Jeremy Haefner’s passions include pushing the boundaries of health and wellness (he’s an Ironman triathlete), creating ways to use technology as a learning tool (he’s received awards for advanced teaching and innovation), and applying mathematics to solve serious issues (he’s especially fond of prime numbers).
Haefner—who became DU’s 19th chancellor in July, after Rebecca Chopp stepped down due to health concerns—believes in unlimited human potential and the power of working together in harmony, ideals personified in “Star Trek,” one of his favorite TV series. He has more than three decades of higher education leadership experience, including posts at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. But it’s been the past year, when he served as DU’s provost and executive vice chancellor and worked closely with Chancellor Emerita Rebecca Chopp, that he says energized him for his role in DU’s top post.
“It’s been a tremendous season of change, but throughout that change process, this transition, we have stuck to what was really important, and that’s our students and the work that we’re doing to impact the world through our research,” Haefner says.
Denise O’Leary, chair of DU’s Board of Trustees, says Haefner is the right leader at the right time to move DU forward.
“Our community has, in Jeremy, a national thought leader in student and faculty success, a great communicator, and an individual personally committed to advancing the University and further expanding our diverse and inclusive community and shared values,” O’Leary says. “When selecting our new chancellor, we took into account the importance of sustaining the focus and momentum our community has created through the hard work of so many on campus.”
Haefner worked closely with faculty and staff members in his role as provost, but as chancellor, he says, he looks forward to reaching out and building community across the DU spectrum, including students, alumni, parents and friends.
“It’s all about the University at this point in time— about securing the future of the institution,” he says. “We have a great foundation, thanks to the leadership of past chancellors like Dan Ritchie, Robert Coombe, Dwight Smith and Rebecca Chopp.
“Throughout its history, DU really has demonstrated these characteristics of resilience, of grit and determination: ‘We’re going to be here, we’re going to prosper and we’re going to be recognized as the great university we are, with incredible excellence built in the academic programs,’” he continues. “That determination is just hard-wired in our DNA now.”
Although he assumes DU’s top post at a time of significant growth on campus—a new student commons, residence hall and career success center all are scheduled to open in the next year—Haefner is mindful of the “headwinds” facing not just DU, but all of higher education: A demographic decrease in the number of students graduating from high school and enrolling in college. Questions about the value and cost of a college degree. Increased competition from third-party players providing boot camps and other specialized training, in person and online.
When it comes to enduring those headwinds, Haefner—whose PhD in mathematics informs his logical approach to problem-solving—has a few ideas. Among those are thinking strategically about improved spaces for the sciences, as well as the creative arts, and emphasizing cocurricular activities—particularly those focused on overall health and wellness—and finding ways to tie them more strongly to the curriculum. Haefner also wants to find ways to spotlight DU’s public good activities in a more transparent and cohesive fashion.
Another item near the top of his list is furthering efforts to improve the neighborhoods surrounding campus.
“We call this the ‘DU District,’” Haefner says. “We are looking at the areas most immediately adjacent to campus, hoping to create more of a natural ‘gateway’ to DU and provide more of a welcoming space to attract prospective students and faculty members, as well as our neighbors in the Denver region. I’m hoping it has a vibe that is a perfect match for our students and the city of Denver.”
Also significant to enhancing the case for DU, he says, are the three new buildings designed to transform the student experience at DU: the Burwell Center for Career Achievement, the Dimond Family Residential Village for first-year students and the Community Commons, a reimagined Driscoll Student Center built for 21st-century students but also expanded to include ways for all members of the DU community to engage with one another.
“Thinking about how parents view the University of Denver is going to be really important in the years ahead,” he says. “Creating a new Community Commons, a student union that is really a nexus for the community, where people are going to have more intellectual collisions, is a huge piece of our future vision.
“The Dimond Family Residential Village is going to be innovative in terms of programming and how the building is going to facilitate some of our cognitive and emotional skill sets,” Haefner continues. “And the Burwell Center for Career Achievement—no one else is really approaching career counseling across all four of a student’s undergraduate years. The building also is about finding strong, innovative and enduring connections with our alumni. It really adds to our value proposition so we can attract more prospective students, and their families, in a significant way. When we add really great cocurricular programming and some other experiences, then we really have a compelling message for DU for the 21st century.”