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Interview: Chancellor Robert Coombe on serving the public good

"I'm most proud of our students," says Chancellor Robert Coombe. "If we keep turning out people like these, we really are going to change the world." Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Q: How does DU’s vision to be a “great private university dedicated to the public good” support our educational mission?

A: Real education is about much more than the transmission of knowledge from an instructor to a student. To me, it’s about the intellectual and personal growth that is stimulated by that knowledge and by the understanding that one acquires from critical analysis. At DU, our efforts to work for the public good offer an ideal environment for that personal, intellectual growth to occur in our students and in our faculty. Our engagement in public good work offers our students the opportunity to use the knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom to build real understanding. It also offers them the opportunity to develop their values and deepen their commitments. It broadens and deepens their educational experience here.

Q:  Why are we giving ourselves that additional burden?

A: Because we’re a nonprofit institution embedded within this community, as we have been for 143 years now. What we do here should work for the good of the people. We do that, to be sure, through the lives of our graduates. We work hard to turn out able, knowledgeable, creative men and women who have strong values and deep commitments, whatever they may be, in the hope that they will lead lives of significance and purpose that will benefit humankind. We also do it, though, by applying the intellectual capital of the University to the great issues of the time. DU is a place brimming over with ideas, and we work to focus that creative energy on the big issues that really matter to people. Our history is deeply entwined with that of the city and the state, and much of our identity is associated with the energy and vitality of Denver and the Rocky Mountain region. I think that we work for the public good because, in a sense, it’s our obligation — a debt of honor that we owe to the people of the city, state and region who have given us so much.

Q:  DU’s recent Sudan divestiture and climate commitment initiatives were student driven. Does the DU administration welcome student activism?

A: I was very pleased with the students’ response to these issues. The students should be engaged in helping to define the University’s priorities, in the same way that as citizens they should be engaged in helping to define America’s priorities. I took the students’ response on these issues as a sign of their personal and intellectual growth, in much the sense I was talking about just a moment ago. I took it as a sign that the whole notion of the public good really is becoming embedded in the ethos of the University community.

Q:  Looking at what DU has done on the public good front during your tenure as chancellor, what are you most proud of?

A: I’m most proud of our students. Whatever the project or program, their energy, engagement and understanding are really impressive. I am so proud that we have students like these. You know, if we keep turning out people like these year after year, for generations, we really are going to change the world.

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