverse communities, and providing the necessary resources for our students to succeed.