New Marketing & Communications Vice Chancellor Should Be Hired From Within DU Community

Earlier this week, University of Denver Chancellor Jeremy Haefner announced in an email to faculty and students that Renea Morris, Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications (MarComm), is leaving her position at DU to pursue other opportunities. In the announcement, Chancellor Jeremy Haefner indicated that he will lead a national search to fill the position.

Morris arrived at DU at the end of the 2018-19 school year and DU touted her “25 years of marketing and communications experience.” Prior to her Denver tenure, she served as the Chief Marketing Officer at Ohio University, after 14 years in public relations with a private company. According to her LinkedIn profile, Morris attended the University of Illinois – Chicago as an undergraduate, received a professional designation in public relations from UCLA, and then finally earned her master of education degree from Ohio. A successful, distinguished resume, no doubt. But from the very beginning, a number of DU stakeholders, including some at this site, noticed an alarming lack of ‘University of Denver’ or anything remotely related to Denver on it. This isn’t new – DU often overlooks candidates with DU degrees or deep DU staff experience for senior positions.

This is certainly not to say that Morris didn’t earn her position. She likely had a sterling reputation within public relations and higher education circles. But her tenure-defining action at Evans and University, you’ll remember, was the 2022 DU rebrand. Our understanding was in the years leading up to the announcement, her office did not substantively reach out to DU alumni or sports fans for input or feedback on the rebrand. Instead, in 2022, the new logo was foisted on the school (and, most notably, grafted onto DU athletics, which already had established marks of its own). As a result, the rest of the recent brand effort has, at least in the views of many sports fans and alumni we know, been largely a dud – a waste of time and resources.

In his announcement, Chancellor Haefner underscored the importance of this position for the University and we completely agree that finding the right person to fill this role is critical to properly position DU both locally and nationally. Morris’ replacement will be tasked with showing stakeholders what DU is today and how DU aspires to its future. In the ever-competitive arena of higher education, there are few more critical roles at a university, especially one like DU, than this one. If athletics is the ‘front porch’ of a university, the office of marketing and communications is the paint and finish.

As such, the ‘national search’ that Chancellor Haefner may be the wrong way to go about this hire. While Denver has hired many key employees and directors outside of DU in the past – Chancellor Haefner himself was originally an outside hire from RIT before becoming DU’s provost in 2018 – now is a critical time to focus on internal candidates (as well as DU alumni) to fill this role. We believe the person who takes over for Morris must understand the DU community and alumni base. There is no better time to select a Vice Chancellor that not only understands DU’s mission, vision, and values but actively engages stakeholders, embraces DU’s traditions, and knows how to unite our community beyond campus borders.

DU, like many educational institutions, has struggled with managing different points of view, providing transparency, and stopping debates when decisions have already been made. Donors, alumni, staff, and students are often given conflicting messages to ensure their buy-in. The next MarComm Vice-Chancellor must work effectively with administration – north and south of Asbury Ave – to send a clear, unambiguous message to stakeholders so less energy is expended on dead-end issues.

Finally, MarComm plays a critical role in presenting DU to the outside world. Someone who knows and understands the DU ethos can more clearly articulate DU’s role in the neighborhood, city, state, country, and world. DU has much to be proud of but it is still somewhat a mystery, even in its own neighborhood. MarComm needs to tell the DU story in a compelling, passionate, and expanded way.

Added to all this are the challenges facing all of higher education – escalating costs, declining enrollment – especially among the male demographic –  higher operating costs, and a host of other challenges which demand a steady hand and someone who needs a smaller learning curve and can get up to speed quickly.

The best way to communicate to people’s heads and hearts is a message crafted by someone who has lived in that world and can speak with passion and precision and provide technical communication leadership when it is sorely needed.

While a new, unknown external candidate may present a catchy curriculum vitae, we believe the best solution should come from someone who has already walked the halls of DU as a student or staffer.

9 thoughts on “New Marketing & Communications Vice Chancellor Should Be Hired From Within DU Community”

  1. This is like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. The rebrand has already taken place. Go to the bookstore and see all the ugly clothing, etc.
    It would be a nice surprise to see someone who places DU 1st and their own ambitions of trying to ‘make a name’ for themselves 2nd.

  2. Dunker here. I totally agree with the premise of this post. We’re not talking rocket science. Passion and a love for DU trump all for the position. Any recent Boone could do this job. Plenty of local grads and friends of DU is the way to go. Pick one. No time left for another miscast who gets the fancy title of Assistant Athletics Director. I just saw today that the DU athletic website is history. One now has to go to to get sports info. What’s up with that? Tradition matters.

  3. On the brighter side, DU has hired a great alum, Kacie (Wikierak) Dohrmann, as Deputy Athletic Director for Development. After several years at Northwestern, she will now be back in Denver raising money for all DU athletics.
    Thanks goes to Josh Berlo and all involved for this positive move forward.

  4. Here’s an indicator about the culture at that place. About six years ago I was chasing employment in the DU development/marketing world – a friend/middle manager advised me to “downplay being an alum.”

  5. The reason the Marcomm figurehead has been so bad for a decade is because that position isn’t there to do good for DU or alumni. S/he is hired to protect the board of trustees and senior leadership and make top donors feel good. Don’t expect anything different this time. DU Marcomm is about raising money and egos at the top. .

  6. Chase is right on the money, as he usually is.

    The hope is that an an alum or someone who has already worked at DU can also protect the senior leaders and board just as well as an outsider can..

    The other factor affecting many of these senior hires is also how many desirable hiring ‘boxes’ that these candidates can check…

  7. Considering that office had no problem firing alums (some even two-time alums) once Ms. Morris came on board, it won’t really matter who they hire. They don’t care about the alums or the community.

  8. LOL, everyone knows DU doesn’t promote from within. They much prefer wonks from the East Coast who wow them with empty promises and questionable pedigrees.

    And all you have to do is look at the MarCom turnover during Morris’ tenure (around 95%) to learn everything you need about their talent and effectiveness.

    DU’s rebrand was doomed from the start (I should know, I was there for the research phase). Too many cooks in the kitchen, no backbone and not a single strategic or branding brain cell to be found among them.

  9. Morris had been fired for incompetence from OU just before coming to DU. Apparently that was ok. She was the color they needed, who cares about ability.

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