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Jeremy Haefner Installed as 19th Chancellor of University of Denver

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Nika Anschuetz





Announcement  • News  •

In a long-awaited ceremony delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chancellor Jeremy Haefner was officially inaugurated Friday as the University of Denver’s 19th chancellor.

The formal ceremony opened with a blessing by William Walks Along, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, on whose land the University of Denver was founded. The ceremony marks the first time Native American and Indigenous tribal leaders have been present for the official Installation of a DU chancellor.

Musical entertainment included stirring performances featuring Lamont School of Music students as well as DU theatre students, a moving rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” numerous contributions by the Denver Brass and a powerful closing Honor Song by tribal leaders and Indigenous community members.

Speakers included two former colleagues of Haefner’s: Ralph Kuncl, neurologist and president emeritus of the University of Redlands, and Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion and community partnerships for the University of Virginia.

Having sat in the chancellor’s chair for over two years, Haefner said, it has become comfortable.

“You all have also gotten to know me. So, it won’t come as much of a surprise that I want to begin with some numbers: 3, 19 and 3 again,” says the PhD mathematician.

Haefner mapped a three-word voyage--determination, grace and optimism—as he made three exciting announcements.

Underscoring his optimism, he reminded the audience that thanks to the vision, passion and generosity of a DU alum, the university now can create a transformational outdoor experience for all DU students.  The University has acquired a 724-acre site in Larimer County, to be the James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus at the University of Denver, two hours northwest of Denver. The gorgeous wilderness setting is replete with infrastructure, thanks to the Girl Scouts of Colorado, who owned the site since the 1960s. The acquisition makes DU the first university in the nation to provide all students with an urban and a mountain experience.

“The Kennedy Mountain Campus opens up a whole new universe of the DU student experience through outdoor leadership, training and living. Every DU student—and I mean every student—will enjoy immersive visits to the Kennedy Mountain Campus… where they will learn about themselves, their character, their well-being, each other, and especially about the great outdoors,” Haefner says. “It is truly an accelerator for the 4D Experience.”

The Kennedy Mountain Campus honors James C. Kennedy’s (BSBA ’70) commitment to conservation, sustainability and outdoor education.

The campus will become a place to find and build common ground—breaking barriers and creating bonds, Haefner says.

In an announcement underscoring DU’s determination, he set a bold goal of carbon neutrality by 2030, 20 years earlier than previously committed.

“We do this not because it is easy, but because doing so will push us to be our best. Collectively, we must plan carefully. We may have to make sacrifices. But these sacrifices pale in comparison to the consequences we will face—and the next generation of students will face—if we don’t act now,” Haefner says.

Saying the University is capable of more, he also announced a $1 million, institution-wide initiative for “civil discourse, where in partnership with inclusivity, grace and respect form a prime directive.” 

While embracing free expression and speech, he says, DU must go further and dedicate itself to seeking truth—a matter of grace.

“We do all of this not to be polite or to pretend that all is well even in heated debate—we do all of this in service of recognizing one another’s humanity,” Haefner says. “To truly understand one another, we need to listen actively, express authentically and lean into the formidable challenge of finding common ground, sometimes even amidst a great deal of passion and pain.

“You know grace when you see it, and the world could certainly use a lot more of it—especially as we wrestle with complex issues,” he says. “A lack of it, and a lack of meaningful, thoughtful discussion, is threatening our democracy.”

American higher education is undergoing a massive change, Haefner says, as some schools have been forced to close, merge or shift their education model by moving solely online.

And while DU is not immune to these changes, its residential programs and experiences continue to be a defining factor.

“Developing the whole student is the core of who we are,” he says. “We will never reject our core.”

To preserve its core, DU is dedicating cutting-edge facilities to the student experience.

“These buildings matter because spaces matter. Where we work, learn, teach and connect powerfully impacts our well-being,” he says. “Our shared spaces on campus, old and new, are the stages on which our students build their aspirations, depth of knowledge and lifelong relationships.”

And with the new mountain campus, “The sky is the limit. And fortune favors the bold,” he says.

As Haefner’s speech came to an end with 18 Star Trek references behind him, he hit number 19 in stride: “May the University of Denver boldly live long and prosper.”