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Office of the Chancellor

Speeches

Convocation 2008

Good afternoon, everyone. For all of us so fortunate as to spend our lives in academia, there is always something magical about the fall. Each September, as the sun drifts lower in the sky and the mornings grow darker and more crisp, the students return and the campus is filled with energy and promise. It is as though we are reborn, casting away the detritus of the past and striding into the new year on fresh legs, our spirits alive with the sense of possibility. As we begin this our 145th academic year, I hope that you, too, feel so invigorated.

It has become our custom that I take this occasion to speak with you about the current state of the University, and I am very pleased to report that the year we just completed was in many ways the best in our history.  As we look ahead, the state of the economy is certainly such as to warrant due caution and we are constantly scanning the horizon for signs of trouble.  Those signs have not yet appeared.  It is important for you to know that we are far better prepared to weather an economic storm than in times past. Good long term planning, healthy reserves, and a far broader national and international reach should hold us in good stead. All of that being said, at this moment the new year we have just begun shows every indication of being still better than the last.

First let me speak about enrollments and our students. When all of the dust settled earlier this month, applications for the new class of first year undergraduates that arrived just after Labor Day totaled more than 8400, up an astonishing 30% from the previous year. We admitted just 54% of these applicants (down from 67% for the fall of '07) to assemble a class of 1,150 students, 20 over budget. More to the point, the new students are, once again, the most capable new class we have ever had, with a median high school GPA of 3.66 and a median SAT of 1190.  They include 13 Boettcher Scholars, again more than any other Colorado school. Nearly 60% are from out of state, including 61 international students, our highest number in many years. Sixteen percent are students of color, although there is some uncertainty to this figure as more than 20% chose not to report their race or ethnicity, a trend that is on the rise. Overall, we have begun the year with a total of 4,920 traditional undergraduates, well over budget, and we are hopeful that first to second year persistence will at last attain that special 90% figure that characterizes the best programs in America. I'd like to thank Tom Willoughby and the entire admissions and enrollment staff for a really extraordinary performance in a very difficult and complex year. We are anticipating something on the order of 10,000 applications for our first year class next fall.

Enrollments in our graduate programs are solid as well. Virtually all are at or above budgeted figures, with minor exceptions in some of the non-traditional components of various units. I'd like to note in particular the great recovery of enrollments in the traditional graduate programs of the Daniels College of Business, which are well over budget again after a couple of down years. We are very strong once again in the Korbel School of International Studies, in the Morgridge College of Education, in the Graduate School of Social Work, and in our Graduate School of Professional Psychology. University College enrollments are once again strong with over a thousand students, up more than 50% from the low tide of five years ago. Overall, our total enrollments of traditional undergraduates, traditional graduate students, students in our non-traditional programs, and students in our "pre-collegiate" programs (Fisher, Ricks, and the English Language Center) total 11,985, the highest figure in many years and surely very close to the capacity of this campus.

Last year was also another extraordinary year for fundraising. All totaled, we raised more than $73 million, just short of the previous year's all-time record of $76 million. Our 2-year-old campaign has raised nearly $160 million to date, with six years to go until our 150th birthday in 2014. In the last two years we've added $55 million in cash gifts to our endowment, which at the beginning of fiscal '09 stood at just over $300 million, with near term pledges (that is, not counting any bequests or estate gifts) totaling another $22 million. In spite of the weak performance of the market in fiscal '08, our endowment continued to grow because of these new gifts. 

We began this year having reached a milestone at which the value of our endowment was very nearly equal to our operating budget, net of financial aid. As many of you know, our goal is an endowment double our operating budget, and so we are half way there. While the volatility of the markets is certainly a concern, our investment strategy focuses on the long term and we have suffered far less from the recent troubles than the major indices might suggest. We will continue to aggressively pursue our fundraising goals. During the past year we also succeeded in fully funding the construction costs for Ruffatto Hall (the new building for our Morgridge College of Education), and for our new soccer stadium and an associated training facility for all our varsity athletes. Construction of both projects will begin late this fall. I'd like to express my thanks to the leadership and staff of University Advancement for these accomplishments and for their very good work this past year.

Last year was without question one of the very best we've ever had in Pioneer Athletics. The numbers tell the story:  the national championship in skiing, 7 conference championships, 2 individual NCAA champions and 13 All Americans, 12 NCAA championship tournament appearances, and 8 conference coaches of the year out of our 17 varsity sports. We won the Directors Cup as the most successful athletics program in NCAA division I-AAA (that is, among all division I schools without football), and Sports Illustrated ranked our athletics programs 23rd best in the country, among all universities. All of this with a student athlete GPA of 3.29 and a graduation rate over 80%. The really good thing is that we know we can go much farther. I know that Vice Chancellor Peg Bradley-Doppes, the coaches, staff, and students have set their sights on more championships and a graduation rate greater than 85%. My congratulations to all of the staff and students of DU athletics for a truly remarkable performance, on the field and in the classroom.

Perhaps most of all, I'd like to thank my colleagues among the faculty and staff of the academic units of the University.  Those of us in the administration know that our success at fundraising has been because of you, because of your hard work to continuously raise the bar on the absolute quality of the academic enterprise at this University. It is the quality of your work that is the real attraction, the magnet for those thousands and thousands of undergraduate applicants, the reason that the academic capabilities of our students have been growing by leaps and bounds. Your work is the reason for our national and international reach, for our growth in stature. And it is without question the focus of our future.

Let's talk a little now about that future. The path ahead is set by our vision to be a great private university dedicated to the public good, by the mission and goals that flow from that vision, and by the seven campaign themes I spoke about at Convocation last year that define particular directions. Looking back over the recent past we've accomplished a great deal already. Think about it just a bit:  the wonderful DU Discoveries orientation program, the First-Year seminars, the new University Writing Program, the Cherrington Global Scholars program, new curricula in Daniels and a host of other units, service learning and internships, Partners in Scholarship, the Dual Degree programs, new programs and facilities in residence and campus life. 

All of these and more were developed over just a few years in an intensive effort to build the quality of the undergraduate experience at DU. And, without question, it's worked. I'd argue that those great new first year students are going to have a collegiate experience better than virtually any other in the United States.  There is certainly still more to be done, and we will continue to work hard at this. The really central issue that remains, though, is a financial one - the fact that we need more resources to meet our students' financial need, and to better compete for the most capable students in America and the world. That's one of the principal goals of our campaign.

But, one might ask, what about the rest of the University? Today, I'd suggest to you that we need to recognize the fact that the majority of our students are graduate students, more than 6,300 this fall quarter. I'd suggest that it's high time that we devote at least an equal amount of attention and resources to them, and to the faculty scholarship, research, and creative work on which they rely. After all, together these represent more than half of all our annual net revenue, and a still greater proportion of our reputation and stature in the academic world.

We have some wonderful, wonderful graduate programs and great faculty and staff behind them. As a whole, they are a stable, productive, eclectic mix of academic and professional programs that are thriving in many ways. The real question, though, is "how can we become substantially better than we are?" defined in terms of our vision and campaign themes, in terms of the ability of our graduate students and the quality of the programs and experiences we provide for them, and in terms of the capabilities of our faculty members and the productivity of the intellectual environment they create. What kinds of resources are needed if we are to move ahead as vigorously as we did for our undergraduate programs? At the graduate level, those questions must be asked of each unit individually, and we've gotten a good start. 

In the Morgridge College of Education, we've raised more than $15 million beyond the cost of the new building, for endowed faculty chairs and new programs related to the central, most important issues in Education today. We've raised an even greater amount for the Korbel School, on our way to a $60 million goal, once again in support of faculty, students, and programs. And in the Sturm College of Law, an effort initially directed toward substantially improving the bar passage rate of our JD graduates has become the seed of a great campaign to make Sturm into one of the very best law schools in America. These efforts are succeeding because of the persistent, focused efforts of a host of faculty and staff members as well as dedicated alumni.

We will continue our work for these schools, and will to begin similar efforts for others. Let me speak more generally, though, about some of the broader, underlying challenges we face as we make this move.

We have an enormous diversity of graduate and professional programs spread over our schools and colleges, and we recognized some years ago that this extreme granularity can present difficulties. At present we have some 132 individual degree and certificate programs for those 6300 students, with a median program enrollment of just 18 students. Large numbers of small programs each staffed by small numbers of faculty and staff serving small numbers of students does not necessarily equate to quality. Many of our smaller programs suffer from the fact that they are simply not big enough to compete with much larger individual programs at other institutions. I think that it is often the case that resources scale with size in a nonlinear manner, and that smaller programs are at a disproportionate disadvantage in the competition for students, faculty, and external funding. We should ask ourselves, how big is big enough for high quality?  How big is big enough to compete on a national scale? Should our approach have greater focus?

Our decentralized structure presents yet another set of issues. This is perhaps the greatest difference between our undergraduate and graduate programs. Over the years we've found that decentralization is great for stimulating good management in an environment in which the measure of success is growth and the rewards are associated with new resources that accrue from that growth. It becomes more difficult when success is not about growth, but about quality.  Many of the major undergraduate initiatives that I mentioned earlier were centralized, driven by central resources and spanning large portions, if not all of the enterprise. In contrast, our graduate programs are almost totally decentralized. Admissions, financial aid, marketing, fundraising, and other such matters are for the most part managed by the individual units, and in most cases supported by small budgets. While the large majority of our graduate programs are financially stable, the questions we must ask are about their absolute quality and competitiveness. How do we build incentives for higher quality in our decentralized graduate environment, when we are at or near capacity and when that higher quality costs more, rather than less, for the same gross revenue?

Scholarship, research, and creative work are central to the quality of our graduate programs. We are an institution that believes deeply in the teacher-scholar model, and that belief is reflected in many of our structures, even in the 50/50 balance between our graduate and undergraduate programs. The measures of our success are to be found in both the lives of our alumni and in the manner in which our intellectual capital is leveraged against the great issues of the day.  We believe that one of the greatest advantages we afford to our undergraduates is unfettered access to a faculty fully capable of training doctoral students, a faculty whose scholarship is competitive on a national scale. We firmly believe that the kind of creativity needed for success in research also drives innovation in the classroom. What then should be the scale of research, scholarship and creative work at DU? How should it be supported?

In thinking about these questions, we have the advantage of a long history of faculty and staff deliberations on such matters. The most recent such effort was the Task Force on Research, Scholarship, and Creative work assembled by Provost Kvistad in 2005. The report from that group is a good one, making a clear case for the need for more institutional support for the scholarly pursuits of faculty, staff, and students. While I concur with nearly all of its recommendations, I would suggest that we have yet to develop an overall strategy for research and scholarship at DU, at an institutional level. Such a strategy must go beyond thinking about the resources needed to optimize our traditional model for scholarship, a model that is so deeply constrained by small programs and limited numbers of faculty.

Before 2005, the last effort to think about research at DU was made in the mid-'90s by a group led by then Director of University Research Marshall Haith. The charge to that committee, of which I was a member, was to chart a path for doubling or tripling the volume of sponsored research at DU. The conclusion that ultimately was drawn was that the principal limitation to such growth was not the ability of our faculty, or the level of their activity, or their national competitiveness. Rather, it was simply their number and distribution.  If we wanted to increase our volume, the only way to do it was by increasing the numbers of faculty in the disciplines for which research support was available from government or private sources, that is in the sciences and engineering and in the social sciences and related professional programs. The major difficulty here is that for a very long time our distribution of faculty has been linked to our distribution of instructional programs and the students that populate them. Should we move to decouple these? If so, in what measure? If we don't, what should our expectations be?

The highly granular, small program structure that I mentioned earlier is an impediment to the growth of competitive scholarship and creative work. When I came to the Chemistry department at DU in 1981, we had what I used to think of as the Noah's Ark approach to covering the bases, two faculty members each in all of the sub-disciplines of Chemistry. And that was fine, because that was what was needed to ensure that a small department could teach all of the classes it needed to for both undergraduate and graduate students. The scholarship model was based on individual faculty researchers working alone, as it was at most universities. Collaborative work was viewed as a complication in tenure and promotion decisions. The problem we face today is that that model is no longer competitive.  Today, most research universities assemble large groups of faculty who work together to address the most significant issues of the day, issues that are by definition multidisciplinary. These groups compete for large amounts of funding that come from an ever-dwindling number of sources. It is very, very hard to compete as an individual. How, then, might we move to build structures that can supplement our departmental governance model, structures that will enable us to assemble more competitive groups of faculty? How might such structures engage substantially larger proportions of our students in faculty scholarship? How can we institutionalize interdisciplinarity? These are big questions that we need to think through, together.

There is one last point to be made, and it is an important one. Any real move to improve our graduate programs and the environment for research, scholarship and creativity will require substantial resources. We need only look at the magnitude of the investments we've made at the undergraduate level - in the Marsico Initiative, in the Cherrington Global Scholars program, in Athletics--to see what is needed for real change. In an operational sense, these and other large programmatic initiatives have been fueled by growth of the student population and by substantial tuition rate increases, neither of which is indefinitely sustainable. Our campaign is designed to address this particular issue, the issue of long-term fiscal sustainability defined as no dependence on growth and no dependence on tuition increases. We will complete the campaign and it will achieve that end, but the bulk of its results will be felt a few years from now. 

How, then, can we continue to move forward now, today? We must work hard to build a financial bridge that connects today's very good fiscal condition, a condition based largely on growth, with a truly sustainable future in which flexibility and change are fueled by endowment and annual giving and faculty are supported by sponsored programs as well as by tuition. Our bridge strategy must recognize the central importance of our academic mission, making certain that the funds we expend today are focused on our main strategic directions. My message today is that one of those major directions is associated with our graduate programs, and with the faculty and student research, scholarship, and creative work that they depend on. You, our faculty and staff, have done a superb job in developing our undergraduate programs, and we will continue to work hard on them. But if we are to become a truly great university, we must also solve the other half of the puzzle.

I hope that you will join with me as we move our energies, creativity, and resources to do so.