A History of University Chancellors
Founded in 1864 as the Colorado Seminary, the University of Denver has been shaped by a distinguished group of visionary leaders.
Since 1880, the University has been directed by a chancellor working in conjunction with a board of trustees, as well as faculty, staff and alumni. To date, the University has been led by 18 chancellors:
Note: Gaps in the chronology reflect periods when the University was led by an acting chancellor.
Chancellor Rebecca Chopp
In 2014, the University of Denver inaugurated Rebecca Chopp as its 18th chancellor. Rebecca served DU for five years, retiring in 2019. With a focus on building community, helping students prepare for the changing demands of the 21st century, and ensuring the university affirms its vision to serve the public good, Chopp led the creation of DU IMPACT 2025, the university’s landmark and innovative strategic plan. By enlisting the voices, opinions, and vision of everyone at DU, DU IMPACT 2025 is a strategic plan built by the entire community. Beyond DU IMPACT 2025, Chopp defined the next phase of building projects at DU through the Denver Advantage Campus Framework Plan. This plan for the future of the DU campus uses cutting-edge research on what helps students thrive and build belonging. It also breaks the barriers between campus and the surrounding communities, opening the doors of DU to Denver and beyond. Chopp also worked to expand opportunities for student support in the classroom and beyond, creating holistic student services, as well as advancing the institution’s work related to diversity, inclusion, and equity on-campus. During her tenure, faculty research expenditures increased by nearly 80 percent, continuing DU’s long history of academic excellence. Under her stewardship, the university thoughtfully considered what it means to be a community today and what it means to be a private institution dedicated to the public good.
Chancellor Robert Coombe
Robert Coombe served as the 17th chancellor of the University of Denver from 2005 to 2014. Coombe understood the university from all levels—he had previously served DU as a professor, faculty chair, dean, vice provost, and provost before he was named chancellor. Coombe focused heavily on supporting and maintaining an excellent faculty body, increasing faculty tenure lines to attract the brightest and the best to the institution. During his tenure as chancellor, he invested in smaller student-faculty ratios and helped develop DU as a place of intellectual curiosity, incorporating interdisciplinary programming and pioneering dual-degree programs. As provost, Coombe established the Cherrington Global Scholars Program, a program that continues to impact the student experience today.
Chancellor Daniel Ritchie
Daniel Ritchie served as the University of Denver’s 16th chancellor from 1989 to 2005. However, Ritchie’s involvement at the university preceded and succeeded his chancellorship through his role on the DU Board of Trustees. Ritchie served as a trustee, vice chairman, and chair of the development committee before his chancellorship. He also served as board chair and trustee emeritus after his chancellorship. The DU of today was Ritchie’s vision. He helped fund and create the physical spaces of work, academics, and play on campus. Under his leadership, DU built many new buildings, beginning with Olin Hall in 1997 and expanding to include iconic buildings such as the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, Nagel and Spruce Halls, and, of course, the Daniel L. Ritchie Center for Sports & Wellness. Under Ritchie’s leadership, DU entered NCAA Division I athletics where DU continues to dominate as a non-football institution. During Ritchie’s tenure as chancellor, DU also advanced academically under the stewardship and guidance of competent and dedicated leaders. As a former businessman, Ritchie led with a business mind and instilled a deep, institution-wide commitment to ethics and a high moral standard that persists today.
Chancellor Dwight Smith
Dwight Smith was the 15thchancellor of the University of Denver, serving from 1984 to 1989. The sitting vice chancellor for academic affairs and the dean of faculty, Smith was appointed by the board to serve a two-year term as chancellor—an appointment prompted by the quickly unraveling financial and academic situation of the institution. From the outset, Smith faced the university’s challenging financial situation and worked alongside the board to improve the institution’s financial well-being, including selling the law school’s downtown campus, increasing annual board giving, facilitating multiple large endowments to the university, and reorganizing the academic structure of the institution. Smith named the first provost at DU as well as established the Core Curriculum, a robust, interdisciplinary curriculum every undergraduate student completes before graduation. Deep appreciation and trust from the faculty, administration, and students contributed to Smith’s ability to begin the process of avoiding a disastrous financial and academic crisis at DU.
|Rebecca Chopp||September 2014-July 2019|
|Robert Coombe||July 2005-June 2014|
|Daniel L. Ritchie||July 1989-June 2005|
|Dwight Morrell Smith||January 1984-July 1989|
|Ross Pritchard||October 1978-January 1984|
|Maurice Bernard Mitchell||September 1967-March 1978|
|Chester M. Alter||August 1953-July 1966|
|Albert Charles Jacobs||November 1949-March 1953|
|Alfred Clarence Nelson, interim||October 1948-November 1949|
|James F. Price||April-October 1948|
|Ben Mark Cherrington||November 1943-February 1946|
|Caleb Frank Gates||
March 1941-November 1943
February 1946-August 1947
|David Shaw Duncan||September 1935-March 1941|
|Frederick Maurice Hunter||July 1928-September 1935|
|Heber Reece Harper||November 1922-January 1927|
|Henry Augustus Buchtel||December 1899-September 1920|
|William Fraser McDowell||1890-June 1899|
|David Hastings Moore||October 1880-June 1889|