CU President Benson addresses a forum at the CU Denver campus

Saying Chancellor Don Elliman “will take this campus farther and faster than anybody you could imagine,” University of Colorado President Bruce Benson today said the “interim” should be removed from Elliman’s title.

Benson spoke to about 100 faculty and staff in the Executive MBA Room of the CU Building on the Denver Campus this afternoon as part of a series of campus forums. On Wednesday afternoon, he addressed faculty and staff at the Anschutz Medical Campus. Benson said he’s talked to nine governance and key constituent groups on both campuses recently about making Elliman the permanent chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus.

Elliman was named interim chancellor last February after Interim Chancellor Jerry Wartgow announced his retirement.

Benson said the university is fortunate to have a leader of Elliman’s caliber, and he considers conducting a search, costing at least some $200,000, an unnecessary exercise and expense. He also said the potential for a protracted search could hinder the campus, which faces pressing internal and external challenges. Benson noted that the last chancellor search, which resulted in hiring M. Roy Wilson, took 18 months.

“If you find the person who can do it, you’ve got to pounce on it,” Benson said.

Benson will ask the Board of Regents at its meeting in Colorado Springs next week for a search waiver that will allow him to name Elliman chancellor.

The forums at the Anschutz Medical Campus and Denver Campus were striking for their candor, with Benson making brief introductory remarks about Elliman, who he calls “a good friend” and “trusted advisor,” followed by questions from the audience.

At the Anschutz Medical Campus, one faculty member asked Benson to discuss the merits of appointing someone with an academic or business background to the chancellor’s job. Benson, himself a former businessman, said a business background is a big plus, especially in challenging economic times.

“I came in (to the CU presidency) as a businessman, and it was lacking,” he said. “I’m not worried about how good a researcher Don is, but about how good he is at raising money.”

A faculty member at the Denver Campus said Elliman may very well be the best person for the job, but that the university should adhere to the process of a full search. Each time the university appoints a leader without consultation of faculty or going through the usual academic processes, he said, “we get farther and farther from how a university should fill these positions.”

Benson responded that he understands the point. “I’d just say that when I see someone who I think can really get something done, that’s why I jump on it. That’s why I aim this direction.”

Elliman has filled such high-profile positions as the state’s chief operating officer, director of the Office of Economic Development and executive director of the Charles C. Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology at the Anschutz Medical Campus. Additionally, he had a 30-year career in publishing with Time, Inc. (serving as president of Sports Illustrated and publisher of People) and was president of Ascent Sports, owner of the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and Pepsi Center. Benson described being in meetings with Elliman. “You’d think, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ when he says something.”

He said Elliman has a passion for both campuses, noting how he is taking on leadership roles with the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority and guiding the CU Denver Campus through a period of physical growth — all in the face of a challenging financial climate for higher education.

“This to me is how you tie all these pieces together and get these campuses to work together,” Benson said. “I think they work better together now than they have in the past. This is why I think we’re going to have a home run.”

One faculty member at the Anschutz Medical Campus asked if CU would review consolidation. “This is what you’ve got,” Benson said. “We’re going to have to make this work.”

Most people who commented in both forums spoke highly of Elliman’s leadership. One person at the Denver meeting said she hopes the string of interim leaders at CU Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus is over.

Benson said, “Don is passionate … I know he has no plan to leave here.” As for Elliman’s marketing expertise, he said, “You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t market it, nobody is going to know about it.”

Other comments from the forums:

  • Lilly Marks, CU’s vice president for health affairs and executive vice chancellor for the Anschutz Medical Campus, said, “Don brings an incredible perspective and wealth of experience.” She added, “This campus has struggled to find its place in the consolidation. With Don, someone is addressing those issues in a thoughtful and comprehensive way.”
  • Raul Cardenas, associate vice chancellor of student affairs, said, “I think it’s a great decision. Personally, with his expertise already, we can feel the impact he’s made with us.”
  • Sueann Ambron, dean of the School of Business, said she’s been impressed by how Elliman interacts with donors and potential donors. “When you go out on a call with Don he brings a lot to the party. He’s already been an extraordinary chancellor, and I think he’s only going to get better.

When asked about how faculty and staff could provide feedback in other ways besides the forum, Benson said they shouldn’t hesitate to email him, making note that it’s in reference to his recent campus forums.

CU in the City logo