DU’s Promises Made, Promises Broken

In the movie, Mary Poppins says, “Sounds like a ‘pie crust promise’ — easily made and easily broken”.

Well, DU makes a whole lot of pie crusts, which is especially rich coming from a school that promotes its honor code and pitches us continually on the virtues of its integrity. As administrators change frequently at DU, it’s important to remind those in power at DU that we alumni and fans have long memories, and we notice when our school lies to us or tries to trick us regarding the University of Denver’s cherished identity.

Here is a brief recap of DU identity-related trickery over the last 18 months:

Deception, Dishonesty and Double-Dealing

First there was the January, 2018 ‘Mask Ban‘, authored by DU administrators, which targeted the unofficial mascot, Denver Boone. As background, DU students and alumni were given express written permission in 2008 by former Chancellor Robert Coombe to use the Boone image “to the extent that they may choose”.

Then, during the dark nights of the 2017-2018 Christmas break, the DU administration rammed through a so-called mask ban and advised that as a result of the ban, the costumed Boone character would no longer be allowed on campus. DU spokespeople originally claimed the ban was about “safety and terrorism prevention”. However, they were soon proven to be lying about that when the Head of DU Campus Safety admitted to The Denver Post that DU would make mask exceptions for other school’s mascots.  To make matters worse, DU wrote language on its web site identifying the Division of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence as the place to go to seek such exceptions, only to have that same language disappear in an Orwellian puff of smoke when people we know understandably called to ask for an exception for Boone as well.

Of course, this targeted ‘ban’ should have been overturned by DU by now. DU has never made a public statement about this mask deception since its inception though. It’s not exactly a great way to treat some of your most loyal stakeholders.

In additional incidents, in 2019, senior DU administrators (including the same one believed to be the driving force behind the mask ban) have been allowed to unilaterally remove the University of Denver’s nickname, “Pioneers”, on key school-wide programs and to remove the words “Pioneer Card” from university-wide ID cards. And once again, DU appears to have misled us about it, when their spokesperson was lied to and/or lied to us when claiming the changes were mere brand refreshes and/or an error. All this  while a handful of students took ‘credit’ for the change – with administrative support.

In fact, these kinds of changes are in direct conflict with the written promise to alumni from then DU Chair of Board of Trustees Doug Scrivner in January of 2018 which stated the DU nickname would continue to be ‘Pioneers’.

Pass the rolling pin.

Further, these administrative deceptions do not include the 2018 clandestine effort  to dump the Pioneers nickname, with the intention that it would be replaced by ‘Trailblazers’, even though we were directly reassured by senior officials at the time that there would be no nickname change. Fortunately, this ham-handed effort was thwarted.

But once again, the oven is getting hot. How much deception and dissembling can a reader take?

Broken Promises

And, what about other DU promises to keep the Pioneers nickname from the past?

In 2008, Chancellor Coombe promised “One thing is certain–we will always be the Pioneers” toward the end of his famed open letter.  It’s sad how “certain” and “always” are so remarkably temporary these days.

Five years later, in 2013, DU promised us again, as a first point of emphasis during the failed mascot search process: “It was never in question that we are, and will remain, the Denver Pioneers. Our nickname as “Pioneers” has been in place since 1925.”

Here is a screen capture of part of that 2013 document, edited for brevity:

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 6.58.20 PM

Thus, DU promises repeatedly that it values our nickname but the University also continually allows its senior administrators to remove the Pioneers name at will. Is that any way to build trust with the university’s largest constituency?

The Fix

Once again, we’re asking DU for basic honesty and integrity on promises already made.

FIRST, officially announce that “Pioneers” is our official nickname – forever. This announcement needs to be public, definitive and communicated clearly to all DU administrators, staff, students and the general public. Back-door emails and private assurances will not cut it any longer. SECOND, in a demonstration of DU’s renewed commitment, immediately restore the Pioneer name to the first-year orientation, the year-end awards and ID cards. THIRD, conduct a campus-wide review to uncover any other instances of name changes which removed the word “Pioneer”, and return the Pioneer name to those programs as well. FOURTH, implement a process for future program naming (or renaming) that requires Chancellor’s Office approval for program names. FIFTH, transfer the ‘face cover ban’ policy development, interpretation, and enforcement to a new, independent department — not under the purview of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence — and allow exceptions for vetted mascots and other event attendees.

In short, DU must prove over time in word and deed that the University administration is ‘all-in’ with this promise to stand firmly behind the official nickname. There must be no more mixed signals.

We’ve had enough, DU. Follow the words of your very own University of Denver Honor Code, and when necessary, work to repair harm, restore trust and acknowledge the impact of one’s actions and choices.”

You need to repair harm and restore our trust, DU.

Perhaps it’s even time to eat some humble pie.