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.