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CU Regents chair admits Benson Center ties to Eastman and Jan. 6 damaging to overall reputation

June 21, 2022, 12:37 pm
The entrance to the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization in Kittredge Central Hall at the University of Colorado Boulder (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline).

Jack Kroll, the chair of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, said the Benson Center at the University of Colorado Boulder is a “valuable part of the university’s community,” following intense scrutiny of the center due to its relationship with insurrection figure John Eastman.

Eastman was a visiting scholar of conservative thought at the center at the time he was serving as a lawyer to former President Donald Trump and, according to testimony during recent hearings of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, conspired to illegally overturn the 2020 election results.

“The Benson Center is a valuable part of the university’s community and our commitment to promoting conservative thought, amongst other ideas in the marketplace of ideas,” Kroll, a Democrat who represents the 1st Congressional District on the board, said in an interview with Newsline.

But he said the center’s reputation is damaged by ties to inferior scholars, including “anyone who throws into question the results of a fair democratic process.”

Asked if he would support the center’s reauthorization, a process that is expected to start next year, Kroll, who will be term-limited from the board after this year, said, “One thing that I suggest to my colleagues, is to really encourage the Benson Center to have a more thorough evaluation process for the visiting scholars that come in.”

He added about Eastman, “They chose just about the worst person to possibly fill that role as they possibly could have.”

The Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization traces its origins to 2004 and the creation of Center for Western Civilization, whose founder was the vice president of the white nationalist H.L. Mencken Club. It presents itself as a private donor-funded conservative counterweight to liberal leanings at CU Boulder.

It has long been subject to criticism from the left, which escalated after the insurrection as Eastman’s role in the attack on the Capitol emerged. Eastman wrote a memo that outlined how former Vice President Mike Pence could block the certification of electoral votes, and evidence presented last week during a Jan. 6 committee hearing showed Eastman and Trump knew the plan was illegal.

Newsline has reported that at a third of the center’s past nine visiting scholars of conservative thought are election deniers. On Sunday, The Denver Post editorial board wrote that CU should close the Benson Center.

“We do not see how CU’s Benson Center can withstand such a scandal,” the board wrote. “The University of Colorado Regents should revoke the center’s space on campus, return the gifts, grants and donations funding its work, and remove CU’s good name from the center’s title.”

That does not appear to be the approach even CU’s Democratic regents favor.

“One of the things about regents is we have certain responsibilities and other things are not our purview. And kind of getting down to campus level situations, is something that we try to stay out of, that that’s the purview of faculty,” Regent Callie Rennison, a Democrat who represents the 2nd Congressional District on the board, said about the center.

Rennison cautioned that closing the Benson Center could set a bad precedent.

“One of my fears, though, is that you know, the next center that shows up might be one that other regents would be very unhappy about,” Rennison said. “It’s kind of like the question — some people write to us and want us to fire a faculty member and we don’t have that power. And I’m glad we don’t have that power.” She added, “As a regent, it’s kind of not my place to tell the Boulder campus what to do. If people on the Boulder campus want to act toward changing something, then I encourage them to do it.”

It is commonly thought that the center is privately funded. A Newsline investigation recently showed that while the vast majority of the center’s funding comes from private contributions, such as individual and foundation donations, the general fund of the university, a public institution, has provided tens of thousands of dollars to the center.

Rennison said she would support eliminating public and student funds from the center’s budget, though she said she doesn’t think it’s the regents’ role to enforce such a move.

Newsline contacted the three other Democratic regents on the Democrat-majority board. They had not responded by the time of publication.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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