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Office of the Chancellor

Speeches

Inauguration 2006

Thank you so much, every one of you, for being here today. I am honored and humbled by your presence. On this very important day in my life, I'd like to begin by offering special thanks to my family, whose love and unwavering support have made possible any success that I've had. To my wife Julanna, my son Dan, my daughter Betsy, and my new granddaughters Emma and Abigail, to my brother John, and to my mother Estelle, who gave me the gift of my mind--I love you all very much.

Although I've lived most of my life in Denver, I'm not one of those special people who are natives. My family moved here when I was 6, and for my parents, home was really a small town in the middle of Missouri where they had grown up, as had five generations before them. But, you know, things change as our lives progress, often more rapidly than we realize. When I was a kid, those five generations in Missouri seemed like the deepest of roots. In the blink of an eye, though, I've become a 50-something, and there are now four generations of my family alive at this moment in Denver. Amazing.

Times change, people change, institutions change, and much of the time, I think, change is good. I'm glad that my parents chose to move to Colorado in 1955. I'm thankful for the tremendous changes that have swept over our own University in the course of the past 15 years. Other paths, perhaps less daunting, might well have been chosen in both cases. I'm very glad that they weren't.

And so it is with higher education. There are immense forces out there pushing academia toward dramatic change. Support from federal and state governments is diminishing. Operating costs are growing exponentially, and at the same time, we're facing the parallel issues of access and affordability. There is a growing public mistrust of higher education, and calls for accountability are increasing in intensity. The rise of international competition, the rapid evolution of technology and a host of other such issues are demanding a substantive response.

There is every reason to believe that in a matter of a few years, perhaps sooner, new models will arise in response to these pressures, and the measures of excellence in higher education will be much, much different than they are today. I think that it's time for some plain talk about these things. Here at DU, we embrace times of change as times of opportunity. Certainly the years to come hold challenges, but they also hold enormous opportunities for us to build new alliances that will expand our strength and support our students and faculty, opportunities to become a leader in international education and scholarship, to expand access and build excellence and diversity among the city and our region. We will truly become a great private university dedicated to the public good, and in so doing, we will define new measures of excellence for higher education.

In the coming years, the University of Denver will move aggressively to build new alliances and new kinds of partnerships. The decades-old relationship between higher ed and the federal government--the lifeblood of many colleges and universities--is under siege today. That partnership was established in the wake of World War II with the GI bill and the creation of the National Science Foundation. It deepened with the development of the Space Program and enormous research programs in the Defense Department, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health, and with student support programs like Pell grants, work-study and federal loan programs. My own career as a scientist is surely a product of the 1960s post-Sputnik partnership between government and education that was designed to draw more Americans into science and engineering careers.

But let's look ahead a bit. In an era in which entitlement programs are gobbling up more and more of the federal budget, how long can we rely on federal support for students and university scholarship? This year, we've already seen a move toward a substantial reduction in federal student loan funds in an effort to reduce the budget deficit. Government support for research is stagnant or declining, particularly in the National Institutes of Health.

How are we at DU going to respond? As chancellor, I'm going to work tirelessly to help the University of Denver develop and nurture new partnerships with the private sector--businesses and corporations, non-profits, and individuals--for support of our students and scholars. I'll lead the effort to seek out and create mutually productive relationships that generate new knowledge, economic growth, and provide great benefit for our students and for the people of the region.

I think of the recent announcement of a very generous gift to the University of Wisconsin for the development of a biomedical research institute. I think of the huge partnership between academia and industry in New York to support the growth of nanotechnology. I think of the immense and growing impact of nonprofits like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Daniels Fund here in Colorado.

DU is poised to take advantage of these types of opportunities. We are the kind of institution that can navigate the turbulent waters of the transition from government dependence to new alliances in an agile and open-minded manner. We have deep roots in the private sector, and we excel at integrating our strengths in business, law and the social sciences with our work in the physical sciences. We are unusually capable of creating the legal and business environments within which such partnerships can thrive.

The University of Denver is uniquely poised as well to leverage the forces of globalization and internationalization to create new learning opportunities for our students and research opportunities for our faculty. Much of the competition that today's students will face upon graduation, whatever their discipline, will come from abroad. These days, we read continuously about the decline in U.S. competitiveness in technology and the potential loss of our supremacy in that area to Asia or Europe. America is still the world's greatest power, but the rest of the six billion people out there are our partners, our customers, our audience, our competitors or our enemies, and we need to prepare the best and brightest among us to deal effectively with them.

Today, though, only about 1 percent of American college students study abroad. Only slightly more study languages beyond a year, and the majority of these study only Western European languages. Unless something is done, this is going to harm us in the not-too-distant future. This was precisely the point of the January meeting of U.S. college and university presidents, sponsored by the State Department and the Department of Education, that I attended with my colleagues Larry Penley and Christine Johnson.

Certainly, the University of Denver is on the vanguard of the movement to internationalize higher education for the benefit of our students and for the security of our country. Of DU students graduating this June, more than 50 percent will have studied abroad for at least a full academic term, thanks to our Cherrington Global Scholars program, which allows for all of our qualified undergraduates to study abroad nowadays at up to 80 host institutions on six continents at no additional cost whatever. Within another two years or so, we expect that number is going to be 65 or 70 percent. Compare that to the national average of 1 percent. We're working hard to fully integrate the Cherrington program into the curriculum, and languages are a key. At this moment, our faculty is working on a large-scale expansion of programs to provide language instruction, in many languages, in support of the Cherrington program.

We also have enormous strength in our Graduate School of International Studies, in the international law programs of our Sturm College of Law and in the international business programs of the Daniels College of Business. We're going to develop instructional and research programs that integrate that strength and create new opportunities for our students and faculty in a directed and purposeful manner. Sites abroad; new multidisciplinary programs that draw new pools of students, both graduate students and undergraduate students; partnerships with universities, NGOs and the private sector throughout the world will engage both our students and our faculty and enormously increase our intellectual reach. Our efforts to create private-sector alliances and internationalize our programs speak to the growth of excellence at DU. We must also be concerned, though, about access to that excellence. Some might think it odd that we at DU, a private institution, are concerned about access and opportunity. But we surely, surely are. I believe that every student who can benefit from the truly distinctive education we provide here, every one who has the intellect, commitment, and integrity to succeed at DU, should have the opportunity to do so.

This year, we had nearly 6,000 applications for the 1,100 slots available in next fall's entering class of first-year students. Admission to DU is really becoming a very competitive business, indeed. As is the case at most other private institutions in America, the majority of our undergraduate students--more than 70 percent--receive some form of financial aid. Fourteen percent of our students are supported by need-based Pell grants.

Much as we try, we are unable to fully meet every student's financial need, and we're concerned that as we attract more and more of the most able and most committed, we'll reach a limit set by cost, rather than by the quality of our faculty and programs.

Over the course of the next several years, I'll be working to build our resources, particularly our endowment, to expand student aid. As chancellor, I'm going to lead an effort to deepen our financial roots, building our endowment to multiples of its current value. Our support will come from DU alumni, from our friends in communities across America and the world, from our partners in the private and nonprofit sectors. By the time of our 150th birthday in 2014, I want us to be fully able to meet the financial need of every DU student. With every fiber of my being, I'm going to work for that end. The issues of access and opportunity also raise the matter of diversity in higher education. Surely, the best and the brightest, and the most committed and most able students and scholars are to be found among those in every socioeconomic group, every racial and ethnic group, every religious or political group, in many nations. I know this is a bit of a touchy subject, and I've often been warned that no matter what one says about diversity, someone is likely to be offended. It is, then, an issue about which one must be perfectly clear.

Certainly we've come a long way from the days of the civil rights movement, and today there is a great debate out there about the validity of affirmative action programs whose purpose is to remedy past discrimination. Quotas based on race, or ethnicity, or other distinguishing factors have been outlawed by the courts for many years. Today, the real issue is diversity as an educational value, as a component of educational excellence for all of our students. In the recent University of Michigan cases, the Supreme Court upheld diversity as an educational value, while creating a degree of legal uncertainty about the methods by which it might be achieved.

Perhaps the best way to tell you about where I personally stand on this matter is to share a story with you from my past. When I was a student at Lincoln High School in Denver, I was a member of the wrestling team. Long before the bifocals and the gray hair, I was that skinny kid that you saw in the video. That picture was of our team in 1966, my senior year, when we were city champions. It was the height of the baby boom, and there were 3,800 kids at Lincoln in just three grades. The Denver Public Schools provided a wonderful education; were overflowing with students; and were deeply, deeply segregated. Most Lincoln students were white, like me, but about 15 percent were Hispanic. The demographics of the wrestling team were quite a bit different, though, and as I recall, the numbers of Caucasian kids and Hispanic kids were about even.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of participating in a wrestling match, it's a sport in which superior strength and athletic ability are frequently overcome by intellect and persistence and will. It's a sport in which you find out exactly what your opponent is made of, as he does you, very quickly. In a match, the accoutrements of socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity melt away in a few seconds. One simply has no choice but to ignore them--they simply don't matter. All that matters is what you have inside.

That wrestling room at Lincoln was the time and place of my life that comes closest to the realization of Dr. King's dream for America, where one is judged by the content of one's character rather than by the color of one's skin. In a very real sense, for three hours a day, every day, we truly were brothers. Looking back, I know that that experience was a fleeting oasis of brotherhood in a deeply, deeply divided America. In truth, it was what had made us champions.

To me, that's what diversity is about. It's not about retribution, or guilt, or an acknowledgement of the collective sin of discrimination. Rather, it's about the excellence that can be achieved from a blending of lives, different in many dimensions, focused on achievement. I want DU to be another kind of oasis, where students, faculty and staff of many colors, many religions, many nationalities, many philosophies, many perspectives and persuasions work together, think together and create together. I want it to be a place where those differences are our competitive edge--the edge that will make us champions. I want DU to be a place where three hours of brotherhood every day is not enough. Here, we will respect and celebrate our differences, and in so doing, we'll be brothers and sisters--family--every hour of every day of every year.

At the University of Denver, we're fond of saying that we?re a great private university dedicated to the public good. I believe strongly that in the coming years, universities are going to be judged less and less by their position on the pecking order and more and more by their real impact on people in the communities that we serve. Not only impact on our colleagues in academia, but impact on all of those regular folks out there. At DU, we stand for the people of Denver, for the people of Colorado and for the people of our Rocky Mountain Region.

Even as we become a more national and international institution, we will proudly carry the name of our city forward. The University was founded by John Evans and a group of his friends back in 1864, just a few years after the founding of the city itself in 1859. DU?s founders were the same folks who founded the city, men like Evans and Byers and Moffat and Chaffee and Elbert--names we know well from counties and mountains and monuments. In 1864, Denver was nothing more than a dusty town of perhaps 3,500 people, a rowdy place that changed every day, its future as uncertain as it could possibly be. It might have blown away in a good wind storm, and in those first years, Denver was nearly done in by both fire and flood.

Our University began as a tiny school in the heart of the town, fueled largely by hope and by an abiding belief that all things were possible in an America of boundless treasures and boundless conflicts.

Since that time, the fortunes of the University have been deeply entwined with the fortunes of the city. Together, we weathered the silver panic of the 1890s and the early years of the 20th century, when Henry Buchtel was both DU's chancellor and the governor of Colorado at the same time, and University Hall very nearly became a glue factory. We endured the flu pandemic of 1918, the world wars and the Great Depression. We made it through Vietnam and the student movements of the '60s, "stagflation" in the '70s and the deep fiscal crisis of the '80s.

Along the way, we became tough and determined, open-minded and optimistic, embracing of change as opportunity. These are the elements of our strength and our collective persona, and they will carry us forward as we navigate the maelstrom of change that we face today.

We at the University of Denver owe the people of the city and the state a great debt, for they are an enormous, enormous part of our identity.

How will we repay that debt? Our College of Education will become a true academy for innovation in teaching and learning, focused on some of the really important matters we all face--early childhood education, multicultural education, the terrible drop-out rate among some of our school kids and matriculation on to college. Our Graduate School of Social Work, today one of the finest in the country, will continue to graduate men and women committed to positive change in our communities, and it will produce some of the change through faculty scholarship. You'll see us expand the VIP program, our successful partnership with West and Lincoln High Schools and the Pinnacle Charter School.

You'll see an army of DU students, faculty and staff in the communities of Denver, working hard with citizens to build a better life for us all. We will use all of the energy of our University community, its intellectual capital, creativity, its character and vitality, to benefit the people of our city and our state. At DU, we stand for Denver.

Thank you all so much, so much for your encouragement, your support and your trust in me as chancellor. I'm convinced that if we can continue to stand together, if we can continue to see times of change as times of opportunity, we'll see Denver become an economic powerhouse; an international, multicultural giant; an oasis of understanding, tolerance and brotherhood in a deeply divided world. And at its heart, a mighty engine of positive change, fueled by hope, percolating with ideas, pulsing with the vitality of many cultures, tough and determined, open-minded and optimistic, committed to its students and its community, to excellence and innovation, to integrity and engagement. That's our DU. That's the University of Denver.