CU President Hoffman Resigns · 06 March 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage


By Jon Sarche--Associated Press--03/07/05

University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman announced today that she is resigning amid a football recruiting scandal and a national controversy over an activist professor who compared victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to a notorious Nazi.

Hoffman, who has been president for five years, told the Board of Regents in a letter that her resignation is effective June 30 or whenever the board names a successor.

"It appears to me it is in the university's best interest that I remove the issue of my future from the debate so that nothing inhibits CU's ability to successfully create the bright future it so deserves," Hoffman wrote.

An independent commission reported last year that Colorado players used sex, alcohol and marijuana as recruiting tools.

And in February, administrators took the first steps toward a possible dismissal of professor Ward Churchill, who likened World Trade Center victims to Nazi Adolf Eichmann.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Hoffman said her decision to resign would give her time to help the university resolve the controversies.

"I've taken my future off the table so to some extent I can focus my attention on issues that face the university and not on my personal future," she said.

She cited the upcoming trial of a civil lawsuit that stemmed from the football recruiting scandal.

"Sometimes you need to say someone else perhaps needs to take the next step and that's what I've decided," Hoffman said. "I think it's really important to focus my attention on what needs to be done and not feel that I have to defend myself against attacks."

Board of Regents Chairman Jerry Rutledge said in a written statement that Hoffman would be missed.

"However, it has become clear to many in the CU family that our university - one of the most distinguished in the nation - has suffered greatly from a series of controversies that seem to be growing, not abating," he said. "On Monday, President Hoffman realized the future of CU is far more important than any single individual."

At least nine women have said they were assaulted by Colorado football players or recruits since 1997.

Just last week, a sealed grand jury report leaked to the media said two female trainers alleged they were sexually assaulted by an assistant coach and that a "slush fund" was created with money from coach Gary Barnett's football camp, according to a report leaked to the media.

The grand jury, which finished meeting Aug. 19, handed up a single indictment accusing a former football recruiting aide of soliciting a prostitute for himself and misusing a school-issued cell phone.

A parallel investigation by then-Attorney General Ken Salazar into the alleged assaults resulted in no charges; prosecutors cited concerns about evidence and the reluctance of the women to go forward with the cases.

Hoffman said the school fully cooperated with the grand jury and launched financial audits of Barnett's football camp and the university's fund raising arm, even though both are independent organizations.

A review of Churchill's speeches and writings is being conducted to determine if the professor overstepped his boundaries of academic freedom and whether that should be grounds for dismissal.

Hoffman said last week that Churchill would not be fired if the review turns up only inflammatory comments, not misconduct. She also said she feared a "new McCarthyism" that endangers academic freedom.

Churchill said Monday that Hoffman unfairly became the focus of criticism and was pressured to leave.

"It's both a tragedy and a travesty. I think the woman has, under the circumstances that have been imposed by the political realities of the state, done an absolutely amazing job under extraordinary pressure," he said. "She has been ... working to defend the principle of academic integrity in the face of almost stonewall opposition to the idea that quite a range of viewpoints are deserving of articulation."

The Denver Post, one of the state's largest newspapers, said in an editorial Friday that the university would benefit from new leadership. Gov. Bill Owens has said CU's finances and those of the CU Foundation should be more open. Owens also has pushed for Churchill's dismissal.

Hoffman told the AP her decision was based solely on a belief that announcing her resignation would help relieve some pressure on the university.

"It was not prompted by the editorial, not prompted by pressure from the governor," she said. "To me it's about principle, it's about taking a very strong stand and putting the university ahead of myself or any other individual."

The furor over Churchill erupted in January after he was invited to speak at Hamilton College in upstate New York. An editor of the student newspaper discovered an essay and follow-up book in which he said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were a response to a history of American abuses abroad, particularly against indigenous peoples.

Among other things, he said the people killed in the trade center were "little Eichmanns," a reference to the man who organized Nazi plans to exterminate Jews. The college canceled Churchill's appearance, citing death threats and concerns about security.