Determination, Grace and Optimism

DU installs its 19th chancellor

After a two-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeremy Haefner was officially installed as the University of Denver’s 19th chancellor on Friday, Oct. 8, at the Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts. His inaugural remarks—sprinkled with prime numbers and fun Star Trek references—set the tone for DU’s future with three words that characterize the institution: determination, grace and optimism.

His address capped a week full of programming and preceded a weekend rich in Homecoming traditions. 

The festivities began with ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the Burwell Center for Career Achievement and the Community Commons. The former helps foster connections and career success for students and alumni, while the
latter serves as the new heart of campus.

The Crimson Classic again hit its stride, inviting hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni to run or walk down campus streets and sidewalks. Hocktoberfest transformed Campus Green into a pregame party for fans eager to enjoy food, music and games, and the Denver hockey team held up its end of the bargain, sweeping Arizona State University in two skirmishes.

The University also treated audiences to engaging conversations with illustrious members of its alumni network and larger community.

First, Haefner hosted former U.S. Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright (Hon. PhD ’16) and Condoleezza Rice (BA ’74, PhD ’81, Hon. PhD ’96) in a virtual discussion of “The Challenges to Democracy.” 

Albright was the country’s first female secretary of state, but earlier in life she spent countless hours on DU’s campus. Her father, Josef Korbel, founded and served as the first dean of what is now the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

Rice found a mentor in Korbel years later after enrolling at DU for her undergraduate and doctoral studies.

Haefner, Albright and Rice cited the importance of civil discourse and agreed that universities serve as an important setting for preserving healthy democracy. Rice noted that challenges facing democracy more broadly are also creeping into educational settings.

“I tell my students all the time: ‘If you’re constantly in the company of people who say ‘amen’ to everything you say, find other company,’” Rice said. “I want my students to be uncomfortable with challenge, with new ideas, with things that they haven’t heard, with people that are different.”

Chancellors Emeriti Robert Coombe and Daniel Ritchie present Chancellor Jeremy Haefner with a red vest, a University tradition since 1900, symbolizing leadership, hope and promise. Haefner’s vest has gold buttons previously worn by Ritchie, Coombe and Chancellor Emerita Rebecca Chopp.

Albright agreed, noting that differences of opinion and perspective are invaluable in national security decision-making. “You need to have alternative voices,” she said. 

The next day, three Denver mayors joined Haefner for a conversation on servant leadership, civil discourse and character. Former Mayor Wellington Webb, former mayor and now U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper and current Mayor Michael Hancock (Hon. PhD ’13) shared their on-the-job experiences and accumulated wisdom. 

Hancock, lamenting the fierce divide in politics, gave his advice for civil discourse in troubled times.

“It’s not what you say … it’s how you deliver the message,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to be good listeners, honor the people, to understand that the approach does matter, and never forget to keep your focus on why you are there in the first place.”

Among other events were talks by author and Brookings Scholar Jonathan Rauch and Esteban Gómez, an assistant professor of museum and heritage studies, who delivered the University’s prestigious Livingston Lecture: “No Kids
on the Block: School Choice and Gentrification in New Transit Neighborhoods.”

Wearing his signature pair of Converse All-Stars, Chancellor Haefner follows a traditional academic procession to his installation ceremony. Faculty, staff and University trustees accompanied Haefner from Harper Humanities Garden to the Robert and Judi Newman Center for
the Performing Arts.

A Historic Installation Ceremony

Haefner’s installation ceremony, delayed due to the pandemic, opened with a blessing by William Walks Along, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, on whose ancestral land the University of Denver sits. The ceremony marked the first time Native American and Indigenous tribal leaders have attended the official installation of a DU chancellor. Tribal leaders and Indigenous community members closed the ceremony by performing an honor song.

Speakers included two former colleagues of Haefner’s: Ralph Kuncl, neurologist and president emeritus of the University of Redlands, and Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion and community partnerships for the University of Virginia. Performances from music and theater students and the Denver Brass punctuated each portion of the program.

In his remarks, Haefner announced three initiatives—framed by the three character traits of determination, grace and optimism—that will improve the DU campus and student experience. 

• A 724-acre site two hours northwest of Denver will hold the James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus—a place to find and build common ground. Every DU student will now have access to a transformational outdoor experience.

• To help mitigate climate challenges, the University will aim for campus carbon. neutrality by 2030, 20 years sooner than previously announced. 

• A $1 million institution-wide initiative will promote civil discourse, free speech and intellectual diversity.

Haefner also reflected upon the challenges confronting higher education. While DU is not immune to these challenges, it will benefit from residential programs and experiences that define it in the marketplace.

“Developing the whole student is the core of who we are,” he said, and continued in classic Star Trek parlance, “We will never eject our core.”

Before exiting the stage to the Star Trek theme, Haefner ended his remarks with a 19th reference to the legendary franchise: “May the University of Denver boldly live long and prosper.”

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