Former DU Chancellor Ross Pritchard dies at age 95, led DU from 1978-1984

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Ross Pritchard (left) was Chancellor of DU from 1978 to 1984. He is seen here at DU Founder’s Day in 1981, with Walter Koch (Center) and Roger Knight (Right). Photo: Special Collectons, University of Denver

Former University of Denver Chancellor Ross Pritchard has died at age 95, according to an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was DU’s Chancellor from 1978-1984, a term that started well, but ended in disgrace.

While he had some early successes by buying Colorado Women’s College and building a new student union in 1983, financial and leadership issues plagued the later parts of his Chancellorship in the mid 1980s. He was unanimously fired by the DU Board of Trustees during the school year in 1984.

He is also remembered for being the leader of DU at the time that the Pioneers were forced to drop most varsity athletic programs from NCAA Division I to the much-lower NAIA classifications in 1979, due to DU’s financial difficulties. DU Athletics did not return its full program of athletics to full NCAA Division I membership until 1998.

Born in Paterson, N.J. in 1924, Pritchard was a former WWII US Navy veteran and a notable University of Arkansas football player. While drafted in the late rounds by the Washington Redskins of the NFL, Pritchard chose academia instead, soon earning masters and Ph.D. degrees at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Diplomacy. Following Tufts, he moved into teaching and coaching football at Southwestern University in Memphis.

Pritchard later served as co-chairman of the U.S. Regional Export Expansion Committee from 1958 to 1960 under President Dwight Eisenhower, and again from 1960 to 1962 under President John F. Kennedy. From 1961 to 1962 he was a member of Kennedy’s National Executive Committee on Foreign Aid.

In 1962, he was chosen by Kennedy again to become one of the regional directors of the newly-created U.S. Peace Corps, where he served until 1968 in Asia and the Middle East. Following a few years in the private sector building dams and hydroelectric plants in Iran, Pritchard accepted the presidency of Hood College, a small women’s college in Maryland in 1972, where he was credited with saving the school from bankruptcy.  In 1975, he became president of Arkansas State University, helping to raise its profile regionally, before DU hired him as Chancellor in 1978.

Pritchard was most lauded at DU for his 1982 purchase of the dying Colorado Women’s College, in order to get its campus at Montview and Quebec Avenue in Denver. DU later closed CWC as a college and relocated the DU Law School and the Lamont School of Music to the CWC campus, until they both returned to the DU main campus in the 1990s. Today, Johnson and Wales University occupies the former CWC campus.

Pritchard also rebuilt DU’s engineering school, and oversaw the building of the Driscoll University Center, DU’s student union, which opened in 1983. Driscoll was built to link the old student union building from the 1940s, on the south side of Evans,  to the ‘new’ 1983 union building on the north side with a glassed-in pedestrian bridge. Only that bridge remains from Pritchard’s construction today, as the 1983 north Driscoll building was recently torn town to make way for the new DU Student Commons, which opens this fall.

Pritchard helped raise the University’s enrollment from 7,700 students in 1978 to 8,600 in 1984, and DU’s endowment also rose slightly from $18.5 million to $22.5 million over the same time period. However, DU reported a $2.4 million deficit in 1983, and more than a $1 million deficit in 1984. As a result, Pritchard announced that in 1984 there would be no salary raises for faculty or staff, angering the faculty, who also reportedly did not like Pritchard’s remote leadership style. A majority of DU faculty members voted no confidence in Pritchard, and demanded he resign as chancellor in 1984. Reports published by committees of the University Faculty Senate and faculty of the arts and sciences claimed that Pritchard was responsible for “the deteriorating state of the University in general, and of enrollment and development (fund-raising) in particular.”

The DU Board of Trustees voted unanimously to fire Pritchard during the school year in 1984. Board Chair Lucien Wulsin declared it was “time for new blood” and named himself interim chancellor, soon giving way to former DU Chemistry Professor Dwight Smith, who became DU’s Chancellor later in 1984.

After being fired by DU, Pritchard went into retirement in Arkansas, where his marriage to Emily Gregg, who he married in 1948, ended in the mid-1980s. He eventually married twice more, but never worked full-time again, moving to Memphis in 1997 and returning to Fayetteville, Ark. in 2010, where he died of Alzheimer’s disease on July 8th.

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