Chancellor Haefner Comments on DU Athletics and Recent Pioneer Nickname Events

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Dr. Jeremy Haefner, Chancellor of the University of Denver  Photo: University of Denver

Jason Evans, a DU alumnus and former CNN journalist who now lives in Denver, has recently started a new blog called “inthebluecrewdu” which addresses news topics and stories in the wider University of Denver community.  He recently scored a 30-minute interview with DU Chancellor Jeremy Haefner. Among the topics covered were specific questions regarding both DU Athletics in the pandemic era, as well as questions about the recent IRISE controversy with the Pioneer nickname.  With Jason’s permission, we’ve clipped Haefner’s answers to these key questions below.  If you’d like to read the entire interview, you can read it on Jason’s blog, here.

Jason Evans: So as you’re probably aware, in mid-April, a group of commissioners from five mid-major athletic conferences that play football petitioned the NCAA to relax certain requirements for a period of time, including the number of teams they must field. Are you concerned about the future in terms of decisions DU Athletics might have to make?

Chancellor Jeremy Haefner: Well I think Vice-Chancellor Karlton Creech is doing an exceptional job at really looking at all the different variables, and doing some excellent planning conversations with his coaching staff.

His coaching staff is staying in touch with the athletes and helping them stay in shape and train, even remotely, so I find that so encouraging from my perspective.

But for sure the challenges ahead for our athletics, amateur or professional, are huge. And I think right now I feel pretty confident that DU is going to weather the challenges that the NCAA might give to staying in Division One, I think we’ll be fine in that regard so far.

There’s still other decisions that have yet to be made, and I think we’re very interested in knowing how those decisions come out. How many competitions are needed and so forth like that.

So there’s a lot of planning going on just within that division.

JE: Sticking with athletics, and I have to do my job and ask this because it’s recently exploded again on the alumni radar but in the current situation do you see any work happening on the perpetual mascot and Pioneer nickname issue.

CJH: (laughs) So I’ve spent my first part of my chancellorship really listening into the issue of the Pioneer. Our mascot, we don’t have a mascot, we put that one to rest, it’s just better for the university not to go down that path.

But…the nickname of the Pioneer, we are still the Pioneers.

But I am listening very carefully to both the alumni, of course, the people who have long ties to that name, and I’m also listening to those populations that find it objectionable in one form or another.

It is a word that goes back through the history of this university, back to 1925. For many people, it’s associated with exploration, and innovation, and entrepreneurship and discovery and the uses of the word that you often see in printed media these days.

For others it’s painful, it represents some of the history that our Native American population has experienced over the way.

So this is not an easy one for us, but at this moment I think the pandemic has got us really focused on the things that really matter the most. Supporting our students financially, supporting our students for success, making sure that they have access to higher education, and making sure that the university is healthy as it moves forward. It will come out of this crisis even stronger than how it went into it.

That’s my “laser focus” on all of it.

JE: One more question on that, and this pertains to why the issue has recently surfaced again. Some eyebrows were raised when some graphic design work surfaced from IRISE, a DU-funded organization whose faculty director [Dr. Tom Romero of the Sturm College of Law] was a panelist in your virtual town hall. This graphic design artwork featured a caricature of the former mascot Boone, dead and covered in arrows. Firstly, do you think the use of arrows might be problematic in itself, and in a greater sense do you think imagery like that might send the wrong message to students?

CJH: Ummm (laughs) well you’ve certainly asked a really great question, and I can see your journalistic skill set and experience coming through.

JE: I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask.

CJH: I realize that. Look, we are looking into this situation because it does polarize us even further. I’m not happy at a time when we really, absolutely must come together as a campus we still find ourselves having a tendency to pull apart.

And so I do need to get an understanding of what this is all about deeper, and so I am in kind of in a questioning and answering phase, and if you don’t mind that’s how I’ll leave that answer.

14 thoughts on “Chancellor Haefner Comments on DU Athletics and Recent Pioneer Nickname Events”

  1. Progress.

    So its not OK for DU faculty members & organizations to drum up alleged “exclusion, hate” & oppression at DU.

    Noted. 🙂

  2. IRISE has now taken the inflammatory Boone poster down from its web site.


    By the way, Haefner’s answers were smart and appropriate. Reading between the lines, it is clear that he’s embarrassed by IRISE’s tactics, as he should be..

  3. They had to take it down since they didn’t want the world to know how ignorant they are by having no idea of the difference between whose and who’s.
    (And the faculty leader of this group is a law professor? No wonder the reputation of the DU law school is so poor.)

  4. The IRISE people tripped over their own (insert politically correct term for genitalia) on this one.

  5. Why can’t the ‘adults in the room’ (DU Admin) use their communication talent and broad historical background to put this issue to rest with the PC crowd?

    1. Adults in the room? Maybe. This issue is more complex than just PC, mascots or nicknames. Here’s my quick read on it, based on 40+ years of watching DU:

      DU plays on both sides of this nickname fence because its leaders believe that increasing diversity is not only a moral imperative, but a major marketing component of their plans to broaden the appeal of DU to a much wider swath of people as a result of future demographic change in America.

      As a tuition-dependent private school, however, most of the prospective student families who can afford to pay DU’s tuition, as well as much of DU’s donor base and alumni base, comes from a more traditional point of view, and wants the school to stay away from trying to be something it isn’t. DU knows that this audience is where its current bread is buttered, and accordingly tries very hard to please both the audience it has and the audience it wants…

  6. Poor reputation of the law school? Incorrect, it has good reputation, one of the only schools to have 5 programs ranked in top 20, or something like that. They do need to work on their overall ranking, which was mid 60’s nationally last time I checked. But having a guy like Romero getting negative attention by associating with a fringe group is not worthy of a law school. Focus on law clinics to help causes, not groups like this.

  7. Good job by the interviewer for exploring this topic, and a good answer by Haefner, emphasizing that the last thing we need is polarization over this (stupid) issue. Glad to see that this bush league stuff is on his radar. He is correct that the university has far more important issues to deal with.

    1. As usual, when you try to please everybody, you please nobody. Also, I’m all for greater diversity at DU, and I am staunchly supportive of Native Americans, whom the Federal Government continues to oppress and swindle out of treaties. But what we have going on here is spoiled, historically misinformed rich kids trying to make themselves feel good.

  8. He’s right about one thing…DU has no mascot. In that sense DU is truly a pioneer among schools with athletic and scholastic pursuits.

    A school with a crappy logo, no mascot, and a nickname under assault from the PC crowd. This is a fine recipe indeed for a prospective student looking for an expensive education providing no pride in their school, infighting, and a lack of any gear to show it.

    Nobody want to dump on another person or group. Everyone wants pride in their mascot and logo. The current administration is trying to please a small group and pissing off everyone else.

    A bad basketball program is the least of these clowns problems.

  9. Who is Anon reaching out to here?
    ‘But what we have going on here is spoiled, historically misinformed rich kids trying to make themselves feel good.’

  10. I award the chancellor a “Gentleman’s C” for this interview. He danced between the rain drops on all questions; making sure to not offend either side.
    But when this tactic is employed it results in mediocrity or clearer stated : mush.
    Nothing gained, nothing lost.

    El Swambo, enough of wasting time on this nonsense., Lets get into something of substance.
    What’s the skinney or our incoming hockey freshmen? We have a good team but we need something better than good. You have my card so ,if necessary you can Q.T. me the info.


    1. John:

      The hockey freshmen project to be very good…

      The one I’m most excited to see is Antii Tuomisto, a second round NHL draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings from Finland who has offensive skills and figures to replace Ian Mitchell running the PP at some point, although I expect the transferring grad student, Bo Hanson to play a key role as DU’s next-up offensive defenseman if Tuomisto is not up to the challenge of running the DU PP right away.

      Losing Emilio Pettersen is the biggest offensive loss for the Pios, and I would expect grad student Steven Jandric and freshman Carter Savoie to replace Petersen’s lost point production.

      Here is the list of incoming freshman that is up to date as of May 5:

      F Carter Savoie, age 18- Totally abused the Alberta Junior league with the Sherwood Park Crusaders at age 18 with 99 points in 54 games when the league shut down for Covid-19. Not big at 5-10, 180 or so, but projected to be a late first round or early second round NHL draft pick. By far the best forward in DU’s recruiting class – a top 6 threat when he gets to campus. Highly-skilled and fast.

      D Michael Benning, age 18 – Savoie’s teammate in Sherwood Park, Benning is a small but skilled d-man who is projected to be a second or third round pick in the NHL draft this year. He comes from a pretty famous hockey family: His brother is Matt Benning, who plays for the Edmonton Oilers, while his father, Brian Benning, was long-time NHL player. His Grandfather, Elmer Benning, was a scout with the Montreal Canadiens, while his uncle, Jim Benning, was a long time NHLer and is the current NHL GM of Vancouver Canucks. His other uncle Mark Benning played for Notre Dame and Harvard, while his cousin Brandon Benning is an NHL scout with Vancouver.

      F Connor Caponi, age 20, Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) – He’s not a big scorer – more of a plugger/depth player for third/fourth line at DU.

      D – Reid Irwin, age 21, Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL) – experienced all around d-man who should be ready for immediate top six d-duty at age 21. Junior teammate of Savoie and Benning.

      D Antti Tuomisto, age 19, Assat U20 (Finland) – Second rounder has size and serious promise. Ian Mitchell’s replacement.

      F McKade Webster, age 20, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) – Seventh round Tampa draft pick was a point per game player in USHL last year – would expect him to be a bottom six forward next year – could replace Tyler Ward, who transferred.

      Josh Luedtke, a waterbug forward from Minnetonka, Minn., was also slated to join this DU class, but as of May 2, he’s switched his commitment to St. Cloud St. I’m hearing DU wanted him to go back to Juniors for another year, as he only had 20 points in 45 games last year in the USHL. If you can’t produce points in junior, you likely won’t produce points in college. So instead of going back to juniors for another year, he jumped to St. Cloud.

  11. Thanks Swam.

    Good review. Lets hope they make Pittsburg Frozen 4.

    See you and D.G. there.

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