Fostering academic excellence and an equitable community
When it comes to cultivating student success, Haefner puts DU’s academic programs and their faculty at center stage. One of his primary objectives when he served as provost was to create and fill a position, vice provost for faculty affairs, to directly assist professors. With a new provost, Mary Clark, filling his former job, he expects to see added emphasis on supporting creativity and collaboration within and across disciplines.
“Faculty are really in charge of the curriculum, so I want to see DU empower them to make sure that what we teach is relevant and impactful,” he says. “More than anything, I want to nurture an environment that is truly intellectually stimulating and welcoming. I want visitors to come to campus and immediately sense that DU is a place of academic excellence and vibrancy—a place where the mind finds it irresistible.”
What’s more, Haefner says, “I want for our staff and faculty what I want for our students: for DU to be a place where they can connect and use the gifts of their whole experience, all their dimensions, to engage in work and build a career that provides them with a sense of meaning and purpose.”
Haefner also pictures an institution where every community member—no matter their religious background, political persuasion, ethnicity or economic standing—can feel at home.
On this issue, he acknowledges, DU still has much to do. “The University has to make a real investment in diversifying its students, faculty and staff. As soon as we get a critical mass, all other things are going to change. I think you’re going to see a different culture,” Haefner says. For one thing, students of color won’t feel so alone or isolated. For another, conversations inside and outside the classroom are bound to raise different questions and lead to different insights.
It may take a while to achieve “critical mass,” but in the meantime, DU is finalizing a plan to address the issues and policies that perpetuate inequities across the system. And over the summer, the University, at Haefner’s recommendation, declared Juneteenth an official DU holiday and urged the community to use the time off to reflect on slavery’s legacy.
As a member of the chancellor’s cabinet, alumnus Tom Romero, interim vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, was privy to the behind-the-scenes conversations about the new DU holiday. What he heard convinced him that Haefner’s concern about equity is heartfelt, rooted in empathy and serious.
“Jeremy has challenged his leadership team to look at our commitments as a university and make sure we are substantively meeting those commitments– whether it’s public good or diversity, equity and inclusion,” he says. “He’s very committed to not just saying things but doing and acting.”
The Juneteenth holiday goes well beyond the symbolic, Romero explains. True, the decision was “made in the moment” in response to protests in the street. But it was also made with future programming in mind. “Moving forward,” he adds, “what I’m really looking forward to is the way that Jeremy will be working with my office and other units across campus to make that day and our programming around it much more substantive.”
While Haefner is committed to making changes, he’s also eager to remind the community that DU has made significant strides in becoming a more welcoming place. “In all of the conversations about inequities, [it’s easy to] forget the progress we’ve made over time.”
Even so, he adds, “We cannot ever take our eyes off of equity.”