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Office of the Chancellor

Speeches

Convocation 2006

Welcome, everyone. Let me begin by offering my thanks to all of you for your good wishes and support during this past year, a truly extraordinary year in my life and, I think, in the life of the University.

The year framed a great transition, one that involved much more than movement from the 16th to the 17th Chancellor. We have a new provost, a new dean of the Sturm College of Law and new leadership in University Advancement. After many months of preparation and planning, we launched our new University Writing Program this fall--surely one of the great successes of the Marsico Initiative--long with our First Year Seminar program, a requirement this year for all of our new undergraduate students. As a result of these and other programs, there are 216 new sections of small enrollment classes with 15 or fewer students, an astonishing number that shows that we are making good on our commitment to optimize student-faculty contact and focus the intellectual environment on campus.

We welcomed 98 new faculty members to the University this fall. These new colleagues comprise nearly a sixth of the faculty of the University and represent an extraordinary opportunity to ramp up our scholarship and research, as well as provide greater resources for our students. Nearly half of the new faculty members are associated with the Marsico Initiative, and even though we have all of those new sections of small classes, our teaching loads have not increased. With the arrival of these new folks, the student-to-faculty ratio for undergraduates has declined to 10:1, comparable to that found in the finest colleges and universities in America.

It seemed to me that there was also something very different in the air during Discoveries week earlier this month. Perhaps it had something to do with the pristine September days that we were enjoying, but there seemed to be an unusual level of enthusiasm and excitement as we welcomed 1,140 new first-time, first-year students to DU. The students and their families were absolutely thrilled to be here. They were delighted with the campus, delighted with the 188 faculty and staff members that engaged them, delighted with the programs, delighted with one another.

And what a group of new students they are. Surely the most academically capable and academically focused new students we have had in years, they are also the most diverse. More than 18 percent are students of color, up by 4 percent over last year. Speaking of diversity, of the 98 new faculty members I mentioned just a moment ago, 17 percent are persons of color and 47 percent are women. Among the new faculty members that are in tenure-track positions, one third are persons of color and half are women. Diversity is one of our most important objectives--a measure of the excellence of our intellectual environment--and we?re making very good progress.

What about our graduate programs? The Daniels College of Business, previously ranked 5th in the world for its programs in ethics, quietly moved up to 3rd this summer, an excellence that has been recognized by the recent gift from the Daniels Fund of an endowed chair in Ethical Leadership. This year our School of Engineering and Computer Science will welcome 98 graduate students into its program with the Lockheed-Martin Corporation, a partnership that is surely emblematic of the new and unique relationships we are building with the private sector. Thanks to its new programs in international disaster psychology and sport psychology, enrollments in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology have for the first time exceeded 200. The Graduate School of International Studies, long one of our great strengths, has opened up the year more than 70 students over budget. And our University College is clearly back. It's begun the term with graduate enrollments more than 100 students over budget, an Enrichment Program that is the talk of the town and a brand new Undergraduate Degree Completion Program with 75 enrolled students. Our College of Education has more than 750 enrolled graduate students and is sharpening its focus on the critical issues that we all face, like early childhood education, multicultural education and access to higher education.

I could go on and on about the tremendous positive momentum pushing us along in all the right directions, but let me mention just one last thing. It's a very different year, indeed, because we've begun it with four fewer buildings than we had last year. This summer, in a frenzy of demolition, we've taken down three of our old '40's dormitories--Columbine, Skyline and Pioneer halls--and two fraternity houses, the Lambda Chi Alpha house and the Sigma Chi house. We do have one new building, the Evans parking structure next to the UTS Building, and we'll begin construction on Nagel Hall, a truly wonderful new residence hall.

You know, it's begun to work. Together, we've begun to make that broad turn I spoke about last year. A turn from a time focused on stability and visibility, on building out the campus, on the transition to Division I and establishing a position at the vanguard of the performing arts, to a new time focused on academic excellence, on intellectual intensity, on creativity and on our collective impact on the lives of our fellow human beings.  We've begun to enter that time that I hope will see the full blossoming our core values of excellence, innovation, engagement, and integrity.

So, what do we have to do to make certain that happens? The issues we face are complex and difficult ones having to do with people rather than buildings or places. Our current resources and new resources that we must gather, must be such that we make the investments that will attract and retain the very finest students, that will enable us to hold on to our exceptional faculty and recruit new faculty members of the very highest caliber, that will ensure a working environment, salaries and benefits that are worthy of the trust and commitment of our wonderful staff, that will provide reasons for our long-lost alumni to re-engage with the University, and that will enable us to make good on a debt of honor we owe the people of this wonderful city whose name we bear.

The University Planning Advisory Council, UPAC, was reconstituted this past summer and has begun its work on strategic planning. The council has been charged with doing a thorough environmental scan, refining our goals and objectives accordingly, and, perhaps most immediately, building the case statement for a major fundraising campaign we hope to begin. It must succeed in these tasks. The council must consider the nature of those key investments that have the greatest leverage, the amounts of money that have to be committed and raised to make a real difference, and the metrics of accountability--the explicit measures of our success or failure. These discussions this year will chart the path for several years to come, and we've got to get it right. Let me provide just a few thoughts for context.

First, let's talk about investment in our students. We've become much more selective in our admissions of both undergraduates and graduate students, but how far can we go?  When will we hit a wall built of rising cost and limited financial aid? Nationally, the debate over access and opportunity has been raging for some time, but the facts are really pretty straightforward. The national average high school graduation rate is 92 percent for students from the highest quartile of family incomes and 70 percent for those from the lowest quartile of family incomes. Among those who graduate from high school, the college continuation rate is 87 percent for students from families with incomes over $100,000 and only about 50 percent from families with incomes less than $50,000. 

Among those students who enroll in colleges or universities, the average graduation rate is 75 percent for students from the highest quartile of family incomes and just 9 percent for students from the lowest quartile. When one considers that people who do get a college degree ultimately generate incomes more than double the incomes of those who don't, it's apparent that there is a non-linearity at work, a multiplier by which unequal access to higher education drives socioeconomic polarization in America. And these figures are correlated with ethnic and racial diversity. Average family incomes among white Americans are substantially higher than among families of color, and this is then reflected in those enrollment and graduation statistics. Indeed, focusing on socioeconomic diversity may well provide a path for building diversity in many dimensions.

Similar fiscal issues threaten many of our graduate students. Across the nation, a substantial proportion of students completing graduate professional degree programs do so with tremendous debt loads. While many of these graduates will enjoy careers that can readily absorb their debts, others will not. Perhaps the main point is that debt can severely limit the career choices of our students, particularly those preparing for professions in teaching, social work, or other forms of public service.

At DU, we struggle to train our students' minds and shape their characters for lives of commitment and meaning. We work hard to engage our community and serve the public good, yet limited financial aid presents a barrier to the fulfillment of those purposes in our students' lives. To the extent that that occurs, it limits our ability to accomplish our mission. This is an issue that cannot be successfully addressed within the limits of our operating budget by simply increasing our discount rate. We've got to build much greater resources, particularly endowed resources in support of student financial aid for both undergraduates and graduate students. I hope that UPAC will consider this as one of our greatest priorities for the future.

What about our faculty? We are blessed with a truly wonderful faculty that has grown considerably as a result of the Marsico Initiative and the expansion of a number of our graduate programs. The main issues, I think, are no longer about numbers of faculty members, but rather about what might be accomplished in the course of the coming years, the extent to which we really can intensify the intellectual life of the University. What kind of performance should we be rewarding at a time when we're raising the bar? How do we promote that true "teacher-scholar model" upon which we?ve built our current favorable condition? How can we rebut the notion of the faculty member as "independent contractor" and build loyalty to DU and to our collective mission? How do we create an environment in which faculty members' personal, disciplinary success is congruent with success of the institution and success of our students? How do we balance our focus on students, surely a  big part of our identity, with containment of rising costs, while at the same time raising salaries and providing faculty the precious time needed for competitive scholarship?

Virtually all universities in America are struggling with these questions. I don't deny they?re daunting, but I believe that they can be addressed in a reasonable and thoughtful manner. We're fortunate to have a number of reports from faculty committees that illuminate the path ahead. The report from the Faculty Senate committee on compensation that was submitted in preliminary form more than a year ago is being refined to include a breakdown of salary data by discipline. If we want to be a great University, we've got to attract and retain a great faculty, and to do so we've got to pay competitive salaries--it's a simple as that. We're behind, and we need to fix this in a thoughtful and reasoned way based on hard information.

A teaching task force was assembled in the wake of the 2004 Provost's Conference on Faculty Evaluation, Development and Rewards. We need to work hard on implementation of the recommendations that were made by that task force if we are to understand how to make strategic investments in the teaching and learning part of our mission and how to reward faculty members that contribute to it in an exemplary manner.

There has been a parallel effort by a faculty task force charged with thinking about strategy for broadening and deepening scholarship and research at the University. While I understand that the task force has completed its work, I haven't yet seen its report. I hope that it will help us to determine the points of maximum leverage, the right places for investment and the magnitude of the investments needed for us to ramp up scholarship and research and its impact on the entire University community. We must build our research enterprise in a manner that doesn't sell our soul. Can we find a path upon which the growth of research does not draw our faculty away from students, as it does at so many other universities, but rather binds them together more tightly? We must build support for new kinds of positions, for the infrastructure for teaching and research, for student researchers, for more faculty time. How do we fund these investments?

Once again, I believe that the endowment is the key, rather than further expansion of the operating budget. I hope that UPAC will talk about endowed support for faculty chairs and professorships that will attract great professors and relieve the operating budget, creating the flexibility we need to build a larger and more productive research enterprise. We are blessed as well with a wonderfully talented, extraordinarily loyal staff. To honor them, we must make the University the very best place to work in all of Denver. Here, as with faculty and students, we need to put the resources on the table that are needed to draw and retain the most talented, most capable people no matter what their jobs may be. Salaries are an important part of this for certain, but they are not all-important in a world in which our lives are so critically dependent on employee benefits that work well. Each year we attack the health insurance issue with vigor and determination in an effort to find a new balance point between rising costs and quality of service. One simply has to read the newspaper these days to know that this is continuously shifting ground that requires vigilance and a well-informed and studied approach. This week, it was reported that health care costs for Americans had risen 87 percent in just the past six years.

Also, a task force on childcare began its work this past year is to report shortly, and I am eagerly anticipating the report from that group. Please know that these are matters of great importance to us, because we know how important they are to you.

Let me also make a point about inclusion. As we make this great turn to focus our efforts on academic excellence and intellectual intensity, our staff must be given a greater role, and a greater voice. Those of us who are faculty members know that this cannot be done without you. As UPAC begins its work, I hope that it will think hard about the working environment for our staff and the specific investments needed to retain our best people and attract more just like them. While we've certainly benefited from stable and enlightened leadership at DU, on many levels, I sometimes think we make too much of it. The truth is that all that was accomplished over the past years, the great resurgence of the University of Denver, was accomplished by you, by your ability, strength, and determination. It is because of you that we made that transition last year so well, maintaining and even building our momentum without losing a step, without skipping a beat. Now we've begun a year focused on planning and assembling the specific elements of a strategy that will carry us to that "next level" that we?ve spoken about so often. As we do so, let us remember that everything we hope to accomplish in the coming years must be accomplished by you, the members the University community. You are the carriers of all our strength and talent and energy. You are the means by which we will accomplish our mission. Our future rests on supporting you in that effort. Thank you.