Rapid Reaction: Provost Dr. Jeremy Haefner named Denver’s 19th Chancellor

In a rapid-fire decision, the University of Denver Board of Trustees has decided to continue its current strategic momentum and promote its own provost, Dr. Jeremy Haefner, to be the 19th Chancellor of the University. On July 15, Haefner will officially replace Dr. Rebecca Chopp, who recently stepped down due to health issues after a five-year tenure.

Outgoing Chancellor Rebecca Chopp had named Haefner Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor on July 15, 2018. He joined DU from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York where, for 10 years, he served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Haefner is now quite familiar with The University of Denver’s current strategies, financial realities, staff, students, and shortcomings. Furthermore, DU is in the midst of the quiet period of a billion-dollar capital campaign and likely valued the continuity of a quick, qualified hire over the uncertainty of a long and expensive national search, new leadership, and a potentially different core direction.

The basic adjectives that come to mind with our own (limited) interactions with Haefner to date are pragmatic, technocratic and midwestern. With his mathematics background, he understands the role of DU’s unique place in this thriving, educated city, state, and region. Expect DU to advance STEM programming, partnerships and professional schools as greater beachheads into the local economy. Also don’t be surprised if someday in a Haefner administration, DU undergrads will be required to pass some type of math test to graduate. That said, he’s not just a techie – he’s also a big fan of a quality liberal arts education.  He appears to value exposure to critical thinking, wider ideas, patterns and contexts well beyond computational skills, to better prepare students for the jobs that don’t yet exist.

In terms of athletics, he’s an iron man athlete himself, and with past time spent at the University of Wisconsin (M.A./PhD) and Rochester Institute of Technology (Provost), he well understands the role of athletics and the unique place of Division I hockey in the DU and NCAA cosmos.  This hockey familiarity may be more helpful than his Chancellor predecessor, who could not pronounce the name of DU’s top goal-scorer, and who once dropped a ceremonial face-off without even waiting for the players to arrive. In short, those who care about DU athletics should be excited that we are getting a chancellor who hopefully “gets it.”  Denver Athletics has proven to be a solid contributor to DU – not only on the courts, fields, pool, course, and rink but also provides valuable students who are performing well above the student averages academically, and as a great “front porch” of the university and a national branding tool in key markets.

The chancellor’s job will come with many challenges beyond the aggressive capital campaign. At DU, the cost problem is real at a school where 70+% of revenue comes from tuition. Rising tuition costs and spiraling Denver housing costs may threaten future growth as Denver recruits new staff and students who seek more financial aid with annual tuition cost at $46,422 and growing, and the full cost-of-attendance much higher. Increasing the endowment to over $1 billion from the current $750 (ish) million is the first step in the battle, while increased research funding, strategic cuts to non-performing units and other tools may be needed to stay increasingly viable.

No doubt as DU’s provost and chief academic officer, Haefner is also already focusing on the external reputation of the University of Denver, especially academically. Last year, Denver dropped from #87 to #96 in the US News and World Report undergraduate rankings. Should Denver drop out of the top 100 this fall, there is likely to be a significant impact on student applications as well. Haefner will likely be looking to bolster Denver’s academic reputation if DU expects to remain both a regional and national academic power.

Additionally, a key issue on campus and with alumni (beyond costs and reputation) is the campus climate, specifically the application of inclusive excellence concept.  Most people in the DU community already value the concepts of greater diversity and greater inclusion, and prefer emphasis on additive programming, scholarships, and community. Diversity tactics focused on further campus segregation, mascot/nickname elimination, and a reduction of Greek life’s presence on campus are going be seen by many in the community as simply divisive and destructive. A chancellor who understands this vital dynamic and values real unity/inclusion will be welcomed by the majority of the community.

There is a great opportunity to redefine how students across the entire campus interact with each other as well as other university stakeholders in a more positive, collaborative way, and we hope Haefner possesses the skills to get this done. The short term challenge for the Board will be to bring university stakeholders together on the hiring. Due to the tight time frame and rapid decision, there may be push back from some stakeholders, but they won’t be able to argue with Haefner’s outstanding credentials.

Haefner appears to be an excellent choice at this time to replace Chancellor Chopp and carry the University of Denver forward.

4 thoughts on “Rapid Reaction: Provost Dr. Jeremy Haefner named Denver’s 19th Chancellor”

  1. To me, it is fairly simple. The challenge of any chancellor is to create a ‘value proposition’. After paying nearly a quarter of a million dollars over four years, does a DU student graduate with life-long skills that will allow them to function effectively, add value and excel in society? If Chancellor Haefner makes decisions with this lens in mind, I think DU can avoid some of the minefields they have faced in the past. I wish him nothing but the best going forward.

  2. DU might have fallen to 96 in the national rankings, but they will continually brag that they have the MOST DIVERSE CLASS EVER!!! Yeah, great job! Right that fucking ship, it is disgraceful that DU has not been able to rise to the 50-60 tier of national schools (which doesn’t even include the small liberal arts schools) with the wealth of capital improvements on campus. This is a major failure of the Chopp era, and I hope the new guy does much better.

  3. I agree with both 5BWest and trombone. Despite raising a considerable amount of capital, investing into the campus resulting in a more impressive place, and excelling in athletics the university not only failed to elevate its standing among other peer institutions but has embarrassingly crept down the national rankings list. Unfortunately, in this world of credentialism that matters a lot for prospective students and in the grander scheme of things. As an alumnus I don’t really care how “diverse” the class is so long as they are giving all applicants fair treatment and trying to get the most talented students possible. DU has wandered down the social justice rabbithole over the past decade, to their own detriment.

    Need to return to a focus on giving the students the best value possible. With the cost of attendance reaching $300k for an incoming freshman with no financial aid (yes, I understand most get some sort of aid) the university really has to prove why spending that money is worthwhile compared to somewhere like Mines or CU, which is less than half the cost for an in-state student. I don’t know if I would steer my own children to DU without significant scholarships, the cost is just out of hand even for folks who have done well.

    I would also like DU to really emphasize expanding and improving the STEM fields, particularly engineering. While a liberal arts education can serve a student well, a generic communication or philosophy degree just doesn’t open the doors that it did 30 years ago. Lots of valuable jobs in tech/engineering and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. DU built that new engineering building and that’s a great start (was grungy studying in Knudson and those other old buildings south of Wesley). The Business school and international focus is a great cornerstone to build further “value” for the students, as they have been pretty successful for a while now. Unfortunately, Art History or whatever is interesting and important but there is nowhere near the market for that many students to be gainfully employed using such knowledge. Hopefully Chancellor Haefner spends more energy on STEM/Business and if some donor wants to fund a new art building, good on them.

    Don’t know anything about Haefner. Hopefully he does an excellent job!

  4. Good analysis. This should be a good hire. Haefner is not yet tarnished, and has a real chance to be the change DU needs at this juncture.

    My advice to him is that JOB ONE is the improving the excellence of the academic enterprise. That should be the Priority. Everything else follows. People will pay for, and donate to, academic excellence. That means higher admissions selectivity on the front end (requiring a far larger applicant pool) and better retention of those enrolled on the back end (a more cohesive, unified and meaningful student experience with students who want to here and love being here) in both undergraduate and graduate programs. It also means investing in respected faculty leaders with amazing facilities who can build highly-respected academic experiences, funding and outcomes. Those are the things that move rankings and reputations.

    While diversity is important, it should not be the guiding priority of everything DU does. DU is not Harvard or Yale or even BU or USC with the huge endowments to buy all the diversity it wants, nor is it a public school with a large diverse applicant pool, like CU or Metro. DU is an affluent private university at the bottom of an elite pool of far richer institutions, and it needs to stop pretending to be otherwise. Shoving diversity down everyone’s throat just leads to more vomit on both sides of the divide, and the last 15 years of heavy focus on diversity first has resulted in an academic backslide and increased resentment from both sides of an ideological divide.

    That said, DU has a lot to sell. What DU is — is the best university in the best city in the best state in America. It can be an amazing joy to go to school here if you focus on the happiness and opportunity provided here, and most of the people here are delightful, helpful and supportive. Focus on what is, not what isn’t.

    By focusing efforts on what DU isn’t, we’re just building a corrosive culture of agitation, division, complaint and misleading expectations of a rainbow utopia.

    Time to focus on academics first, Jeremy. The money and the diversity will follow.

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