Columns & Op Ed Pieces by Aaron Harber

I was horrified by the events of April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School.  I’ve followed the school’s progress and incredible community ever since as it used that terrible event to teach lessons which benefitted the entire nation. I was honored to host a panel at the Denver Film Festival about the extraordinary documentary, “We Are Columbine,” directed and produced by Laura Farber, who was a freshman at the time of the attack.  That discussion resulted in a television series: “Columbine: 20 Years Later” (www.HarberTV.com/Columbine). The panel also featured the fantastic Frank DeAngelis, the former Columbine High School Principal and attack Survivor; Rebecca Wilson Kase, a Psychotherapist and insightful Trauma Expert; Rick Kaufman, the former Jeffco Public Schools Crisis Response Team leader who has helped schools across the nation; and, Kiki Leyba, an amazing Columbine High School Teacher and Survivor who continues teaching at Columbine and who helped thousands by sharing personal details most of us would hide. So, I took great interest when proposals surfaced to tear down the existing Columbine High School and build a new one in its place at a cost which could exceed $70 million. The argument, as posed by Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Jason Glass, is Columbine has become a bizarre obsession for thousands of individuals and that, by tearing down the existing building — which Glass admits is “one of the safest in the world” — this somehow would solve the problem of people being infatuated with the school. Glass states “there are no ‘right’ answers because each of the possible paths (e.g., keeping the existing school or tearing it down and building a new one) offers positives and negatives.  And Glass knows many people — out of sensitivity and concern for the Columbine community — would be hesitant to argue against any plan to “help,” even if it doesn’t make sense. In this case, there actually is a “right” and rather obvious answer — do not waste such a large amount of money replacing a perfectly functional building unless you can show it actually will have the desired results (i.e., the elimination or at least severe reduction in the number of unwanted visitors to Columbine). Unless the School District has some hard evidence that constructing a new building, while keeping the name “Columbine,” would eliminate or at least severely reduce the bizarre interest an infinitesimal portion of the population has in Columbine, it makes no sense to proceed based on a guess or whimsy. What likely would be most effective would be to change the school’s name but few can imagine doing that.  And I can’t believe anyone in the Columbine community would support such a move, even if it were likely to be effective. Those who want to tear down the existing school and simply replace it with the same name — “Columbine” — fail to realize the obsession of those persons who fantasize or otherwise are obsessed with Columbine aren’t infatuated with the building; rather, they are fixated on the events which occurred there on April 20, 1999.  Certainly, the building is a symbol of what happened but it is “Columbine” upon which the obsessions are based. The events in 1999 cannot be altered.  It is difficult to believe changing bricks and mortar will significantly affect those who are senselessly captivated by the massacre.  These irrational people will not have their interest changed by the construction of a new building if it remains named “Columbine.” Columbine’s staff and the Jeffco School District have done a tremendous job making the high school extraordinarily secure — both physically and emotionally — thanks to the school’s remarkable leadership for more than two decades.  With $15 million available right now from a prior bond issue for upgrades already planned for Columbine, there is no need to ask taxpayers for an additional $60 million. Columbine can do a lot with $15 million, including any additional memorials it wishes to have. If the Jeffco School District has $70 million to spend, invest it at 5% a year and use the $3½ million generated annually in perpetuity to address the mental health needs of students in the District.  That would be a far better use of the money. Sometimes decisions aren’t as complex or as difficult as public officials claim.  In this case, the obvious answer is, “Do not raise taxes to tear down a perfectly good building, especially if the new building does nothing to address the obsession a tiny group of people have with Columbine.” ================================================================ Aaron Harber is the host of “The Aaron Harber Show,” (www.HarberTV.com/Info).  He is a graduate of Fairview High School in Boulder.  Email Aaron@HarberTV.com.  © Copyright 2019 by Aaron Harber and USA Talk Network, Inc.  All rights reserved. ================================================================================ PUBLICATION NOTE:  Also, if this column is published with a photo, the one provided herein is the one which should be used.  For a higher resolution image, contact Jana Martin, Producer, at Jana@HarberTV.com.  Thank you!

CRITERIA FOR THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO

As a former member of Princeton University’s governing Board of Trustees and as an alumnus of Harvard and Princeton, I have seen what the nation’s top educational institutions can achieve and how they do it.  These experiences have convinced me the University of Colorado — an already impressive national university — can be even greater than it is today, if it is led by the right person.

With 70,000 students system-wide, 10,000 people teaching, and 35,000 employees, CU is a Colorado gem.  What does the institution need for the decades to come if we want it to excel?  A greatly expanded and highly detailed analysis answering this is available at www.HarberTV.com/CU.   Here are of some of the areas it addresses.

 

FACULTY.  The heart of any educational institution is its Faculty.  CU has an extraordinary group of instructors and researchers — many of whom have raised the bar for scholarship and instruction.

But CU must aggressively improve the consistency of its instruction.  Poor instructors unintentionally convince students to avoid certain subjects.  CU has the attributes which allow it to seek great scholars who also are great teachers.  It is these exceptional individuals who often have the greatest impact on students’ lives.

 

STUDENTS.  The University exists to serve its students.  Students are the “customers” of CU and need to be treated accordingly.  This also means demanding more of students — many of whom do not take their academic studies seriously.

A customer orientation is important not only for the future of each attendee but also for the development of an alumni community which will give back to CU in the form of volunteers and financial support.  There needs to be a sea change in the institution’s culture so the experience of students is more positive.

 

DIVERSITY.  CU has done an admirable job diversifying its student body but much more is needed.  The University’ effort to go into a wide range of communities to encourage high school students to apply for admission needs to be expanded by an order of magnitude and start at the middle school level.

 

COSTS.  The cost of college today is beyond the reach of numerous families.  Too many graduates have trouble finding employment in their fields of study.  And, even if they do, student loan burdens often make their degrees a bad financial proposition.  CU needs to directly address these challenges.

 

ADMINISTRATION.  CU has many outstanding administrators who provide impressive leadership and continuity for the institution.  Given options for automation as well as the need to review the “necessity” versus the “desire” to add administrative staff, CU still can significantly reduce administrative costs.

 

TECHNOLOGY & ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.  To be competitive, CU must deploy more and superior technology in all aspects of its operations to create better classroom results and out-of-classroom experiences as well as streamline administrative functions.  It often does a poor job integrating new technology and has faculty and staff members who struggle with hi-tech advancements.  CU has a vast array of unused opportunities to deploy Artificial 

Intelligence, especially given the expertise it already within its faculty and staff.

 

THE PUBLIC ROLE. The need for leadership in the political arena to make the case for Higher Education today is greater than it has ever been.  All Colorado institutions of Higher Education have seen public financial support decline precipitously due, in part, to the failure of leadership. It’s time to “make the case” and turn this around.

 

RESEARCH & INNOVATION.  CU has done a superb job developing pathways to monetize inventions, patents, and other advancements so the University benefits from the support it gives faculty, staff, and students.  It now is time to produce far more significant financial results from these efforts.

 

THE NEED FOR BOLD LEADERSHIP.  I have been involved in academic leadership selection processes and, as a journalist, have done programs with exceptional major university presidents of elite institutions such as Brown (Christina Paxson), Chicago (Robert Zimmer), Denver (Rebecca Chopp), Princeton (Harold Shapiro, Shirley Tilghman), Stanford (John Hennessy), Vassar (Betsy Bradley), and Wellesley (Paula Johnson), among others.  CU needs and can have such a leader today.

 

What I consistently have seen firsthand is the amazing influence just one person can have on an institution.  The CU Board of Regents needs to find the person who will provide the bold leadership the future requires.  Let’s hope those nine members fulfill their most important responsibility — selecting a President — with great success.  Go Buffs!

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