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Rebecca Chopp

Speech  •

Missed the event? See a video and news story recap on the DU Newsroom.

Good morning, and thank you all for coming together for this luncheon. Thank you to the Conference and Events Services staff, who orchestrated today’s luncheon; thank you to the Ritchie Center staff who, among other things, are filming this event for those who can’t be here; and thank you to our Sodexo partners who prepared and served today’s meal.

I want to thank all of you here today for your many and varied contributions to the University. While Thomas Carlyle wasn’t wrong to say that the “true a collection of books,” I am more inclined to think of a university as a collection of people—an intellectual community dedicated to expanding human knowledge, educating the next generation and changing the world.

The University of Denver is only as strong as its faculty and staff. It is your contributions—in scholarship, creative work, teaching, and mentoring…in administrative and student support, accounting, maintenance, and coaching—that make us a university. It is your passion and hard work that allow us to fulfill our vision of serving the public good.

Now entering my third year at DU, and more excited than ever to serve you as chancellor, I ask myself, What is it about DU that is distinctive? What is it that makes us so deeply proud to be part of this community? Actually, there are many answers: the DU desire to change the world; our ambitions to be more engaged with the city and world; our scholarship that advances human knowledge and addresses societal problems; our commitments to the arts, athletics and community engagement; our student leaders and student-athletes (who doesn’t admire the wonderful Nina McGee and the other resilient trailblazers like her?).

But when pushed to give a single answer to the question of what makes DU special, my answer is that we are dedicated to 21st-century engaged, pragmatic, ethical leadership in order to build communities in which people thrive. And I think the aspiration to make sure our communities have the ethical leaders they need grows out of the many stories of leadership in this community.

Some might think that “ethical leadership” is an outdated term—or that it is hackneyed. I disagree. As I look at the problems facing our nation and world, I think we need ethical leadership now more than ever. But I don’t think that ethics, leadership or community models of the 20th century can be merely tweaked or adapted. I think we have to reimagine what it means to be a leader in a world of complexity and rapid change, where you can’t rely on hierarchies or bureaucracies to secure power. We have to reimagine communities and organizations that are diverse, equitable and inclusive and that provide deep purpose and meaning in a multitude of ways. And we have to create forms of ethics that address the big problems of the day and do so through new practices of collaboration and innovation.

Our strategic vision, DU IMPACT 2025, is really a plan about leadership:

  • We promise ethical leadership development for our students in an environment of deep, meaningful engagement in a diverse community.
  • We commit to expanding support for faculty and strengthening infrastructure so that their scholarship and creative work can lead the future of science, arts, humanities, social sciences, and the professions.
  • We pledge to build our city and world through meaningful partnerships that match societal needs with DU’s resources.
  • And we will achieve this through the notion of One DU—leading the way for a diverse community of many perspectives that come together around common values and goals.

When I say that the University of Denver is committed to 21st-century ethical leadership and community, it isn’t because I—or any one of us—decided that it’s true. It’s because so many of our stories—stories about you and me and our colleagues across campus—speak to those values.

The impressive contributions and strengths of our community

Let us take a look at a few of those stories. First, our students…

[See this DU Newsroom story for a link to the student video.]

Amazing, aren’t they?

And how about our faculty?

DU professor Art Jones is founder of the award-winning Spirituals Project. The educational program serves to preserve this important American cultural treasure and educate people on the history and significance of the spirituals tradition. The Spirituals Project is now an official University program within the Lamont School of Music. Leadership is not new to Art. Just a few months ago, he finished his term as president of the Faculty Senate, where he helped lead an effort between the Senate, the Board of Trustees, and our administration in developing a new approach to non-tenure-line faculty members. This approach promotescontinuity, fair treatment and a stronger institution for all of us.

Education leaders Doug Clements and Julie Sarama in the Morgridge College of Education were awarded a $3.5 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to conduct crucial studies on learning trajectories in American mathematics education. In April, Doug presented on early childhood math education at the White House.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Alex Huffman, authored a publication entitled “A marine biogenic source of atmospheric ice-nucleating particles.” His paper was identified as a “Hot Paper” because it received enough citations in May/June 2016 to place it in the top 0.1 percent of papers in the academic field of Geosciences. Across the University, 17 other leadership faculty members authored publications that were placed in the top 1 percent this year in terms of citations.

Associate Professor Bernard Chao and Assistant Professor John Campbell from the Sturm College of Law are testing conventional litigation wisdom using virtual juries. The information they are collecting could pave the way for settlements and keep cases out of the courtroom, saving everyone, taxpayers included, a great deal of time and money.

Associate Professor and Archives Curator Kate Crowe, has been working with the Sistah Network to conduct oral histories of black women DU alumnae from the early 1950s to the present. These oral histories help reconstruct a more complete picture of the student experience at DU. University Libraries are creating a repository of these oral histories and personal papers for future researchers.

Earlier this year, the Graduate School of Professional Psychology announced the Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence (COPE). This first-of-its-kind program will have our faculty training clinical psychology students to address the social and emotional impacts of cancer on patients and caregivers.

Let’s talk about leadership: Our faculty in the University College continue to pioneer and set best practices in online education with its introduction, in partnership with the department of Geography and the Environment, of HyFlex (Hybrid + Flexible) courses in fall 2015. These courses allow distance leaners to attend class with their peers face-to-face, in real time.

Professor Breigh Roszelle, in Mechanical and Materials Engineering, facilitated a week-long summer camp that exposed students to the fundamentals of engineering. Teenagers about to enter 9th-11th grade held robotic competitions and had fun while also learning about career opportunities in the fields of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, mechatronics, bioengineering and computer engineering.

Our faculty members in the Daniels College of Business with support from the U.S. Department of State, will enter into a two-year partnership with Heart University in Afghanistan. This partnership seeks to strengthen the capacities of Afghanistan in a variety of areas, including curricular and program development, teaching and research, outreach and engagement and gender equity.

Marie Berry in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is heading up a data collection project looking at the micro-dynamics of women’s involvement in various forms of nonviolent action. She is gathering data from user-generated photos from the Egyptian Revolution to understand how the involvement and position of women in different demonstrations impacts the level and type of repression used against the protestors.

The Graduate School of Social work has 562 active partnerships in Denver alone. GSSW is the leading division for externally supported projects. And the passions of faculty there are reflected in the school’s students—whose volunteer hours this past academic year are valued at $7.1 million—all in service to the greater community.

Colorado Women’s College and The Women’s Foundation of Colorado released a joint research report this fall on the economic impact on women should the state of Colorado raise the minimum wage.

And what of the stories of our staff, the breadth and depth of whose work on campus is so essential to all of us?

This year, we have begun to address staff compensation in a holistic manner. Similar to our multi-year investment in raising faculty salaries to remain competitive, this year, we have invested $2.1 million—as part of multi-year effort—to bring staff salaries closer to market. We were able to bring all staff members to 85 percent of the median of their pay grades—affecting 423 people, nearly a third of our staff members. We will continue our investments in staff and faculty pay in the coming years. I want to recognize many in this community who helped identify the need for this initiative. Before I arrived, Chancellor Coombe commissioned two important reports: one on the Status of People of Color and the other on the Status of Women at DU. Upon my arrival, we embarked on the Engaging Community effort, with task forces focused on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusive Excellence as well as Faculty and Staff Professional Development. These groups provided ethical leadership on behalf of the whole community.

Many of us know James Famber at the Front Porch Café in Anderson Academic Commons. I’m not sure there has ever been a day he hasn’t told me is “beautiful”—regardless of weather. He engages students, staff and faculty every day, always brightening their day.

Or you may know Rohini Ananthakrishnan, who has been with the University for 14 years. Her work touches many facets across the University, including dashboards, reports and electronic processes, to name just a few. She and her team deliver results that allow so many of us to access the information we need, when we need it. Her collaborative leadership and creativity allow her to develop efficient solutions for individuals and departments across campus.

Dean Burkhart and Juan Garcia, the only two painters south of the Ritchie Center have 55 years of service between them. For the past 15 years, they have worked as a team. Early on, as they worked in offices in nearly every building on campus, they started to wonder if there was a better way to get their work done without inconveniencing the people whose offices they were painting. So they started to ask questions—the first step of good leadership. They listened, and then they came up with a plan. After going through the right channels, they changed their work schedules. Now they are on campus each day at 5 a.m. The two of them can generally paint an office early in the morning and be finished by 8 a.m., when they can begin working on other spaces. Many of you have experienced the joy of walking into your office building or office spaces with fresh paint on the walls and ceilings because of the great work of Dean and Juan. They take great pride in their work—and they demonstrate the kind of everyday leadership that often goes unnoticed, but serves all of us.

Ethical leadership in the 21st century

To me, ethical leadership is ultimately about creating a vibrant, informed and inclusive community for everyone touched by our institution—not just now, but in the past and in the future.

One example of that leadership is the work done by the Native American Task Force, formed in the wake of the John Evans report by a number of our faculty and staff members. The report recommended several important steps to honor our complicated and painful history and to provide better resources to attract and support Native students.

As immediate results, we have hired Viki Eagle as director of Native American community partnerships and programs and appointed Billy J. Stratton, associate professor of English, as special advisor on Native American community partnerships and programs. They will help us realize many of the report’s recommendations.

We need to accept the tragedies and contradictions in our own history. We must acknowledge and honor that we live, learn, and work on land once inhabited by the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I admire the University community for struggling with this history. We don’t all agree on the exact evaluation, and that is the nature of community and certainly an academic community. But our willingness to study the history, to work at healing and transformation and to support our Native students, faculty, and staff is an act of 21st-century leadership, long overdue for our university and nation. I thank you for it.

New ways to provide access, support and achievement to our community

We presently have an enormous responsibility for ensuring that the opportunity of a DU education is available to as many qualifying students as possible. For the benefit of all of our students, we are committed to continuing to diversify the student body by all measures, including socioeconomic means. The greatest fundraising priority of the next comprehensive campaign will be access, support and achievement for students—with an emphasis on need-based aid to close the “need gap” for our undergraduate students and a focus on reducing debt load for our graduate students. We are building an Advancement team that can support a culture of philanthropy and engagement—not just to increase donations, but also to engage a global network of alumni who can assist and mentor our students in myriad ways.

We know that as we increase access and see many more first-generation students, we need to be intentional about support for all our students. The Faculty Senate recently passed the Inclusive Learning Environment Initiative—answering the call both nationally and at DU to work to foster inclusive learning environments. This significant commitment by our faculty, to begin this quarter, is an extension of our deep focus on student learning and growth—rare at a research institution and another major DU differentiator.

I thought it was telling late last week, when the president and vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government worked with the Black Student Association and others to craft a campus-wide message in response to messages written on the “free speech wall” that caused concern to them and many others. Their message was thoughtful and demonstrated true leadership that serves as a model for how students can effect institutional change.

And beyond our campus, the University has an ethical responsibility to the Denver metro region. You may have seen our economic impact report that showed that DU’s annual impact on the region is nearly $1 billion. We are the second largest private, nonretail employer in the region, and our investments in facilities and infrastructure in recent decades have translated to jobs for construction crews and people working in trades, as well as architects, designers and engineers. That significant presence in Denver underscores our role as an anchor institution and our leadership role in being a good neighbor. The Urban Land Institute visited our campus this summer, and we will soon have a report of their recommendations for how DU can lead and partner in creating a “DU District” that will create more affordable housing and attract more residents to the area.

And as we realize DU IMPACT 2025, our implementation teams have asked us to measure our social impact—including volunteer contributions and partnerships throughout the region. That effort will begin this year.

At the same time that I celebrate with you today the many stories of our ethical leadership, I also want to invite us to do more, to dream bigger, to not rest until we address the tragedies and inequities on our campus and in the nation. National news reminds us, nearly daily, that throughout society, our differences continue to define us and divide us. Some of us face obstacles, even threats to our lives, because of the color of our skin, the people we love, the uniforms we wear, the gods we worship or the beliefs we hold. As ethical leaders, we are charged to do all we can to change our systems, our culture, and our relationships.

DU is not immune to intolerance, bigotry and divisiveness. We are on a journey—a long journey—toward Inclusive Excellence. Diversity and inclusivity are part of our vision and mission, deeply woven into our strategic plan and embedded in much of the work we do. I mentioned earlier that efforts to build a more inclusive campus predate me. But we continue to invest heavily and work diligently in multiple ways as an institution in realizing Inclusive Excellence. The faces of leadership on this campus continue to evolve and diversify. Goals and vision help hold one to higher standards—and that is true, I believe, with our institutional priorities surrounding diversity and inclusion. I am grateful to our students and to many of you who help to hold us accountable as we continue to build a more inclusive DU. I ask you not to leave any stone unturned, any action uncorrected, or any possibility for justice unaddressed. Let us make this truly a beloved community for all, and let us serve as a model to Denver and beyond.

So I’ve told you my narrative of DU—it is built around 21st-century ethical leadership and community in and through our strategic vision, built upon our history and values, and launching us into the new world of the 21st century. As you continue to enjoy your lunch, I encourage you to discuss at your tables your own stories of DU. And, by all means, when you see me on campus, please share those stories with me as well.