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.

6 thoughts on “DU’s Promises Made, Promises Broken”

  1. DU has always had a Kafka-esque bureaucracy. Seems that the problem is that too much authority to erode DU’s traditions has somehow fallen to some rogue folks in the inclusive excellence department who apparently have no checks on their authority to do chip away at DU’s traditions behind closed doors. The new Chancellor needs to fix that, and prevent a few people who don’t give a shit about DU from pissing off thousands of alumni who love and support DU. It is just so…ridiculous. I agree with the article that the chancellor needs to address this publicly, before DU loses all alumni support. Who runs this university–10 people who represent an extreme minority view???

    1. I think the people who did this DO give a shit about DU, but in a far different way than you and I do. This is not rogue behavior – I believe it came from the highest level, and there is clearly an I-know-better belief among some of the administration (and some students and faculty) that Pioneers brings more pain than gain.

      I also think there is more anti-Pioneer feeling on campus than many people think there is due to years of anti-Pioneer faculty and staff telling the students how evil Pioneers once were (ignoring the good), and they do really believe that DU would better off eliminating Pioneers in order to better attract the kind of people that they would like to fill the future DU campus. They simply don’t care what the the majority of the alumni, or sports fans or the Denver general public want. Their playbook has moved from building consensus and compromise among the different stakeholder groups to just going ahead and smashing those traditions they don’t like, without caring about consequences, or what division they sow.

      Of course, scientific polling would give us more accurate answer about how far this anti-Pioneer feeling actually goes among DU’s constituents, but I doubt DU would ever have the guts to do it, since the results still would not likely yet fit their narrative.

      The new Chancellor has a tough decision to make about where he stands on this issue, and his actions will help define DU for the coming years.

  2. DU continues to tread water in us news rankings, at 97. (CU 104, CSU 160 something..do they not like Colo schools?) Yet DU will ignore the fact that with massive campus improvements, sports success, Denver as a booming city, we should have risen to the 60’s in the rankings over the past 10-15 years. Wait for the article where they brag about how inclusive and diverse their incoming class is, though. At least there is that, plus a public relations disaster on the way if they continue to mess with the Pioneer name. Not sure I like where this is going.

    I admit that there is a huge over-reliance on this partly arbitrary ranking system, but DU has proven over the past 10 years to be incapable of playing the rankings game (except for the law school, which has seen a steady rise to the 60s, if memory serves). Probably due in part to ditching the desire for prestige, for the sake of inclusiveness.

  3. So…the administration wants to change the name of “pioneer” to “trailblazer” because, as I paraphrase from a news report on 9News, “the term “pioneer” is offensive because of what these people did to the native Americans when they traveled West.” Hmmm…the word “trailblazer” is nothing more than a synonym of the word “pioneer.” BTW…a trailblazer, or “Blazer” in short (according to the Urban Dictionary), is slang for a pothead who smokes marijuana 24/7. As a DU PIONEER alum (BA ’92), I guess I could be offended that my alma mater’s administration would rather we be known as a bunch of potheads, than a group of people who are striving to move forward as innovative thinkers and leaders. These people are clueless.



    Learn to pronounce


    a person who makes a new track through wild country.

    synonyms: explorer; bushwhacker

    “a trailblazer in the automotive industry”

    a pioneer; an innovator.

    “he was a trailblazer for many ideas that are now standard fare”

    synonyms: pioneer, innovator, groundbreaker, spearhead, trendsetter

    “a trailblazer in the automotive industry”

  4. The hilarity of Historic irony: DU admin/professors taking scalps (Boonie, Pioneers, et al) en trade for endowments/gifts, etc. Look no further than Anderson Commons table book displays; in effort to revise history, eliminating context/perspective, imposing today’s standards and norms to that of territorial times, then jumping forward-in-time… to intersectionalit-ies; on regular display above and more telling, a student-professor participation exercise; as though the academic body at large is composed of little more than the socially conditioned emerging child.
    Sorry DU, most students see through it, but don’ see its insidiousness in tactic & strategy

Leave a Reply