Editorial: CU Needs Decisive Leadership

It appears that CU president Elizabeth Hoffman will announce the fate of football coach Gary Barnett by the end of the week. Whenever the decision comes, it will define Hoffman's career at the university, and will prove a crucial move for the CU football program, and the entire athletic department. Amid all the recent political turmoil, one thing is clear: The university is crying out for a strong move by a strong leader.

Some CU insiders say they've never seen the university so divided, and political infighting so heated. On one side of campus is the Dal Ward Athletic Center. On the other sits the Chancellor's Office. The faculty spend their days everywhere in between. Each enclave is powerful, and each has a big stake in what's too transpire in the coming days.

The athletic department needs a strong football program. To cripple it could send the AD — strapped with the cost of recent stadium expansion, and basketball teams that don't draw like many of their Big 12 competitors — on a downward spiral that would take decades to recover from.

Hoffman gave Chancellor Richard Byyny a vote of confidence last week, and the CU president desperately needs a strong Chancellor's Office to run the Boulder campus. But Byyny has had a strained relationship with leadership in the AD, and his comment in February that competitiveness on the football field is not a priority sent chills down spines in the Dal Ward, and outraged CU fans far and wide.

And make no mistake, a healthy contingent of monied CU athletic boosters have made it clear they expect Barnett back and the football program fully supported by the administration in the wake of an investigation that has uncovered no criminal charges, much less any NCAA violations. A group is currently looking into suing the university if they feel Hoffman doesn't throw her support behind the athletic department and continue the Athletics Vision 2010. The group says they've donated money under the pretense that CU was trying to field winning teams, which the "competitiveness" comments seem to undermine.

Meanwhile, the Boulder Faculty Assembly have jumped into the fray, calling for a bigger role in the athletic department, and stricter admissions requirements for student athletes.

Throw a vocal and effective array of non-university advocacy groups, such as the National Organization of Women, into the mix and you get political tug of war that's got CU shuddering through a defining crisis.

And we haven't even brought up the fuel that runs the university — money.

Already facing dwindling university-wide budgets from a sagging tax base, and little sign of help from the state legislature, the controversy surrounding the football program is taking another financial bite out of the CU pie. According to one source, CU has spent in the neighborhood of $2 million on the Independent Investigative Commission, special liaison to the athletic department John DiBiaggio and legal fees for the ongoing Title IX suit against the university by three women who allege they were raped by football recruits at an off-campus party in 2001. That lawsuit won't likely go to trial before 2005, we are now told.

But as many have pointed out, $2 mil will look like a cheap price tag if Hoffman fires Barnett, who is under contract through 2007.

A few weeks back, Hoffman was quoted in a paper warning that her upcoming decisions would not please everyone. She seemed to hint that they may even leave all parties frustrated.

But leadership has never been about pleasing people. It's about doing the right thing, and doing it with decisiveness, despite how people with their various points of view react.

The time for committees, investigations, liaisons and reports has come and gone.

It's time for Hoffman to demonstrate how she plans to fix this political mess. It's time for strong leadership. Let's hope Hoffman is up to the task.

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