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Archive for March 7th, 2008

DENVER (NYT) – In one of those ironies that make life interesting, the University of Colorado, which dismissed controversial professor Ward Churchill because of doubts about his academic qualifications, has appointed a president who doesn’t have any. (The final vote was taken on Feb. 20.)

Bruce Benson is an oilman, Republican activist, failed candidate for governor, co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s (now ended) campaign, successful fund raiser, donor to the university, former chairman of the Metropolitan State College Denver Board and chair of a blue-ribbon panel on higher education. Obviously he has a strong interest in education, but his highest degree is a B.A., and he has never been a member of a faculty or engaged in research or published papers in a learned journal. In short, he is no way an academic, and yet he is about become the president of an academic institution, and not any old institution, but a state university ranked 11th among public universities and 34th among universities overall.

Not surprisingly, the announcement a short while ago that he was the only candidate being put forward by the 17-person search committee drew protests from faculty, students and some alumni. The faculty assembly voted 40-4 against him. A group called ProgressNow gathered signatures for an “oppose Benson” petition. The House Majority leader, Democrat Alice Madden, said that when she heard the news, she though it was a “really bad” joke; she added that “he will be the least educated president ever considered in modern history.”

Maybe in Colorado. But some people in West Virginia believe that they have a candidate for the “least educated president” prize. Like Benson, Michael Garrison has no advanced degrees in an academic subject (although he does at least have a law degree), and his appointment, in April of last year, was opposed by the Faculty Senate.

Again like Benson, Garrison has a long-term interest in higher education – he was chairman of the state’s Higher Education Policy Committee – but his main career work has been first as a chief of staff to a former governor and subsequently as a lobbyist. In recent months he has become involved in a rather murky controversy. A daughter of the present governor (a Democrat and a political ally) had claimed a degree on her resume that apparently was never awarded. When apprised of this fact, a university spokesperson said that a clerical error had been made and that the degree had indeed been earned.

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