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A Rising Star Takes a Fall

March 8, 2005

The president of the University of Colorado system, Elizabeth Hoffman, resigned Monday, as a series of athletics and other scandals that unfolded during her five years at the helm took their toll.

"It has become clear to me that, amid the serious matters the University of Colorado now confronts, my role as the leader of the university has become an issue," Hoffman said in her resignation letter to the university's Board of Regents. "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 came to Colorado in 2000 from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where as provost and vice president for academic affairs she had earned a reputation as a rising star in academic administration.

Like more than a few college presidents, though, she was repeatedly singed by bad news emanating from the Boulder campus's athletics department, particularly its football program, which has faced a series of allegations of rape and mistreatment of women. From 2002 to early 2004, three former female students filed lawsuits charging that they had been raped by football players at or after a 2001 off-campus party to entertain football recruits.

Early in 2004, after Hoffman said the university would investigate those charges, a woman who had been a kicker on the Colorado football team in 2000 told Sports Illustrated that she had been raped that year by a teammate. The controversy devolved from there, with the state attorney general investigating the university's handling of the mess and Hoffman being called to testify before Congress on college sports recruiting.

Although the investigative panel the board appointed criticized Hoffman and other university officials last May for their handling of the sexual assault charges, the president seemed to have survived that controversy.

But the last month has not been kind to Hoffman. A leak of the grand jury's report stemming from the attorney general's investigation into the football scandal suggested more wrongdoing (though it resulted in no filing of charges), and the university came under intense political and news media scrutiny over the controversial writings of Ward Churchill, an ethnic studies professor at Boulder who referred to some of the September 11 victims at the World Trade Center as "little Eichmanns."

With the university currently deciding Churchill's fate and awaiting a civil trial spawned by the football scandal, Hoffman's presidency appeared to collapse under the weight of those various problems, despite a long list of accomplishments that the university racked up during her time there.

"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," Jerry Rutledge, chair of the Board of Regents, said in a published statement. "In my discussions with President Hoffman in recent days it was apparent to both of us that her support had been waning for some time."

He added: "If we could all go back to events that began early last year, I am sure we would make different decisions. But today I greatly admire President Hoffman's difficult decision, one in which she placed CU well above her personal accomplishments and long-term aspirations."

 

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