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Office of the Chancellor

Speeches

Convocation 2007

It's become our custom for me to speak with you about the current state of the University at our fall Convocation, and I will do so again today. But I'll be brief in this aspect of my remarks, though, because most of what I'd like to talk about today has to do with the future, rather than our present.

Our University is unquestionably in the strongest condition of its 143-year history. Our students, both undergraduates and graduate students, are among the brightest and most able that DU has ever seen. This fall we welcomed some 90 new faculty members to the University--an extraordinary number related to the expansion of our programs. Without question, this year's new faculty members reflect DU's ability to successfully compete for the very best teachers and scholars nationwide. They are distributed among many disciplines, but in every case they are nationally competitive scholars who are as committed to teaching and their work with students as they are to their scholarship. Overall, the student to faculty ratio at the University is now about 12:1, and for undergraduate students, it's 10:1.

We are beginning this fall term with the University in the best financial condition it has ever seen. Last year was our 18th consecutive year of operating in the black, a trend that we're certain will continue because of the solid financial planning and management structures that we've developed over the last several years. Perhaps more to the point, our financial flexibility has grown in a manner that has allowed us to create a host of new programs for both undergraduates and graduate students and to increase the amounts of financial aid we are able to offer to them. This year we were able to begin a program that provides increased need-based aid for continuing students. While we're not yet certain about cause and effect, this fall the number of continuing undergraduate students at DU is nearly 200 over the number budgeted.

At Convocation last year, I talked about building our endowment to mitigate our dependence on tuition and to provide ongoing support for our students and faculty. I'm pleased to report that this year was the best fundraising year we've ever had. Total new gifts and pledges amounted to more than $76 million of that amount, with $33 million designated for support of our endowment. I thank the staff of University Advancement for their hard work and this very good result. Our endowment stands currently at $271 million, up substantially from the $194 million level two years ago when I took office, and we've received an additional $22 million in pledged endowment gifts, largely for scholarships, that will be realized over the next several years.

And so the quality of the academic enterprise at DU continues to improve as we had hoped, as have our financial circumstances. We've spoken often about the next few years, those leading to our 150th anniversary, as being the time of a great leap forward for the University. Certainly, we are well positioned to make that move. We've talked about turning from buildings to focus our efforts on support for people: our students, our faculty, our staff and our alumni. We've talked about the new resources required to substantially increase the financial aid we award our students and the salaries and other kinds of support that we provide to our faculty and staff. And I've spoken often about how the door is open, how we are so well positioned to become a truly great university--one of the best in America.

But let's step back a bit and ask ourselves, "What does that really mean?" What will it mean to be a great university in America in the 21st century? And what are the specific mechanisms by which we propose to get there?

This past year was one in which we took up those questions in a number of ways. First, the provost reconstituted UPAC, the University Planning Advisory Council, and charged it with reconsidering our vision, values, mission and goals. The council includes faculty, staff, students and alumni as well as members of our board, and it worked hard last year at this, with a great result. The refined VVMG has been presented to our board and to the Faculty Senate and will be taken up by the Staff Advisory Council, the student government organizations, and the University community as a whole this fall. For those of you who were part of this, I thank you for your hard work on this very, very important project.

In considering this "good to great" transition that lies before us, we must choose our ground well. We must identify the best opportunities consonant with our mission. This past spring and summer I assembled a smaller group to begin thinking about how the work of UPAC could define a series of attributes of that great university we hope to become and the particular opportunities that might be associated with them. This was done in an effort to develop themes for fundraising--for our campaign to build the resources we need to fuel the transition. I'd like to share some of these themes and opportunities with you today, and would ask that you begin thinking about how your work and the work of your colleagues might be wrapped around them.

In my mind, our direction is set by a single vision statement established by the University Planning Advisory Council seven years ago and reaffirmed last year: The University of Denver is a great private university dedicated to the public good. How, then, will that greatness and that dedication to the public good be manifested? There are just two ways: First, in the kinds of people that we graduate and what they do with their lives, and second, in the manner in which we leverage our collective intellectual capital against the great issues of the day. Great universities are those that attack the great issues, those that play a positive, catalytic role in their resolution. So, let's talk about some specifics.

First, DU will be a university where research and scholarship are focused on the improvement of individual lives and the collective good of the public. I heard a statistic the other day indicating that there are roughly four million scholarly publications, of all kinds, generated by colleges and universities in America each year, at an average cost of $50,000 each. If one does the math, that's $200 billion per year. The total dollar volume for science and engineering R&D done by colleges and universities in America is about $50 billion per year. The public is beginning to ask about the result of all of that work--about its actual impact on the lives of ordinary Americans--and it's not getting much of an answer from an academic establishment that is largely its own audience. People are beginning to demand greater accountability, even as federal research budgets stagnate. 

On the other hand, DU is a place where the impact of our work as scholars, its benefit for people, has been clear for quite sometime. From Don Stedman's work on urban air pollution to research in engineering and CS on biomechanical systems, from the developmental group in our psychology department to Toni Linder and early childhood education, from Howard Markman's work on marriage and the family to the Butler Institute for Families at GSSW, from Bin Ramke's poetry to Lawrence Argent and the Big Blue Bear; from the sustainable development program at Daniels to the work at GSIS on energy, water and environment in East Asia, from Barry Hughes modeling the long term development of the human condition to ERI and the Center for Aging and Neurodegenerative disease and our collaboration with Denver Health; we work hard to improve the lives of individuals and to promote the good of the public. The connection is really very, very clear. And our co-curricular programs, like the Colorado Economic Futures Panel and the Strategic Issues Program, like the Bridge Project and Bridges to the Future, convey the same message. We need much, much more of this kind of work and we will need much, much greater support for our faculty and our students to make that happen.

Next, DU will be a research university that provides a truly extraordinary undergraduate experience. Recently I read once again the old adage that one goes to a great research university like Harvard or Berkeley to be among the best minds in the world, but one goes to a great liberal arts college like Williams or Amherst for the best teaching and learning in the world. Surely, our students should not have to make that choice. Much of what we have done recently with programs like the Marsico Initiative, the Cherrington Global Scholars program, the Daniels curriculum, the Languages Initiative and a host of other such efforts has been directed toward producing a teaching and learning environment that is among the very best in the world. And certainly we have succeeded. I've always believed that a particular advantage of the DU undergraduate experience is, on one hand, a faculty of nationally and internationally competitive scholars that one may not find even at elite liberal arts colleges, and on the other hand, real access to those faculty members and wide-open student engagement in their work that one does not often find at major research universities. In many ways, DU provides its undergraduates with the very best of both worlds. As we build our scholarship and research enterprise, we must do so in a manner that preserves and expands this very unique and positive characteristic. We must recruit and retain great faculty members who are both brilliant teachers and brilliant scholars. And that will take resources.

DU will be a university where exceptional student talent blossoms, thrives and enriches public life. The Ritchie Center, the Newman Center, the Shwayder Art Building and other such venues are unique structures at DU in that they were all designed to serve both our students and the public at large. The Newman Center is the finest performance venue for the arts in the entire Rocky Mountain region--really one of the finest in the United States--but it is also home to the Lamont School of Music and our theater department. The Ritchie Center is one of Denver?s major public venues, and it serves as the base for an enormous public recreation program, but it is also home to our athletics programs and our wonderful student athletes. The Shwayder building houses our School of Art and Art History but also includes the Myhren Gallery, a major public exhibition space. These programs and the buildings they live in, comprise one of our primary interfaces with the public, and they represent an opportunity for the University to do an enormous amount of public good by enriching public life. For that to happen, we need these programs to be among the very, very best in the nation, to be programs within which truly extraordinary student talent can thrive and grow. We need to be able to attract and retain the very best talent in America, in our students, in our faculty members and in our coaches.

DU will be a great international university for Denver and the Rocky Mountain region. In this technological world where we are all connected to one another all the time, great international cities need not be limited to those on the coasts. But a great international city does need a great international university at its intellectual center. We should be that great international university for Denver. Our Cherrington Global Scholars program is surely one of the best, if not the best, study abroad program in America. We draw almost 900 international students to the University every year. Our Graduate School of International Studies is ranked among the very best, and we have committed to pushing it all the way to the top. Our alumni occupy pivotal positions in the world: the secretary of state, the UN ambassadors from Chile and Iran, the vice minister of education in China, the former commander of all our forces in Iraq, one of the key advisers to the Iraq study group, the CEOs of a host of major international businesses and nonprofits, and many others. Really, it's quite, quite remarkable. We have wonderful programs in international business in Daniels, and a recent major gift has established the Nanda Center for International Law in the Sturm college. We have pioneering and thriving international programs in our Graduate School of Social Work and our Graduate School of Professional Psychology. We need now to bring all of this enormous momentum to bear within a single, coherent strategy. We need to bring far greater numbers of international students, international scholars and international visitors to the DU campus. We need to send our faculty and our graduate students abroad just as we do our undergraduates. And we need to build more extensive partnerships with governments, international businesses and NGOs. Just think of the impact on the city, on its economy and its culture, not to mention the impact on the University, if we were able to accomplish this.

DU will be a university that develops, demonstrates and implements visionary educational practice, from early childhood through graduate education. Let me simply say the words: early childhood education, K-12 reform and the P-20 Council; school choice, STEM education and national competitiveness; access, affordability and accountability in higher education; technology and distance education; public, nonprofit, for-profit education; and on and on, and on. These are the issues that are on everyone's front burner these days. There is a sense that education in general is broken, and that sooner or later, likely sooner, America is going to bear the consequences. This is surely one of the great issues of our day, and if we are to be that great private university dedicated to the public good we will need to be a force for positive change in this arena. We want the Morgridge College of Education to become the fulcrum through which the intellectual capital of the University is leveraged to produce positive change in the schools of our communities. We want to be known as the university that is always thinking, always moving to develop the very best teaching and learning practices for our own students, be they present in-person or online, and that succeeds at implementing those practices and documenting their success. We want to be the model that leads the way for other universities. That's a part of excellence in service to the public good.

DU will be a university where ethics, values and social responsibility are imbedded in our curriculum, our culture and in the lives of our graduates. Ethics has been a big part of our work for years now, beginning with the original Daniels gift and extending to the curriculum, the Williams Center and our honor code. Ethics programs have become reasonably common, though, and there are now many universities with ethics institutes. I think that the real target has broadened to include the related concepts of social responsibility, sustainability and the public good. In this century, great universities will be those that do more than educate students about ethics and social responsibility. They will be those that truly change the lives of their graduates through a campus culture and learning experiences that help them to deepen their values and define their commitments while respecting their differences of opinion. Ethical institutions will be those that understand and respond to the immense issues associated with the environment and sustainability that we all face. Great institutions will make their mark by aggressively attacking those issues through education, research and engagement. We are well positioned to do just that. We have a long and distinguished history of scholarship and research on the environment, in the physical and social sciences and in our professional schools. We've recently established the Daniels endowed chair in business ethics, and our faculty have developed the Daniels Compass curriculum that expands student work on ethics and values. Faculty and staff members in GSIS, Daniels and the Sturm College have worked for the past two years to put together an interdisciplinary Sustainability Institute that is being launched this fall.

This past year saw a major student movement called Sustainable DU that led to the formation of a University-wide Sustainability Council. Last spring I signed the President's Climate Commitment, joining a group of universities that have committed themselves to working toward climate neutrality for their campuses, and the University divested itself of the one company in its portfolio doing business with Sudan. We must continue to work hard to build a culture of ethics and social responsibility on campus and to use those values to build bridges to our alumni. There is a great deal of work yet to be done, and if we succeed we will earn the respect of our colleagues in academia and the trust of our fellow citizens.

And finally, DU will be a university where diversity, inclusion and excellence mold leaders for a changing America. I've always believed that diversity and inclusion are an essential element of an institution's strength, a prerequisite for real excellence. Surely this will be one of the defining traits of a great university for the 21st century. Let's simply step back and think about the surging demographic and cultural changes engulfing America right now, particularly in Colorado and the West. I'd ask, which university will it be? Which will be the first to really tap into the enormous human richness that is unfolding before us, to draw it in and make it a part of its institutional strength? Which university will it be that is not simply diverse, but that develops a culture of inclusion that sustains intellectual excellence? Which university will it be that educates the leaders, those whose lives will bring about a truly just and inclusive America? That should be the University of Denver. As Ghandi said, we must be the change. We must build our own community in order to become a catalyst for broader change. To do so, we will need enormous resources for student scholarships. We will need more resources for faculty and programs that can lead the change here at DU. It is simply imperative that we succeed at this.

I know that I've been speaking for quite a while now, but let me conclude by reiterating these themes for our campaign. I hope that you will think about how they can be reflected in your work and about the particular resources needed for real progress.

The University of Denver is a great private university dedicated to the public good.

DU will be:

  • A university where research and scholarship are focused on the improvement of individual lives and the collective good of the public
  • A research university that provides a truly extraordinary undergraduate experience
  • A university where exceptional student talent blossoms, thrives and enriches public life
  • A great international university for Denver and the Rocky Mountain West
  • A university that develops, demonstrates and implements visionary educational practice, from early childhood through graduate education
  • A university where ethics, values and social responsibility are imbedded in our curriculum, our culture and in the lives of our graduates
  • A university where diversity, inclusion and excellence mold leaders for a changing America

That's a great university for the 21st century. That's our DU.