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Ritter names interim higher ed director

Gov. Bill Ritter Friday named Inta Morris interim director of the Department of Higher Education, for the moment replacing David Skaggs, whose last day also was Friday.

Morris has been assistant director for interdepartmental and external affairs at the department, which she joined in July 2007.

She previously worked at the Canadian Consulate General in Denver; for the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation, a group that fosters academic and scientific ties between the U.S. and the countries of the former USSR; the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the National Academy of Sciences, and the International Affairs office of the National Research Council.

Morris once worked for Skaggs as a member of his campaign staff and in his congressional office. She’s a graduate of CU-Boulder and has a master’s degree from George Washington University.

Matt Gianneschi, Ritter’s top education advisor, told EdNews Thursday that he didn’t “have any information” on the timing of choosing a permanent successor to Skaggs, who was one of the governor’s first cabinet nominations.

There are a couple of interesting timing issues involving a permanent director.

First, the higher ed system is about to embark on a strategic planning process that presumably will need a person to lead it. Skaggs resigned two weeks ago under circumstances that remain unclear, but the thinking in some higher ed circles is that it may have been due to disagreements over conduct of that planning process. The original master plan process proposed by Skaggs was opposed by some university presidents, including CU’s Bruce Benson.

Second, Ritter is up for re-election in November 2010, which might make the DHE directorship unattractive to any candidate concerned that it might be a one-year job.

Some observers have suggested that Gianneschi, formerly chief academic officer for DHE, might be a candidate. Others have speculated that Ritter might seek a “senior statesman” figure, someone who might not be concerned about a possible short tenure.

The vacancy also comes at a time when the state’s colleges and universities are facing their second severe financial crisis in this decade.

The other two senior executives at DHE are Julie Carnahan, chief academic officer, chief information officer and director of research; and Diane Linder, chief financial officer.