2014 Convocation Address

chopp-convo-vid-thumbI am so delighted to be here. Thank you all for your wonderful welcome, your words of support and advice, and your many good wishes. Your welcome to me and my husband, Fred, has been truly remarkable. I am so impressed by the commitment, the love, and the pride you have in this place, and for the ambition you have in taking it to the next stage for our staff, and faculty, and most importantly, for our students. Now I go into my office every day and feel quite a bit of awe for being in the chair following the footsteps of Robert Coombe and Dan Ritchie, who is with us today. But I take comfort at the end of the day knowing their real success was in great part leading such a passionate and talented community of people who really gave of their talent, time, and commitments to make this University what it is today. I am honored and humbled to be your chancellor.

A convocation address is a time to take stock of the past year and a time to look forward to the new year. Now, I wasn’t here last year, but lots of colleagues across campus helped me put together a bit of commemoration of the year. I’ll focus most of my time talking about next steps where I’d like us to go in our strategic planning process.

So I want to begin by welcoming the new members of our community. These new community members bring such a host of talent and energy and commitment; and of course we thank all who are current, but we open our arms and our hearts to those who are new.

First of all, the students—that’s where it always begins and ends for me:

  • 1,433 first-time, first-year undergraduate students
  • 2,536 new graduate students
  • 192 transfers (undergraduates)

Incoming undergraduate class is

  • One of the most geographically and ethnically diverse first-year classes in recent history
    • 20 percent identify as students of color
    • 67 percent are from out of state
    • 7 percent are international, hailing from 17 different countries
  • All 50 states are represented
  • Rare gender balance of 50 percent males and 50 percent females (average national balance is closer to 70 percent female, 30 percent male)

Now I just want to say, I have been meeting with these new students and they are fabulous. They have joined our community, and they are now an energetic part of it. Let’s watch a very brief video.

Sixty-nine faculty members joined the university this fall (70 if you count me!) What incredible capacity these new scholar-teachers bring to our campus. I can only take time to give you a few examples: a historian studying the history of Chinese medicine; philosopher studying the intersection of philosophy of action, agency, and mind, focusing on the notion of effort; economist studying the role of technology and economic development; physicist studying magnetism in nano structures and its application in electronic devices and telecommunications; information scientist working on digital preservation and digital collection management; psychologist working on multicultural processes in psychotherapy. We could go on and on, but let’s just say our greatest intellectual asset, our faculty, has been wonderfully and gratefully enlarged.

Finally, I want to celebrate and thank our staff— if there is one thing that I have learned in my brief time here, it is that we have very accomplished, talented, and dedicated staff. I think it’s fair to say our staff often quarterbacks our teams, ensuring this institution runs seamlessly day in and day out. Of the 1,500 staff we have at this great University, each and every one contributes a great deal. I want to thank the staff and celebrate the new ones who have joined us.

We also welcome new leaders to the community:

  • Doug Scrivner, Board of Trustees chairman
  • Daniel McIntosh, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences dean (July 2014)
    Danny McIntosh joined the University of Denver in 1992 as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. Since then, he has served as director of the University’s Honors Program and department chair. He received the William T. Driscoll Master Educator award in 2004, the United Methodist Church University Scholar/Teacher of the Year in 2008, and the Outstanding Faculty Member Award from the Center for Multicultural Excellence in 2009.
  • Brent Chrite, DCB dean (August 2014)
    Brent Chrite served as dean of the School of Business at Montclair State University in New Jersey between 2009 and 2014. Prior to serving as dean at Montclair, Brent was associate dean and Gemelli Faculty Fellow at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. Between 2000 and 2003, Brent served as assistant dean for global development at the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School. Early in his career, Brent taught in the Middle East, Mexico, Russia, Uzbekistan, and throughout Africa.
  • Karen Riley, MCE dean (August 2014)
    Karen Riley joined the University as an assistant professor in 2004. She served as interim dean last year, and before that as a department chair, and as faculty director of the Fisher Early Learning Center at the University. Before coming to DU, Karen was an early childhood specialist and special education preschool coordinator for Adams County School District #12.
  • Michael McGuire (September 2014)
    Michael McGuire was interim dean of University College for the last two years, where he led a strategic planning process with a board of visitors (national leaders in post-traditional education) and faculty and administrators from across the University. He has served as assistant dean of operations of the college, as well as director of marketing and communication.

So to all these new leaders, new faculty, new staff, and new students: welcome.

It is an amazing time to join a university that’s been here for 150 years—that’s a long time—as we celebrate our sesquicentennial. And in celebrating the past we also have to take responsibility for the future and think seriously about where we’re headed, as well as where we’ve been.

Let’s just look at some of the ways we have celebrated our sesquicentennial as well as some highlights from the last academic year.

  • 2013 Homecoming (kicked off 150th celebration)
  • The BIG EVENT (January 2014; part of 150th kickoff)
  • Traditions and Legacy exhibit
  • Winter Carnival
  • Founders Week and Founders Day
  • 2014 Powwow (Sand Creek blanket ceremony) and Diversity Summit (including the Day of Action)
  • May Days
  • Community service (Denver Days and Earth Day River Sweep—among other volunteer events)
  • Athletic successes – Directors Cup yet again!
  • Diane Wendt Sports Fields (dedicated April 2014)
  • Margery Reed building renovation (reopened April 2014) – including mural
  • Summer Concert Series
  • Crimson Classic – promoting wellness for everyone

We also want to celebrate the ASCEND campaign—our most successful campaign in DU history! The ASCEND campaign ran from July 2006-June 2014:

  • Over 48,000 alumni and friends gave nearly $490 million
  • Support for scholarships was a hallmark of the campaign

Donors’ generosity created nearly 600 new scholarships, and nearly doubled the number of endowed scholarships that had been established in the University’s previous 142 years.

Financial aid is very important to me. I am a first-generation college student; I could not have gone to college had it not been for the generosity of a farmer in Kansas who established an endowed scholarship to honor his wife. We have had great success in this campaign and I promise you, we will do more. Our students, all students, need access to the University of Denver.

  • Gifts reached all aspects of the University, including innovative centers in international studies and in law, professorships in painting and in Italian culture, faculty and programs in education, programs in pre-med research and in finance, and many others.
  • Our incredibly generous donors—many of them friends of ours in Denver, others alumni across the nation—invested in our facilities in order to ensure the teaching and scholarship by our faculty, students and staff will realize fully the opportunities of the 21st century. Anderson Academic Commons was made possible through the generosity of more than 5,000 donors; these gifts helped us to extend learning opportunities and traditional library functions into the functions of creating knowledge by faculty, students, and staff.
  • Our campus transformation continued with a new home for Morgridge College of Education (Ruffatto Hall opened June 2010), student art studios and a LEED Gold-rated residence hall (Nagel Hall opened August 2008), to name just a few.
  • Thanks to the gifts in this campaign, we will enjoy a new home for the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science (groundbreaking was May 6, 2014) as well as the Anna and John S. International Relations Complex (groundbreaking Sept. 23, 2014). These buildings will enhance our campus and the knowledge will enhance our teaching, our scholarships, our outreach, to our community and beyond.

We have much to celebrate. But like any institution, we have areas, both in our past and in our present, that we must try to understand, remember, and where possible, address and improve. We are an institution built on truth and our mission is to uncover, preserve, create and always use truth as out guiding star. One of the great things about education is that we are devoted to the search for truth. So part of this past year has also been grappling with the truth telling of our past.

This year is also Colorado’s remembrance of 150 years since the Sand Creek Massacre on November 29, 1864.

  • The John Evans faculty committee report has arrived and we will be thinking through the report as well as ideas/suggestions/recommendations from our community and beyond the walls of our campus.
  • I hope you will watch for more information about the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run which happens Nov. 29-Dec. 3.

The University is working hard to be an equitable, diverse, and inclusive community. It’s important that we reflect the world so that our students can study within the context of the world. It’s important that we provide access. America has become a great country in part because it has given access to anyone who can do education; it has provided support to come to schools like the University of Denver. But it’s not just about access, it’s about making sure that everyone feels like they have a home, that they can be fully engaged, and that they can flourish in this environment. And it’s also about learning from one another using each other’s resources, being collaborative teams that can be the best.

Some of you may have read Paul Krugman’s essay entitled Three Cheers for Pluralism over Separatism in the New York Times on September 21 in which he pointed out that diversity is crucial for politics and innovation. I might also point out that it is crucial for lives of meaning and purpose for all in the 21st century.

Two studies—the status of faculty and staff women on campus and the status of the University’s faculty and staff members of color—were completed between November 2013 and June 2014. More on this in a moment when we talk about next steps and our future.

2013-14 was a good year. A year of incredible progress and reflection, a year of investing and remembering, a year of staying true to our mission to be a great private institution in service to the public good. A year to support transforming passion into purpose in the lives of our students, faculty, staff, in our lives together as a community.

So what next? Let’s talk for just a moment about what I see as the next step in our strategic thinking and doing. In the position description for the chancellor position, the very first responsibility is stated as follows: “The new chancellor will lead the University in a continuing strategic planning process, the framework for which has been laid in recent months. That process will be open, inclusive and transparent – and in the words of its recent Strategic Issues Panel ‘taken with a real sense of urgency’.”

Let me tell you a little bit about how I understand strategic planning, and let me show you a tentative draft of what I hope will be out next steps together.

Strategic planning – what it is.
For higher ed, strategic planning does the following:

  1. Inaugurates a new stage in the life of the institution; it provides vision in terms of major trajectories and positions the university in the context of both its locale and in terms of higher education across the nation.
  2. A good strategic plan bonds and evolves community, including alumni and off-campus. It allows a common project to be created, affirms common values, and allows a shared narrative to be created.
  3. Guides operational decisions: admissions, budgeting, hiring of faculty and staff, public relations and communications.
  4. Guides facilities decisions.
  5. Provides priorities for the next campaign—I like campaigns and fundraising.

So that’s what a good strategic plan does. A good strategic plan comes from our core values and our mission. It’s not about a radical departure;, it is really a transformative, evolutionary stage.

Values based, mission driven
Some years ago, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras used the term “core ideology” to underscore the importance of guiding all planning by values and mission—they must be the navigational points.

Good strategic planning combines strategic analysis, strategic intuition and strategic planning. The discipline of studying strategy goes back to military strategy. It was made famous by Carl von Clausewitz’s 1832 volume On War. Clausewitz tells the story of Napoleon and how he put together his first winning strategy by combining analysis of insights from the American Revolutionary War, contour maps, light cannon, and something he learned from studying the tactics of Joan of Arc–and he put it together around the challenge of the French taking the British army at Toulon. It is a great story about analysis, insight and planning, and the need for all three dimensions in planning. It also underscores that real strategy is NOT about following the usual practice, NOT about just moving on to the next best thing, NOT about adding up the cost of the long wish list. Good strategic insight also does not drop down from the heaven above. But comes through analysis, insight, planning. It is visionary and transformational.

Strategic plans, as von Clausewitz points out, are about focus, focus, focus–resources, structure, narrative, energy, work all must be focused together. This means we choose a certain vision/path to follow and not take other paths, craft other visions!

My approach—this will be the sixth strategic planning approach that I have led:

  1. Consult. In higher education, a good strategic plan is about consultation. It’s about listening and learning. It’s about getting ideas from everyone, from everywhere. One of the most brilliant ideas from Swarthmore, my previous institution, for the strategic plan, came from a very quiet student who piped up only once and had a brilliant idea: consult, consult, consult.
  2. Discern the emergent, the opportunities, the needs. Our next transformative stage is right here. We don’t know how to frame it, we may need to get out of the silos, we may need to connect the dots, but we need to understand the resources here, and we need to take off our blindfolds and see those resources in creative, fresh ways.
  3. Research. It amazes me how many other schools go about their strategic planning without really doing their homework, without knowing what’s needed in the country, what’s needed in the fields of knowledge, what’s needed by employers, and what other schools are doing. We will. We will undertake a lot of research, and this research may make us question our sacred cows because one of the ways institutions always get stuck is a sacred cow. I learned this my first year as provost at Emory, and I was talking to one of the board members. It was just when the electronic transfer of funds was coming out and we were all starting to give up those little checkbooks we all had, and I didn’t want to give it up. We were taking a walk between a board meeting, and we were talking about this—talking about change and planning—and he said he always thought he was a manufacturer of checkbooks, but then it dawned on him that he was about the transfer of money. And when he reframed it like that, he of course kept his business alive. But it taught me the importance of questioning those frameworks around what I call the “sacred cows.”
  4. Craft a powerful and compelling vision. So I really love imagination, and think one of the most fun parts of the strategic planning process is just asking everybody to let their imaginations grow wild. We’ll rein them in, we’ll get a realistic plan—it will be implementable. But you’ve got to take those moments where you imagine what DU can be ten years from now, or twenty years from now; what the headlines will be, and what the alums will be saying about the increased value of their degree.
  5. Develop implementation and assessment as we craft our plans. No one wants another book on the shelf or another Kindle download. This is a plan for action, pure and simple.
    And not a separate point, but running through all these steps. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Our communications office will be on overtime. I promise you, we want your ideas, we want your feedback, and we will keep consulting you.

These five points: consult, discern, research, vision, implement and assess will be our key touch points as we plan our future.

Next steps for DU

  • We have done a lot of preparation, research, recommending, in the last year or so!
  • The Strategic Issues Program panel report, entitled Unsettling Times: Higher Education In an Era of Change, was completed last year. The focus of this report was to prepare the University for the changes facing higher education.
  • Last year the chancellor-appointed Committees on the Status of Women and on the Status of People of Color, using national consultants, completed two extremely important reports. While these reports do not and could not cover all areas of diversity, equity and inclusive excellence they offer many important findings and important recommendations. The reports were issued to the community this August.
  • Last February, Chancellor Coombe convened a Strategic Planning Steering committee, consisting of 26 different members. The committee met 11 times and worked on a broad range of topics.
  • Provost Kvistad took over the committee in August. At the end of August, the committee disbanded, having identified 78 items to be considered for short-term and long-term planning. These items were forwarded to me. I will return to next steps with these items in a moment.

And let’s not forget that our schools have strategic plans or initiatives, as do many of the administrative units! And the Undergraduate Student Government, the Graduate Student Council and the Staff Advisory Committee all have themes and plans they are working on.

Our task– and I hope you will join me in it–is to find common themes by following two paths at once.

One I am going to call A Strategic Initiative for Engaging Community and the other I will call a Quiet Phase for Transformative Directions; that’s our work for this year.

Engaging Community will be a strategic area in 2014-15 and a focus for our planning efforts as we take all these ideas from the Strategic Steering Committee and the two reports that we commissioned last year (women, people of color). These efforts clearly produced ideas and recommendations that address engaging community. Many of the ideas and recommendations brought forward need to move to the implementation stage. Some need maturing, some may need to be put in the “transformational direction” basket, some may need to be combined with other ideas. But we have lots of good material to work with now. Provost Kvistad and I will consult the appropriate groups and create three task forces to work on image of the DU student, inclusive excellence initiatives, and professional development.

So the three task forces will be:

  • Equity, Diversity and Inclusive Excellence
  • Access, Aid and Persistence for our Students
  • Faculty and Staff Professional Development

These task forces won’t settle all the issues within these topics, but they will take all the ideas we have gathered and we will come up with a plan of implementation. We hope to set up the three task forces in October; we will be asking them to take material we have and develop plans for implementation and assessment, and that we will begin implementing these plans in early 2015. The goal will be to build upon the current work, to engage our community in focusing on its people and their flourishing on this campus. We will make this an even better place by making ourselves better. We can start doing even as we are dreaming, researching, discerning our transformational future.

Transformative Directions
I believe higher education is undergoing a paradigm change. The issues identified in Unsettling Times: Higher Education in an Era of Change, issues such as growing skepticism, financial pressures, technology, increased competition, enrollment challenges and so forth set the stage.

But the paradigm is also changing because of the tremendous trends in how knowledge is shaped, performed, created, distributed, combined. The paradigm is changing because of the presence of millennial students in both the undergraduate and graduate student bodies. The paradigm is changing because we educate students and create knowledge for a global environment that is more connected, more diverse, more threatened and more interdependent that we have seen in previous generations. Denver now sees itself as a global city. The paradigm is changing because the faculty and staff now work and live in different ways, in ways shaped by technology, collaboration, innovation and evolving institutional structures.

While we are working on making this engaged community a place where every member can flourish, I want us to also be thinking, doing research, and discerning some transformative directions. My goal is that by the end of the academic year, we will have identified 3-6 transformative directions that we know we should move into, want to move into. We don’t need to have the full plan developed by April, but I just want us to name those areas and come to an agreement as a community that they are where our passion is headed, that those are the needs that must be addressed, that those are the opportunities that must be realized.

In order to proceed during this quiet stage of exploring transformative directions, I am going to appoint a small advisory committee to help me steer this process. We will have all sorts of conversations, workshops, book clubs—you may suggest all sorts of processes. Let me suggest five questions or areas of inquiry we need to investigate – and I hope you suggest others to me and refine the ones I am identifying .

One, What is the shape of knowledge in the 21st century and how will our scholarship, practices of teaching and learning and our institutional structures support it? I went to graduate school in the late 1970s, and I had a siloed discipline, and I was taught to master it and I went down deep. Now, people in my field are interested in interdisciplinary research, they use their knowledge to solve problems, and they bring in theories and methods from across the university. Knowledge has changed dramatically. How do we help our students to prepare to be citizens, to be leaders, to work, to live, to enjoy in the 21st century? How do we support new forms of scholarship in this institution?

Two, who are our students? I don’t think we pause enough to ask this. The students are the subject of our education. These students are different than any before, and they are facing a world that is different. We owe it to them to understand what it is like to be a millennial; 83% of them indicate that the #1 reason to go to college is to get a better job than their parents. When I went to college it was to get access to improve your life, to figure your life out. It’s very different now. We have to help our students understand the deep questions and meaning about what it is to live in a democracy, but we also have to live with the fact that there is tremendous pressure on these young men and women to get a job, both at the graduate and undergraduate level. We have to ask ourselves, what does democracy look like? What do civic leaders need? What are the current changes and expectations that we need to have for our students??

Three, what is our relationship to 21st century Denver? This is an amazing city, and we are in a city that is undergoing immense transformation. We are the fourth most popular city for startups, we are one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and we are the hottest city for millennials. What also makes it great is that the people of Denver have adopted this University. If you look at the buildings on our campus, the lead gifts were given by people who aren’t our graduates. They did that because they believed in us. We need to tend to those ties, exploit those opportunities, and we need to make sure that this city and this University grow greater together.

Four, globalization and internationalization: How do we make our campus even more global? We have some amazing strengths in this area: our Cherrington Scholars program; our Korbel School and the new Sie Center. We have to continually think how we internationalize and globalize our knowledge, our research, our campus, and our service and staff from abroad. How do we help Denver and our area become more global?

Five, how do we continue and expand engaging our friends, alumni, parents? We use to think of campuses as ivory towers—they were bounded by the campus green. But we can’t think of it that way anymore, we have to think of our campus as “global.” Our community is so much larger than our campus. How can we engage our alumni, parents and friends? What can we do to help them learn about the amazing scholarship and teaching on campus? How can we best use the resources they have to help our students cultivate their knowledge and their character?

As we work hard this year on engaging community, I want us also to take time to explore these questions.

Again, my proposal is two-fold.

  1. Let’s get moving. Let’s start on the Strategic Initiative for Engaging Community–utilizing plans and reports we have, we implement short-term ideas in relation to equity, diversity and inclusive excellence; to support for students; to faculty and staff professional development.
  2. Let’s take time and think about real transformation. Think about what we can do in the next stage of our life. A Quiet Phase to Explore Transformative Directions. At the same time, we will enjoy a quiet phrase that will seek to select 3-6 directions to pursue on a University and unit levels.

I look forward to reactions, suggestions, concerns, rebuttals, and ideas in person, with emails, at town halls and other meetings and on a website we will develop.

But in conclusion, let me invite you to our Homecoming and grand sesquicentennial event October 30-November 2.
This will be the culmination of our sesquicentennial year. Highlights include an all-class reunion, athletic events, Pioneer Symposium lectures, sessions just for parents, Taste of DU featuring the 15th Athletics Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, PioneerFest and more.

Let’s all come to this and celebrate thanking all those that have gone before us and pledging ourselves to continue this wonderful tradition in even new ways.

Thank you.