CU presidential finalist Todd Saliman faces questions about diversity and campus culture from faculty, staff and students

Paolo Zialcita/CPR News
Todd Saliman, the University of Colorado system’s sole presidential finalist, at the CU Boulder campus, Wednesday, April 20, 2022.

Students, staff and local residents hit the University of Colorado system’s sole presidential finalist with a bevy of questions about diversity and staff retention as he held an open forum at the Boulder campus Wednesday. 

Todd Saliman, who has served as the university system’s interim president for the past year, has been touring all four campuses since he was announced as the finalist earlier this month, to make the case for why he is the right person to lead the CU system. His latest stop was at CU’s University Theatre, where less than half of the seats were filled. 

The lack of significant community turnout is a substantial turnaround from when Saliman’s predecessor, Mark Kennedy, was similarly named as the lone finalist. Kennedy faced an antagonistic crowd that booed him due to his controversial history with LGBTQ+ rights. 

Saliman did not face a chorus of boos, but still received pushback. Some faculty members said he is unfit to lead the university system forward in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives — something Kennedy was criticized for at the end of his tenure. Others called into question his lack of experience in higher education leadership, and whether he could fix systemic problems. 

“It's gonna be hard to make some of these changes, especially on worker compensation, on benefits, on sexual harassment, on discrimination policies. I don't think he's got what it takes to make systemic changes that we need to make sure that our working conditions are respected,” said John Kelly, a university staff member and president of CWA 7799, a collection of unions that includes the unrecognized United Campus Workers Colorado.

“I love answering those questions ‘cause that's what this is all about, the plan to move the university forward, which is something we all need to do together,” Saliman said after the forum.

“We have been a victim of ‘the great resignation’, just like every other employer in the state. And it's putting a lot of stress on the faculty and the staff. And it's something that we need to take very seriously.” 

Saliman still faces one more confirmation vote from the Board of Regents after the community feedback is complete. However, the Democratic-majority board voted unanimously to nominate Saliman, making his appointment all but guaranteed. 

Regent chair Jack Kroll responded to criticism that the board once again named a singular candidate after outcry from Kennedy’s sole nomination in 2019. 

“We asked every candidate that the board interviewed if they were willing to move forward as one of multiple finalists, all but one candidate declined,” Kroll said. “This meant that the board had to make a decision and forward one person for the community's consideration.”