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Schwartz: I’ll bring CU here

Allyn Harvey

Given that Gail Schwartz has been a player on the political and nonprofit scenes in Aspen for the better part of 30 years, she can probably rest easy about her support in the upper Roaring Fork Valley. Everywhere else in the staunchly conservative Western Slope is a different matter.

As a Democrat, she faces an uphill battle with voters who re-elected Republican Scott McGinnis to Congress by a record margin in 1998 and are expected to do the same again this year.

As an Aspenite, she lives in one of the district’s more remote sections, far from Grand Junction and Pueblo, and thus has a “home” base of support that is much smaller than her opponent, who lives in Pueblo.

And as a challenger to a sitting incumbent, she faces the inertia that often comes with incumbency. Hank Anton has been on the job for six years without stirring any controversy and gaining whatever publicity comes with the job of CU regent.

For Schwartz, who spent three years as a commissioner on the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, Anton’s quietness when it comes to higher education on the Western Slope is exactly why voters should be looking for a change. “There’s no representation,” she said. “My opponent is not sensitive to the issues, and in the last six years he has rarely articulated the needs of western Colorado.”

Those needs, from Schwartz’s point of view, include a CU presence on the Western Slope. Currently, CU has no real physical or virtual presence outside the Front Range, and Schwartz would like to change that on both fronts.

Rather than new campuses, which would be expensive and perhaps impossible with a conservative governor and state Legislature, Schwartz would like to see the state colleges in Grand Junction, Gunnison and Alamosa upgraded and absorbed into the state university system – either with the University of Colorado or Colorado State University.

By merging the state colleges into one of the university systems, Schwartz is hoping to equalize at least one disparity in the state’s allocation of funding to higher education. To illustrate the problem, she points to the disparity in per-student allocation: At Mesa State, the Legislature appropriates $3,700 per student, while at CU the state government hands over $6,700 per student.

She would also like to expand CU’s advanced degree programs to the Western Slope by setting up several virtual learning centers where graduates and professionals could work for master’s degrees. The centers would be equipped to provide video lectures and Internet connections to the university and its resources.

“If we were able to give people a chance to get their master’s, think of the possibilities here, for individuals, businesses and schools,” she said.

Schwartz would also like the university and the state Legislature to take a close look at the funding formula for student support. She’s critical of the lack of diversity at the university and thinks part of the problem rests in the way the state allocates tuition support to in-state students.

“A student from Cherry Creek gets the same amount of state support as a student from Alamosa. Maybe there should be a means test for support.” And, she adds, that means test might be one way to make the state system more accessible to students who don’t have the family resources to attend a university.

Equity and accessibility, especially with regards to the Western Slope, are, in fact, two of the campaign themes that dominate her literature. The third, excellence, focuses more on the institution itself.

She says the university should increase its public and private financial support by managing its finances more responsibly, prepare graduates for the evolving global economy and enhance its national reputation.

“The regents must focus on `big-picture’ policy issues instead of micro-managing the operations of the university system,” her campaign literature says, perhaps in reference to the administrative woes that plagued CU in the mid-1990s.

Schwartz served as director of development at the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority in the early and mid-1980s. She has also worked as a corporate treasurer for Sno-engineering Inc., a design and planning firm, and worked as a consultant.

On the nonprofit front, she is president of the Aspen Education Foundation. In the past, she served as co-chair in the Aspen School District’s technology bond campaign, as a board member of the Aspen Medical Foundation and as a trustee at Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting. She was also a co-founder of the Roaring Fork Valley community hospice.

Schwartz graduated from the University of Colorado with a business degree in 1973.


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