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.