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These Buffs aren't shining

Colorado continues to tap-dance around its problems

Posted: Thursday December 16, 2004 3:16PM; Updated: Thursday December 16, 2004 4:33PM
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Here's how it works in the world of "higher education" these days:

You spend the last half of an eight-year tenure as chancellor of a major state university neglecting to provide the necessary oversight and leadership for an athletic department that becomes awash in scandal. Then you are excoriated by an independent commission that questions your competence, only to have the Board of Regents disregard the report and retain you at your hefty salary. Finally, when you decide to step down -- all the while insisting that your resignation has nothing to do with the imbroglio -- you slide into a new job within the university. For more money.

On the same day that a former Colorado soccer player announced she was dropping her federal sexual assault lawsuit against the university because she no longer was willing to endure the "guerilla warfare" being practiced by CU's voracious attorneys, Richard Byyny walked out of his chancellor's office to become executive director of the Health Policy Center at the University of Colorado Hospital, a position which pays $250,000 a year -- 25 grand more than he was making.

When asked whether he felt some would view his resignation as an outcome of the scandal, Byyny said, "I don't feel it's necessary to convince people of anything. I'll just tell people the truth."

You know what, Richard? You can't handle the truth. Neither can a lot of other people at CU.

Byyny's departure, combined with last month's resignation of athletic director Dick Tharp -- another school official whose termination was recommended by the committee but not carried out by CU president Betsy Hoffman -- might appear to some as a better-late-than-never outcome. We wanted them out, and now they're out.

At least Tharp was relieved of many of his duties before resigning and appeared headed for termination when he submitted his letter. Of course, that was six months after the commission released its report. Byyny, meanwhile, left under no official pressure and with no kick out the door from Hoffman.

Worse, the school's predatory approach to the charges brought by Monique Gillaspie, a 21-year-old who alleged that she and two other women were raped at a 2001 off-campus football recruiting party, displays the worst kind of institutional bullying and bottom-line thinking.

"While we looked forward to our day in court, we are relieved that the defendant has chosen to walk away from this case without any compensation," university spokesman Ray Gomez said Monday.

"Without any compensation" would appear to be the key phrase here. For a cash-strapped institution like Colorado, a financial hall pass qualifies as a huge win -- certainly better than anything the school's football team might accomplish Dec. 29 in the Houston Bowl.

There is still hope for the right-thinking folks who want to see this institution pay. Two other former CU students have pending suits against the school, each alleging sexual assault -- and worse. Lisa Simpson alleges that she was gang-raped at a football recruiting party in December 2001. The other plaintiff alleges she was assaulted at the same party.

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Whatever the outcome of the two cases, the school has shown no desire to admit wrongdoing and institute aggressive campus-wide reforms designed to protect its female students. Further, by allowing Tharp and Byyny to remain in their positions for six months after an outraged commission cited "systemic failings" among the school's leaders, Colorado has done its best to avoid assuming any guilt for the entire mess.

Unlike other recruiting scandals, in which highly pampered athletes are given cash and prizes, this one involved allegations of sexual assault and rape, which have for more devastating consequences. That makes you wonder whether any female student is truly safe on campus and whether parents of prospective students need to think twice before sending their daughters to school in Boulder.

El Hombre sez

The news that Washington, D.C. is requiring private funding to cover half the cost of the new stadium for the Nationals has Major League Baseball wondering about the franchise's future and even using the c-word -- contraction -- again. Wonder if Victor Conte has a product to help keep the league's bottom line looking robust. ... Speaking of baseball, you have to love the Mets. They've committed $53 million to Pedro Martinez and his Incredible Shrinking Fastball after a physical "examination" that included no MRI of his cranky shoulder. Dr. Mo Vaughn pronounced Martinez ready to go. The over/under on his first missed start is June 1. ... The BCS controversy continues to rage. Things got so bad earlier this week that a couple of Pac-10 coaches revealed the first three teams on their ballots. Less than 12 hours later, Texas coach Mack Brown called each to complain that his team wasn't rated higher.

And another thing

Let's see. The Eagles have convinced the Sixers to switch their game against the Heat away from Jan. 23 in order to avoid conflicts with the NFC championship tilt. Fans are already checking out long-term weather forecasts for that day. The rest of the NFC has been summarily dismissed -- correctly, El Hombre might add -- as a group of inept bunglers better suited for the Big East Conference or a Congressional subcommittee. And Philadelphia-area travel agencies have started booking Super Bowl junkets. Looks like things are right on schedule.

If the Eagles don't reach the Big Game this year, it's going to take a mammoth Prozac/Paxil/Levitra cocktail in the water supply to keep the whole city from imploding. The good news is that the Birds should reach Jacksonville. That bad news is that the Patriots still play football.