The optics — as they say in the political world — couldn’t be worse for CU.
No, we’re not talking about the miserable season the Buffs are having on the gridiron. We’re talking about the headline-making blunder by the university’s front office this week.
As reported by our news affiliate Colorado Politics, which broke the story Thursday, the University of Colorado is about to create a position paying $325,000 a year — $400,000 counting benefits — for the soon-to-be-unemployed chief of staff of Colorado’s retiring U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter.
Which is to say the move reeks of political cronyism.
And it comes just as Gov. Jared Polis is proposing the highest tuition increase in the last four years. That’s atop years of skyrocketing tuition at Colorado’s higher-ed institutions and their counterparts nationwide — pricing ever more young people out of a college education.
According to an undated internal announcement obtained by Colorado Politics, Danielle Radovich Piper will join the university system Jan. 3 in the newly created position of senior vice president for external relations and strategy.
Based on the vague and wide-ranging job description included in the announcement, she’ll likely be doing a lot of public relations.
In other words, the new hire who will help shape the university’s image — is responsible for giving it a black eye even before her first day on the job.
Piper will be the fourth-highest paid employee in the university's system administration; No. 1 is CU President Todd Saliman, who makes $750,000 a year — and who created the post.
The internal announcement said Saliman carved out the position "by permanently eliminating two vacant senior-level administrative positions at system, vice president for administration and associate vice president/chief business officer.”
Isn’t that swell? CU eliminated two obviously unneeded posts from its notoriously top-heavy bureaucracy — only to replace them with a super bureaucrat.
Saliman is quoted in the announcement praising Piper’s “substantial experience as a coalition builder and a problem solver with deep experience in Colorado and beyond.” Evidently, no one up to now has been building coalitions or solving problems on behalf of CU.
Indeed, the new post’s job description begs for credulity: “…coordinating and advancing external efforts for system administration in communications, marketing, government relations, fundraising operations, and outreach and engagement.” Oh, please.
The dots seem easy enough to connect here.
Perlmutter, a veteran Democratic politico who represented west metro Denver’s 7th Congressional District in Washington for eight terms, departs public office well-liked and carrying a briefcase brimming with clout. He has a longtime, trusted aide who no doubt would like a cushy landing after she leaves Capitol Hill.
For his part, Saliman is also a product of Colorado’s Democratic political network. A onetime lobbyist at the Capitol — CU was among his clients — Saliman went on to serve as a Democratic lawmaker in the Legislature, including on the powerful Joint Budget Committee. He later served in the administrations of Democratic Govs. Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper.
It’s a safe bet the two movers and shakers know one another’s phone numbers.
Unfortunately, it’s an old story in political circles; this just happens to be a particularly blatant and egregious example.
In an editorial just last May, we lauded Saliman’s appointment as president of the four-campus University of Colorado system. Now, we’re disappointed; CU’s Board of Regents ought to feel embarrassed.
More important, a whole lot of CU students, parents and alumni are going to be furious. Their university’s overstaffed and overpriced administration has some explaining to do.