Magazine Feature / People

New Senior Fellow Bill Owens looks forward to debating policies

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens became a senior fellow at the University of Denver last week, but that honor could just as easily have occurred at some other school.

The two-term Republican governor said he had “other opportunities” to become a senior fellow when he left office earlier in January, but he turned them down.

“I really wanted to come to DU,” he said Jan. 24 after announcing his decision to join the University’s Institute for Public Policy Studies.

“It’s a private university, in many ways less bureaucratic, able to move faster, be more engaged quickly than can a public university. It’s the reason why when DU talked to me over the last year or so, I was very receptive.”

Owens will work alongside the institute’s co-director and another former Colorado governor, Dick Lamm.

Trustee Ralph Nagel, a longtime friend and frequent contributor to Owens’ campaigns, was instrumental in persuading the former lawmaker that DU was a good place to be, Owens said.

As senior fellow, Owens’ job will be to write about public policy issues, participate in classes and policy forums, guest-lecture, attend conferences and generally distill the wisdom of 24 years in elected office into educational themes for DU students.

The fellowship is a regular staff position, Chancellor Robert Coombe said, and is intended to foster “considerable engagement with students.”

“The essence of what a university should be engaged in is a battle of ideas and diverse viewpoints,” Owens said. “I’m going to bring — as a conservative Republican — an occasional diverse viewpoint to this institution.”

Details of how Owens will perform his duties while pursuing a commercial real estate investment venture with JCB Group are still “being developed,” he said. But he emphasized that he intends to connect with “lots of students” and be at DU “through retirement” — for the next 15 to 20 years – with the firm intention of not seeking further political office.

“It’s going to be a portfolio that’s a little bit different than a full-time faculty member’s,” he said, noting that part of his mission will be to represent the University. “When I travel internationally and nationally, I’m going to do receptions for students, for givers, for alums.”

When on campus, Owens will engage with students, and write op-ed articles for newspapers about public policy issues such as delivering health care, fostering competition in the marketplace and handling prisons.

“Policies develop best when they are well-debated,” Owens said. “That’s something I’ve been in the middle of in Colorado for many, many years and it’s something I hope to hope to pursue in the future here at the University of Denver.”

Those robust debates may begin with Lamm, who was Colorado governor for 12 years before becoming involved with the University’s public policy programs in 1987. Lamm described himself as “a Democrat at heart” and said he looks forward to arguing, teaching, writing and crafting public policy ideas in conjunction with Owens.

“We’re enriched by your presence,” Lamm told Owens, who returned the compliment by unfolding a yellowing newspaper clipping about Lamm that Owens said he had carried in his wallet for 20 years and used in his 1998 campaign. The clipping reflected Lamm’s assertion that for many struggling Coloradans, even small tax increases can have a large impact.

“It shows we share a lot of common themes,” Owens said.

This article originally appeared in The Source, February 2007.

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