The five culture traits DU must correct to earn back our trust

The past weeks have been excruciating ones for the University of Denver community, as the behavior of DU administrators created a deep gash in the University’s relationship with many of its alumni and fans. The senior DU administrators’ dishonest mascot policy and its arrogant implementation banning Boone, the insidious plan to drop the Pioneer name and replace it with “Trailblazers”, and the maddeningly slow, often tone-deaf reaction of university officials once exposed, were all damaging. Just as damaging in the long term, however, is the University’s failure to present us with any kind of problem recognition, contrition or roadmap for improvement.

Accordingly, we have taken the liberty of offering our suggestions for improvement — in the hope they can see we are as serious about their need for improvement as we are angry about their past activities.

There were five underlying DU culture traits that we believe must be corrected if DU is going to win back our trust:

  1. DISLOYALTY MUST BECOME LOYALTY: Elements of the senior administration were working against DU’s 93-year-old nickname. The loss of this brand would not only have been hugely harmful to the school, the very idea of it is insulting to almost every living DU alumnus and fan. DU should seek to create a culture of loyalty, and it starts with embracing who we are — including our western heritage and culture. It’s time to step up and own our western heritage, including its scars, instead of running from it. Let this be the opportunity to create a greater sense of unity in our western culture.
  2. DECEIT MUST BECOME INTEGRITY: The University’s “safety” cover story for the mask policy was blatantly dishonest, and they know it. For a university that lists integrity as the top value on its honor code, it is simply shocking that this policy was conceived, implemented and still continues today, with top leaders still blithely insisting the policy is about safety. The mask policy has been proven to be all about banning DU’s unofficial mascot, Denver Boone. DU’s own campus safety chief admitted to The Denver Post that other mascots are welcome on the DU campus, and since DU has declined to admit a vetted Boone, we really have no idea how they can call this us a “safety” policy with a straight face. DU needs to either admit Boone with the right security vetting as a permitted exception (if the policy must stand), or drop the stupid, debunked policy altogether. Continuing to stand behind this botched policy daily undermines the administration’s credibility with its alumni. DU must be honest in all it does, and that must start at the top.
  3. PUNITIVE MUST BECOME ADDITIVE: The “Inclusive Excellence” leaders seem to believe that DU must punish DU’s proud western culture in order for DU to become more attractive to the minority audiences they are seeking to build. We believe that this kind of punitive culture creates more division than unity, and makes the majority resent the minorities (and the minorities resent the majority even more) which is exactly the wrong approach. We believe that all cultures are important and that DU should be additive in its approach instead of punitive. Let’s make the Pioneer tent larger so that everyone is included — not just punish the majority.
  4. EXCLUSION MUST BECOME INCLUSION: We believe that DU’s most colossal failure in this crisis was the exclusion of its alumni. The exclusionary end-run DU did around its own alumni, failing to engage in any consultation either on the Boone ban or the nickname change, was not only an egregious mistake, it also created a huge erosion of trust for its largest constituency. It is mind-boggling that a major university could even consider identity change without consulting with its largest constituency.  We’ve seen that Chancellor Chopp had alumni exclusion issues when leading both Colgate and Swarthmore, prior to coming to DU. It’s time that she learned how important we are to DU’s success. We hope that DU can figure out ways of including alumni viewpoints at the Board of Trustees level, as well as through the creation of alumni advisory councils and improved outreach and alumni consultation. DU needs to learn from this experience, and the alumni have much to contribute to help DU emerge as a better place.
  5. ARROGANCE MUST BECOME RESPECT:  Arrogance can work two ways. There is the swagger that comes with doing something well, and there is an arrogance that comes from being defensive about wrongdoing. DU has been guilty of the latter. The tone-deaf and deflective way DU handled this crisis, once exposed, is reflective not only of a lack of contrition but also of disregard and disrespect for the intelligence of its own family. But DU’s arrogance goes back further. It was demonstrated back in 2016, for example, when our emails on this topic were left unanswered. Arrogance was also part of the fait accompli reach-out to some alumni only after the devious mascot policy was already created. Arrogance also extended to the condescending talking points and inauthentic form e-mails that DU used to answer its alumni in the last few weeks, as well as to the back-door nickname retention announcement to one select alumnus — with instructions to that alumnus to disseminate it. Finally, by not yet publicly owning up to, or showing any public contrition for any of its many mistakes, DU has shown nearly breathtaking arrogance toward its own family.  By addressing the disloyalty, deceit, punitive and exclusionary aspects of its culture, perhaps DU can properly claim the more positive side of arrogance — the swagger of doing things well.

34 thoughts on “The five culture traits DU must correct to earn back our trust”

  1. All very good points and i hope that the senior administration will have the courage to do the right thing moving forward
    They need to remove the people who were behind these movements and put stronger leaders in theses positions

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  2. Great points. Inclusive Excellence needs to change to bring people together and not tear people apart. Time to put that program under the microscope and figure out how to make it a more positive, uniting force.

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  3. Well said. You suggest Chancellor Chop had previous issues with alumni exclusion issues prior to coming to DU. By any chance, did she bring some of her staff from those institutions with her. Wondering if this pattern of exclusion is broader than just Chancellor Chop and maybe a larger staff issue?

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  4. Most senior admins. are from the east. This is fly over country to them .They are committed to this inclusion religion. One person objects and everybody else has to accommodate. They only see this as a setback to their cause which still rigid.

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  5. Well said. You suggest Chancellor Chop had problems with alumni exclusion issues prior to coming to DU. By any chance, did she bring some of her staff from those institutions with her. Wondering if this pattern of exclusion is broader than just Chancellor Chop and maybe a larger staff issue?

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  6. This blog identified the three senior level ‘ringleaders’ of the anti-Boone, Anti-Pioneer faction as Dr. Liliana Rodriguez, Dr. Frank Tuitt and Renell Wynn. If you do look into their backgrounds, they are all graduates of elite schools in the Eastern time zone.

    Rodriguez was recruited to DU from Swarthmore College, where she worked for Rebecca Chopp when Chopp was President there heading up Swarthmore’s diversity efforts. She is a graduate of Williams College (BA) and the University of Massachusetts (MA/PhD). More about her here: https://www.du.edu/studentlife/aboutus/leadership_vicechancellor.html

    You might also check out her article in the latest University of Denver Magazine, in particular, her word choice of what name she wanted to call DU students in the second to last paragraph… https://magazine.du.edu/research/essay-first-belong/

    Dr. Tuitt has been at DU since at least 2008, but maybe before that – his online bios don’t list his DU start date. His educational background was at Connecticut College (BA) and Harvard University (MA/PhD.ED).

    Renell Wynn joined DU in August to 2106, so she is a Chancellor Chopp hire. She came to DU from George Mason University in the Washington, D.C. area and before that, she was at William and Mary in Virginia. She is graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta.

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    1. Definition of their inclusion doctrine: Over 95% of people agree on an issue. 5% disagree. The 95% must change and bend to the wishes of the 5%.
      Definition of common sense: The 5% are told to get over it and join in with the 95%.

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  7. I’m honestly so sick of hearing you guys whine. If getting rid of an offensive mascot is such a big deal for you, then stop covering DU. It’s really that simple. You feign support of DU, but barely and forgettably cover three of its ten sports, complain about it’s administration constantly, lack any compassion for its student body, and are totally ignorant of its value of inclusion. I don’t know what allows you to use the trademarked logo on your website or have a seat on press row, but you do not represent the Pioneers.

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    1. They cover basketball (both men’s and women’s), volleyball, hockey, lacrosse (both men’s and women’s), and I have also read posts on soccer (which I find super boring) and gymnastics (which is amazing). I have yet to see coverage of swimming. Oh I forgot they cover skiing too. Did you learn to count at DU? Yes this sidebar has played out, but you should probably get a hold of yourself.

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    1. See this is what I mean by “lack [of] compassion for [the] student body”. There have been demonstrations, panels, and groups of students have expressed concern about Boone to the administration for years. And people like you are still saying “offensive to who?” You know why people (Native Americans, students, alumni, the public) find it offensive and demeaning and you choose to ignore them. And then you blame the administration for being arrogant. Completely backwards.

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      1. Don’t tell us we don’t represent Pioneers. This blog represents far more of the DU community than any other external source dedicated to covering DU.

        And we’re not ignoring anyone. If you think the “DU community” finds Boone or Pioneers to be offensive, don’t merely make assertions — show us your polls and numbers. And survey the WHOLE 200,000 member DU community, not just the people in your echo chamber.

        While we wait for you, we’ll put the 10+ year record of this blog, the mascot its owners and readers created, our sports coverage and the publicity we have generated for DU up against any other external DU spirit initiatives EVER created.

        We proudly stand by our record of service to DU. Our readers are true DU supporters and difference-makers, and there are thousands of them. They are the reason the nickname is staying.

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      2. Oh please. It’s the same self-obsessed echo chamber of a few self-obsessed martyrs who choose to ignore the students and alums who actually buy tickets and attend sports events.

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      3. I’m as much apart of the alumni community as you are. In fact, I’ve attended far more events than Boone or LGDU in the last 10 years.

        I’ll use a number from Puck’s original reply before he pulled back: 80% support for Boone. So 20% of the community are self-obsessed martyrs for standing up against a symbol they feel ostracizes them? Has history taught us anything? Do we really need a majority opinion in a Denver Post poll to critically understand the offensive nature of Boone? And by the way, it was certainly a majority of USG, the elected body the students chose to represent their interests, that voted against Boone.

        You’d rather spend your time clinging to tradition than evolving as a united, inclusive university. I understand the nostalgia, and Boone served the Pioneers well for many years, but it’s time to move on. DU is more than your readership, more than a hockey team, more than an athletics department. It’s a community of people dedicated to common good. We have to support and listen to each other. Let’s move forward together rather than getting caught in the past.

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  8. There is a lack of data because the University of Denver refuses to ask the hard questions of its alumni, fans & students. Why? Because the truth doesn’t fit their political narrative.

    98%+ of Alums want Pioneers over Trailblazers

    90%+ of Alums want Boone over Tommy Trailblazer or Eldred the Elk

    Finally the Board of Trustees got the message this week. DU is a private university, no one is forced to be here.

    If people would prefer to work, study or support the Colorado Buffaloes, Boulder is 33 miles down the road. Safe travels.

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  9. Boone hasn’t been the mascot of DU for 20 years–it sounds to me that the mask policy is the least of there worries right now. If they do go with “Trailblazers” it will cost the university a lot of money to rebrand but it sounds like that is what Mrs. Chopp wants to do. to me “Denver Boone” is a very outdated mascot anyway.

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    1. Mascots are supposed to be nostalgic and backward-looking. That’s what connects it to generations of alumni and fans. When you change it, you break that link forever.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You honestly think the only thing keeping “generations of alumni and fans” linked to DU is a mascot? The athletics department at DU has existed for literally 100 years longer than Boone. The only people making that ultimatum is you.

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  10. At Swarthmore, Liliana Rodriguez was criticized for implementing new alcohol policies without sufficient stakeholder consultation and then dismissing criticism of the new policies and their alleged unintended consequence. Not an identical situation by any means as the policies involved were directly related to both safety and legality. However still some interesting parallels. The comments generated by the first few articles below are insightful.

    http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2014/09/04/changes-to-alcohol-policy-draw-criticism-from-students/
    http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2014/09/18/new-alcohol-policies-tested-during-disorientation/
    http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/09/18/changes-to-party-and-alcohol-policies-risk-limiting-the-diversity-of-the-social-scene/
    http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/09/04/imposing-their-judgments/
    http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/10/02/how-swat-stacks-up-in-alcohol/

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  11. If values and accepted public opinion of a word, idea, or era evolves over time, then one will also have to allow that interpretation of these elements evolve as well. We’re not the Sooners or Seminoles or Fighting Irish, all conjuring up a specific image; we are the Pioneers, a word with fluidity in its application of meaning.

    Keep the nickname forever because it’s apt for this university. Embrace the past, scars and accomplishments, embrace the present and future as an institution that seeks technological, geopolitical, and cultural change, which includes being the namesake university for an ascending, forward-thinking, fast-emerging 21st-century American city.

    We evolve as a society and on a micro level, as a university, and our nickname does as well. We’re fortunate to have that ability as Pioneers.

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  12. i like this line from the above comment : “If getting rid of an offensive mascot is such a big deal for you, then stop covering DU.” Huh???

    Echo chamber is a good description. If we’re honest with ourselves, we are guilty of having our own echo chamber. However, the difference is that our echo chamber represents the thoughts of probably 95% of the DU community, while their echo chamber is probably more like 5%. The tail should not be wagging the dog.

    I think that it’s best to avoid using terms like “snowflake” to describe those with whom we disagree. The minute you use that term, you look like a Trumper, and lose a lot of credibility with a log of people. It shouldn’t be framed as a conservative vs. liberal debate. Using terms like that makes it look like one. It’s better framed as a logic vs. emotion debate, rationality vs. knee jerk thought.

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    1. This blog has made an ultimatum. They are asking for cultural changes in exchange for their support of Denver Athletics. This blog was built on the foundation of Denver Athletics. Denver Athletics accommodates their coverage of its programs. So yeah, they should stop covering DU if this is such deal breaker for them.

      “Probably 95%”? What is that based on? DU is 153 years old and its community of alumni is currently in the ballpark of 150,000 people. This unaffiliated blog is supposed to be the best representation of 95% of the DU community?

      Also, I genuinely appreciate your support of honest discussion.

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      1. There are no ultimatums by this blog on anything. And we’re well aware of the Boone mascot, either officially or unofficially going back 50 years to 1968, and the Pioneer nickname going back 93 years to 1925. Those two symbols touch all living alumni.

        DU’s obvious pull-back on a planned nickname change came about in part because of this blog’s large audience of readers, who contacted the board and DU administration to register their concerns. And yes, this blog and its social media channels reach more of the DU community than any other non-official DU media entity.

        At the same time, the student government actions are NOT necessarily representative of the students. Sadly, most students don’t even bother to vote in USG elections, and some would even say the USG has been hijacked by certain factions in recent years.

        Finally, If Boone was that offensive to you, why did you come to DU? Boone and Pioneers are part of DU’s history and tradition. That’s who we are. Perhaps you should have chosen a school with a mascot and/or nickname you find more pleasing? But actively trying to destroy the traditions of others, just because you don’t happen to like them, is the antithesis of inclusion and tolerance.

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  13. I’m not quite sure that people behind the blog are threatening to stop supporting DU athletics if cultural changes aren’t made. But I do think that support for DU in many forms (including athletics) will decrease if the community thinks that the leadership is out of touch, or attempting to ditch DU’s history in secret discussions. I personally, would care less about DU if I thought that DU didn’t give a shit about my opinion. Some people would also be angry, if they perceive that DU cares more about the opinions of a vocal minority (who care more about their own agendas, than DU itself), than the opinions of those who have actually invested a lot emotionally (and otherwise) in DU.

    My 95% figure is just a guess, of course. Just based on a hunch, that if you asked alumni (maybe throw in professors and students, too) whether the term “Pioneers” is offensive or should be changed, over 75% would find the very idea ridiculous. Another 20% would not find it ridiculous, but would not support a change. And 5% would find the term Pioneers to be offensive, and in need of a change.

    As to the idea of Boone as a mascot, the opposition would be larger. But I’d still bet that a solid 60% would have a reaction of “WTF is offensive about THAT?” Maybe 25% wouldn’t have a strong opinion either way, and 15% would find Boone to be offensive in some manner.

    Yes, I am throwing around some numbers based on my own guesses. But that is what we are left with, when the University discusses these matters without involving the DU community or seeking input.

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  14. I must be missing something. A Disney dwarf like smiling cartoon is offensive?? Is it the beaver tail hat? This (whatever he is) is full of good cheer.
    I am not trying to be sarcastic. I am honestly asking what in blazes is offensive about this little guy? This is an honest question from a confused alum. Please enlighten me. I need specifics.

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  15. It looks like Ms. Chopp and friends are at it again……

    Now we hear they have come up with a $15Mil. ($15,000,000) university ‘match’ for additional contributions made to existing donor endowed scholarships. Where does she come up with all this money? Has the BOT lost it’s mind? Why is she doing this now? The timing can’t be a coincidence!

    Is she trying to bait anyone who might willing to pony up more $$ and planning to use it as an indication of support for her failed agenda? Or, is she trying to appease those who are so disheartened with her underhanded tactics and obvious disdain for intercollegiate athletics by enticing them to contribute more?

    (Some saw Ms. Chopp’s token Gold Club appearance at Saturday night’s hockey game….and also noticed her disappear at the end of the 1st period right after DU scored and the student section rolled out their huge Boone banner.)

    Hopefully, the many very generous DU friends and alumni will not be hoodwinked by this Trojan horse and will withhold donations for the time being in protest of the entire flawed senior administration.

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  16. Had not heard about this.

    DU wants to raise $15 Million for scholarships because unsurprisingly & predictably hardly any families can afford DU’s $64,000 a year bill?

    Two DU articles this week trumpeted the changing demographics of the incoming classes to DU, but failed to mention how the incoming students would be able to afford the sky high tuition costs. Guessing loans & scholarships.

    Going forward, young DU Alums saddled with Student Loans aren’t exactly going to be rushing to donate to DU. So DU better look after the current alums who can afford to make donations. Word of the day: juxtaposition.

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  17. The administration fails to account for the Denver residents. As a Denver native, I consider DU to be my college too. I couldn’t afford the tuition, but I never stopped rooting for the Pioneers.

    Embrace or at least acknowledge the citizens and perhaps they would get more donations from other sources.

    Bring back Boone!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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