In 1973, Beverly Anderson had a full-time job, two kids under 10 and serious career goals—which means she had a lot in common with many of today’s CU Denver students. With dreams of becoming a physician and precious little spare time, Anderson enrolled in night classes at what was then called the Denver Extension of the University of Colorado.
“It was very fortunate that [CU Denver] was available for people like me in a place where it was convenient for them,” said Anderson, who commuted to campus downtown several evenings a week from her home in Park Hill. “It allowed me to take classes that I needed for medical school.”
Anderson achieved her dreams. She went on to earn her medical degree from the CU Health Sciences Center and become a pediatrician and neonatologist. After a distinguished 30-year career right here in Denver, she retired in 2010.
This year, the University of Colorado Denver celebrates 40 years of empowering students, like Beverly Anderson, to achieve their dreams.
A Unique Learning Environment
State legislation made CU Denver an independent university in 1973. At that time, classes were held in the old Denver Tramway Corporation Building, which the university purchased in 1956 to house classrooms and administrative offices. With this auspicious location, CU Denver developed the amusing nickname of “Tramway Tech.”
“It felt like a bus station,” Anderson said—which wasn’t far from the truth, as the 8-story building at 14th and Arapahoe Streets contained a tram car barn. The floors in the basement had a hollow sound, as they were built over deep grease pits that had been used to service trams.
In spite of the unorthodox academic setting, students felt satisfied with the education they got there.
“It was a serious environment,” said Diane Messamore at the “Road to Independence and Beyond” panel event, sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) on March 8. She graduated from CU Denver with a B.S. in mathematical and statistical sciences in 1973. “I had a wonderful education, and it served me well.”
At the CU Denver of the 1970s, each day of classes ran from about 5 to 10 p.m. Much like today, evening classes—as well as the central urban location—catered to the needs of the busy, non-traditional student body.
“It was a compact, pure education, and I loved it,” Messamore said. “Downtown suited me very well, because it was efficient to get here, and the faculty were wonderful.”
The feeling was mutual.
“The students were excellent from the very beginning,” said Professor of Political Science Jana Everett at the CLAS panel event.
She also appreciated the relatively large number of women and ethnic minority faculty members. Ahead of many other higher education institutions, CU Denver offered courses like “Women in a Changing World,” as well as classes in ethnic and urban studies.
Independence at Last
On Jan. 11, 1973, upon proclamation of the governor, lawmakers amended the Colorado Constitution to establish the separate CU campus in Denver—but the work for independence didn’t end there.
Fostering the university through its first year of independence were 145 full-time and 150 part-time and honorarium faculty members. In that year and the challenging years that followed, the faculty became a tight-knit bunch, many of whom viewed the CU Denver community as their family.
“It was an extraordinary time and place with faculty who had a real sense of commitment, perseverance and idealism,” said 1976-1984 CLAS Dean Dan Fallon in current graduate history student Jarett Zuboy’s history of the university, University of Colorado Denver: The Road to Independence and Beyond.
In spring 1973, the faculty, administrators and other stakeholders gathered together at a three-day conference called “Centering on the Seventies.” Out of the conference came a statement of goals, which formed the basis of the university’s first Master Plan, released in 1975. Harold Haak became the university’s first vice president and, eventually, its first chancellor.
“My experience at CU Denver was one of tremendous freedom,” said Emeritus Professor Political Science Joel Edelstein at the CLAS panel event. “We brought the classroom to the world and the world to the classroom.”
These days, Beverly Anderson, MD, enjoys the free time her retirement gives her. She can relax and look back on a long and fulfilling career—a career to which CU Denver helped her attain.
“It’s great that more students can now take advantage of the convenience of this location to achieve their goal,” she said. “CU Denver students today, their situation is similar but different. They don’t choose to attend college in a traditional college town, but their desires are the same as any other student who sees value in higher education.”