Through a Reach Out and Listen tour that’s involving faculty, staff, students and community members, CU Denver is honing in on a shared vision and direction to make it stand even taller as a premier urban public research university.
Chancellor Dorothy Horrell told the University of Colorado Board of Regents Wednesday that she’s learned a lot from the 80-day tour, launched in January and concluding this month. Mostly, she’s learned that CU Denver is a “can-do” institution. “I’ve seen that, and I see it in the people that I meet and talk with every day,” she said. “There are many strengths to build on, and there are also abundant opportunities for us to move forward and make it even better.”
The regents held their April meeting in the Tivoli Student Union, where Wednesday’s session started with breakfast with members of the CU Denver Student Government. Just as she’s already well-known to student leaders, Horrell has immersed herself as “CU Denver advocate in chief” and quickly become a fixture across campus and the city.
On the job for 98 days, the chancellor has so far met with more than 1,000 people – including students, faculty and staff as well as business and political leaders, school superintendents, alumni, and the Downtown Denver Partnership and other groups. She plans to keep on listening, saying that since starting the tour she’s found that “folks feel that it’s time to look more deeply at CU Denver, to say who we are and what we want to be.”
Horrell has used social media, a webcast and an online questionnaire to further engage the community. Six general themes have emerged:
- Articulate a shared vision/direction.
- Become a more student-centric organization.
- Strengthen support for faculty, including research and creative work.
- Increase and diversify sources of funding.
- Expand and deepen community partnerships.
- Create a cohesive culture.
A strategic plan, adopted in 2008, guides CU Denver through 2020. The Reach Out discussions currently taking place – including a leadership retreat held on campus (during the recent blizzard) – provide an opportunity to revisit the plan and ensure that progress is being made in key areas, Horrell told the regents.
“Our next steps going forward will be to create cross-functional action teams around the priorities that come out of this tour,” she said. “We will establish metrics and timelines so we can chart our progress.”
She told the board that there is strong alignment between the emerging campus priorities and the goals established by the regents in 2015: student success, revenue diversification (sponsored research and philanthropy), enhanced reputation and financial aid.
Building on the interactive way in which she’s conducted the Reach Out meetings, Horrell invited regents and other CU leadership members, including President Bruce Benson, to join in breakout roundtable discussions on several topics of key significance to CU Denver:
- Leveraging our competitive advantages.
- Doubling down on student success.
- Becoming “one with the city.”
- Innovating for the future.
‘We build bridges’
Facilitating the lively 20-minute discussions at four tables were Provost Roderick Nairn and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Pamela Jansma (student success); Vice Chancellor of University Communications Leanna Clark and College of Architecture and Planning Dean Mark Gelernter (‘one with the city’); Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation Initiatives John Bennett and Chief of Strategy Nolbert Chavez (innovating); and School of Public Affairs Dean Paul Teske and Horrell (competitive advantages).
Dozens of ideas were shared, including a robust discussion about leveraging CU Denver’s competitive advantages. “I think it came down to public urban research university – all those words together are really important …. We are an institution offering graduate programs as well as opportunities for undergraduates to get engaged in research and other hands-on learning opportunities,” Teske said. “We also build bridges to CU Anschutz and, increasingly, to CU South Denver.”
A key, Teske added, is for the university to strongly message these competitive advantages. “We have a good message (with the Learn with Purpose campaign), but we need to build on that, to provide a fuller answer to the question, why choose CU Denver?”
Board Chairman Kyle Hybl said he’s grateful for Horrell’s leadership and Benson thanked her for the breakout discussions. He asked that the tabletop documents on each topic, as well as notes from the brainstorm exercise, be forwarded to all the regents.
Regent Michael Carrigan, who is wrapping up 12 years on the board, praised CU Denver’s leadership team for “incredible growth, development and advancement” of the institution during that time. A decade ago, he said, CU Denver didn’t have student housing, a mascot, club sports or any of the other advancements that have occurred on the campus. “There’s one thing that’s very telling to me,” he said, noting that a decade ago some students eschewed a reference to ‘Denver’ on their diploma.
“I never hear that anymore. People are so proud to be going to this campus,” Carrigan told Horrell. “I just want to thank you and all the people who preceded you – you’ve all done amazing work.”
Horrell also introduced Luella Chavez D’Angelo, vice chancellor for enterprise development, who gave the board an update about CU South Denver. “Luella has truly hit the ground running and has put a lot of good things in motion that hold great promise for the future,” the chancellor said.