As a CSU search committee and the Board of Governors of the CSU System continue to hunt for a new university president, some of the CSU community grows increasingly concerned with the selection process and the credentials of Gov. Bill Owens’ top choice for the position.
Owens’ Secretary of Technology Marc Holtzman has been the center of a controversy throughout the state because of how Owens endorsed him and because of his career experience.
Owens announced his support of Holtzman on the same day CSU’s opening for president was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a national newsletter sent to colleges and universities. Holtzman holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
Some of the CSU community has loudly disapproved of Owens’ endorsement, saying it would hurt CSU’s reputation if someone with Holtzman’s credentials ran the university. In addition, some faculty, students and administrators are concerned that the timing of Owens’ announcement has corrupted the search process.
“I think it’s an embarrassment for the state,” said David Bower, president of the Associated Students of CSU. “It’s another case of their (Owens’) cronyism.”
Who is Marc Holtzman?
Holtzman, who has been known to help raise considerable amounts of money for the Republican Party, has a storied past. Having made millions as president of ABN AMRO Corporate Finance, a profitable investment banking firm in Eastern Europe, Holtzman currently serves as technology secretary for $1 a year.
At age19, he volunteered for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign and eventually went to work for Bill Casey, who ran the1980 Reagan-George Bush campaign, and others in the Reagan White House.
Later, Holtzman became executive director of Citizens for America, Reagan’s national issues advocacy group. Its duties were to promote Reagan and “New Right” ideas, such as the Strategic Defense Initiative, otherwise known as “Star Wars.” Various media and political advocacy reports have also linked Citizens for America to the Iran-Contra scandal in the mid-1980s.
The contra scandal developed when certain Reagan administration officials approved and executed the illegal selling of arms to Iran, and then diverted the funds from those sales to anti-communist “contra” fighters in Nicaragua.
Holtzman left his directorship of CFA in1984; the contra affair began in October of that year, according to the 1993 final report of Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh.
Following his work for Reagan, Holtzman ran for Congress in his home state of Pennsylvania and lost.
He went to Hungary after the Berlin Wall fell and found financial success working throughout Eastern Europe and Russia, where he lived in various places until 1998. There, Holtzman co-founded MeesPierson EurAmerica, an investment banking firm, which was eventually acquired by ABN AMRO.
Some professors, students and administrators have continually said the biggest problem with Owens’ support of Holtzman is the corruption of the presidential search.
Robert Lawrence, a professor in the political science department, said a statewide and national perception of a corrupted process could harm the university.
“If the process is flawed, word gets out to the country that CSU is not an independent institution-it’s an extension of the governor’s feelings,” Lawrence said. “People say it’s the process (they have a problem with), that he should have been selected. The process is now somewhat tainted. Universities tend to be independent of politics.”
Linda Kuk, vice president for student affairs, agreed.
“We had a process going, and people are now saying the process has been compromised,” Kuk told The Collegian last week. She added that while Owens has a right to say who he likes, as anyone else does, the timing of his announcement “undermines the process.”
Lawrence said the governing board still has a chance to overcome that perception outside the state.
“If you had an independent governing board, the way this has all developed would weigh very heavily on their minds,” he said. “It hasn’t been handled very astutely by the governor’s office. Most of the faculty is hoping that the governing board is an independent group.”
Bower, the student body president, thinks the search committee on which he sits will continue to do its job alongside the Board of Governors.
“My biggest problem is that we’re not taking a look at a viable pool of candidates (if we only consider Holtzman),” he said. “The CSU alumni on the board have said they want to continue with the search process.”
According to Bower, the following members have expressed desire to continue the search, regardless of their opinions of Holtzman: Reginald Washington, the president of the board and a CSU alum; Wesley Segelke, also a former Ram; Fred Kerst, another CSU alum; and Patrick Grant, a Colgate graduate who runs the National Western Stock Show.
New board member Pat Broe, whom Owens appointed recently, is the only member to openly voice his support of the former Reagan aide. Broe has also said a majority of the board would be willing to choose Holtzman, but Bower doesn’t buy that.
“Broe was extraordinarily optimistic to say we had five members ready to choose a new president,” Bower said.
Some CSU professors and students are unsure why Owens would come out so strongly in support of his technology chief; after all, the ensuing backlash is not good for either politically.
“I’m guessing he wasn’t thinking – it was a poor decision on his part,” Bower said. “(This was) the only thing he could’ve done to hurt the process to such an extent.”
Lawrence said Owens is probably secure in his choice for CSU’s next leader.
“Most politicians believe in themselves and think they have answers to many problems. I suppose the governor is very confident (he has the right idea for CSU),” Lawrence said. “Politicians are not shrinking violets. They are all very confident, if not over-confident.”