DENVER – At the University of Colorado (search), a football recruiting scandal won't die. A professor's essay has likened some Sept. 11 victims to the Nazi who organized the Holocaust. And a fight against state funding cuts goes on.
Add finding a new president to the list of challenges facing the university's Board of Regents. President Elizabeth Hoffman (search) said Monday she would step down June 30 or when a successor is named.
"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," said Hoffman, who has been president for five years.
Hoffman said questions about her leadership have made it difficult to solve the university's problems, especially a football scandal that produced allegations of rapes, strip-club visits and alcohol-fueled sex parties for recruits.
Hoffman's resignation comes a little more than a year after allegations in the football scandal emerged.
Officials said a search committee to find a new president would soon be created, and observers inside and outside the four-campus system said there is no doubt there will be qualified candidates for the job.
"This is still a wonderful university," said regent Pat Hayes (search) at a news conference Monday. "Hopefully, by the time the search plays out, we will have most of these problems resolved and some new processes in place."
At least nine women have said they were assaulted by Colorado football players or recruits since 1997, and an independent commission reported last year that Colorado players used sex, alcohol and marijuana as recruiting tools.
Recently, 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.
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.
There were other high-profile incidents, the latest surrounding activist professor Ward Churchill, who likened World Trade Center victims to the Nazi Adolf Eichmann.
Among other things, the professor said the people killed in the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns," a reference to the Nazi bureaucrat who helped organize the murder of 6 million Jews. In February, administrators took the first steps toward a possible dismissal of Churchill.
David Ward, former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said the university is a first-rate research institution that should not have trouble attracting able candidates — despite the recent negative publicity.
"My view is that good people are prepared to take on challenges," said Ward, now president of the American Council on Education, a higher education advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Gordon Gee, chancellor of Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tenn., who was president at Colorado from 1985 to 1990, called Hoffman's resignation a tragedy. But he said he understood why she might choose not to keep weathering a "perfect storm" created by the convergence of controversies.
Albert Yates, who retired in 2002 after 13 years as Colorado State University president, said it would be a challenge to find a successor, but there will be plenty of interest because the university still has a good reputation.
"What is true is that the faculty continues to win awards, Nobel Prizes, to be held in high regard," he said. "Students continue to get a good education."
State Rep. Jack Pommer said he suspects some of the university's detractors have fueled debate over other issues to avoid the biggest problem facing the university: the lack of financial support.
Higher education officials have warned that reduced state aid will require a tuition increase and possibly even prompt schools to turn private, putting some students and the state at a competitive disadvantage.
"One of the things President Hoffman did so well was she made us recognize that higher education in Colorado is going out of business," said Pommer, a member of the House Education Committee