Virtual Town Hall, Spring 2022

Chancellor Marks updates faculty and staff on our HSI status, Presidential search, Task Force work, Ninth Street, and more.

April 21, 2022

Good afternoon, everyone.

Thank you so much for joining us at our April Town Hall.

Like we’ve done in the past, I want to begin with a land acknowledgement:

  • The Auraria Campus, from which we’re broadcasting, is located on the traditional territories and ancestral homelands of the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Ute Nations. This area was also the site of trade, hunting, gathering, and healing for many other Indigenous people including the Lakota, Kiowa Comanche, Apache, Shoshone [pronounced Shuh-SHOW-nee] and 45 other Indigenous Nations. We must recognize Indigenous peoples as the original stewards of this land. As these words of acknowledgment are spoken and heard, remember the ties these nations still have to their traditional homelands. Let us acknowledge the painful history of genocide and forced removal from this territory and pay our respect to the diverse Indigenous peoples still connected to this land. 

Taking this moment to pause and reflect is important, even if we do it briefly.

We’re at a really hectic point in the semester right now.

And I just want to acknowledge that I see how hard you are all working, and the impact you are making on our students, our campus, and our community.

One of the differences of the last few months, emerging from the pandemic, is that I get to be out and about on campus and in our city.

I’ve gotten to hear from so many staff and faculty about how your jobs are going, your classes, and what’s on your mind.

I’ve even heard from several of you about your family vacations for this summer.

For some of you, it’s the first time since 2019 that you’ve planned a summer vacation.

Over the last few weeks in fact, I had the opportunity to meet with many of you and your colleagues in-person during my visits to each of our Schools and Colleges, and I’ll finish these up in two weeks with my final visit to CEDC.

It’s important we continue to have these open channels of two-way communication as we implement our plans.

I’m committed to that.

In the fall, I plan to set up similar conversations with all our staff units to continue the listening and open conversation.

Campus Updates

Before I get to specific strategic plan updates, I want to mention a few important things happening around campus:

  • On Tuesday, we hosted Interim President Todd Saliman in his visit to our campus as the finalist in the CU System’s Presidential Search. Thanks to those on our campus who participated in the process — on the search committee and who attended the public forum. This is our time to provide feedback to the Board of Regents, who will be meeting next week to finalize their decision.
  • Also on Tuesday, I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend a celebration at the Denver Art Museum for CAM professor, Dr. Cecilia Wu. Dr. Wu’s audio-visual artwork, “Mandala,” is now part of the museum’s permanent collection. Her work is a visible and important cultural link to Asian music, religions, symbolism, and political challenges and opportunities. To have a faculty member working at this level is a symbol of the deep and varied role our scholars play in the global landscape. Such an honor.
  • And this past Saturday, CU Denver had the privilege to host Mayor Michael B. Hancock, representatives of Colorado Asian Pacific United, and nearly 200 attendees in the Terrace Room here in the Lawrence Street Center as the city issued its formal apology for its role in Denver’s 1880 Chinatown riot. Denver is only the 5th city in the country to issue such an apology, and the first outside of California. This historic event marks a critical step for our city, our broader Asian American community, and our collective future. And it’s consistent with our values at CU Denver, which is to acknowledge and honor history — not to hide or rewrite it. That is the power of higher education — to be a convener, to tackle difficult issues, to listen, to teach, and to advance.
  • This power lives through the efforts of many people in so many fields here. But I want to call out one of our graduate students, Adelle Price [pronounced UH-DELL], for a minute. Adelle is getting her Master’s in Statistics. Recently, she competed against participants from six universities across the state in the fourth annual Colorado Statewide Three-Minute Talk competition — and she won! For this competition, which is sponsored by the Colorado Council of Graduate Schools, students have 3 minutes to deliver a presentation on their research to an audience with unrelated expertise. Her presentation focused on the use of algorithms to synthesize genetic data for ancestry purposes. She was lauded for her skills and her clarity, and I just want to give her a big congratulations. She represents the strength of our student body. 

It takes a village to make these great things possible.

And a critical part of our village is our shared governance bodies.

As we come into the homestretch of this academic year, I want to specifically thank our shared governance bodies for supporting our people at every turn: Staff Council, Faculty Assembly, and the Student Government Association.

Members of these bodies dedicate time, energy, and expertise to developing policies and influencing decisions that impact our institution.

I want to say thank you all for your leadership and advocacy.

We have some remarkable leaders heading these organizations, some of whom are transitioning away at the end of the semester.

So, thank you to:

  • Michelle Larson-Krieg for her leadership of Staff Council since 2018. She’s stepping down this year, but she’s done a tremendous job supporting our staff and CU Denver. So, thank you to her. I’m excited to see the new election results and to work closely with our new and continuing leaders ahead.
  • I also want to thank Jarrod Hanson for his ongoing leadership of Faculty Assembly. He’s a great advocate for his colleagues and for the remarkable work our faculty do.
  • Lastly, I want to give a special thank you to our outgoing SGA President, Christopher Hilton. Along with being a university leader and supporting his fellow Lynx, Chris has advocated on behalf of our universities to state legislators, represented his peers across the CU System, and provided so much crucial insight to guide our Strategic Plan. I’m excited to see who he passes the torch to after the elections next week.

Like Chris, we have so many phenomenal students doing phenomenal things.

We know our university’s future is bright because our students and alumni guide it.

But, literally, the views around here just got a whole lot rosier after a famous CU Denver alum recently painted beautiful murals on the Student Commons and Learning Commons buildings.

I am so thankful that Thomas Evans, better known around the world as Detour, was willing to engage in this project.

About a month ago, I got to sit down with him in his Five Points studio and discuss his time at CU Denver, his entrepreneurial career, and his artistic process in preparation for this project.

And he works so fast!

Detour has created two murals and three canvases that feature the likenesses of seven of our successful alumni.

If you want to read more about the project and the featured alumni, there’s a link that’s been dropped into the chat.

These works situate our campus within the thriving Denver art scene, and they symbolize our community’s impact in communities across Colorado.

Seeing the murals for the first time brought me so much joy.

And I want to share with you something that Danielle Shoots, one of our alums who is featured on the Student Commons mural, said about the project recently on social media:

  • Danielle wrote: “May every student that walks by this mural at the Student Commons be reminded of their wholeness, and their unique ability to change the world by leading with their stories and beautiful lived experiences. May they look up, hold their chin up and release any shame from the past. May they see that the journey ahead is so magical and the world is waiting for all that they will have to offer. May they dare to dream audacious dreams and chase them unapologetically.”

That means everything to me.

And while it’s clear how much weight Detour’s art carries, we’ll be fortunate to hear his powerful words, too, when he serves as our Commencement speaker on May 14.

Speaking of which, I hope you will join me that morning at the Tivoli Quad as we celebrate an in-person spring commencement for the first time since 2019.

We are so proud of our graduates, each with a unique story on how they plan to use their CU Denver degree to positively impact the world.

AND… we’re bringing Grad Bash back again this year too!

This event is happening the Friday before Commencement, on May 13.

I hope all of you can attend.

After two long years, our graduates deserve this extended celebration — I can’t wait.

Strategic Plan

Turning now to our Strategic Plan:

We remain hard at work implementing initiatives that support our five plan goals.

I’m going to step through each goal, with a few specific updates.

For Goal 1, becoming the nation’s first equity-serving institution:

  • Last fall, we took an important step in honoring our legacy by expanding the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship.
  • With the expansion, ALL direct descendants of displaced Aurarians are now eligible for this scholarship.
  • As we continue to honor the people and communities who came before us, we’re also broadening opportunities to learn the deep roots of Auraria’s history and uncover the stories of the diverse families who lived, worked, and worshipped here.
  • In partnership with AHEC and our community, we will embark on an initiative to preserve and renovate historic homes along Ninth Street as one important way to honor and celebrate our history as we build our collective future.
  • Nolbert Chavez, a CU Denver alum and a CU Regent, will take on a new assignment to facilitate this critical work.
  • I want to give special thanks to Regent Chavez for his vision and dedication.
  • Thank you also to the CU System for graciously supporting this initiative.
  • Our goal is to make these homes the jewel of the campus.
  • We are an institution that puts equity at the center of everything we do and strives to make education work for all.
  • As you know, our commitment to our Hispanic and Latinx students, faculty, staff, and surrounding communities is recognized in our strategic plan and in the actions we are taking as an institution.
  • In fact, our Vice Chancellor for DEI, Antonio Farias, has discussed our need to move from Hispanic enrolling to Hispanic serving.
  • This means that we fully serve the needs of our Hispanic and Latinx communities.
  • This requires the building of deeper relationships and a greater personalization of our services.
  • We understand it will take hard work and time, but please know that we are committed.
  • I also want to update you, in full transparency, on a recent development that occurred with our official HSI status.
  • The federal government formulas that are used to calculate this status are extremely complex and rigorous.
  • We had status in 2021, but we missed official HSI status for 2022 because we fell short of the required 25% Hispanic undergraduate population by .6%.
  • This is obviously disappointing, but not altogether surprising.
  • As we have said for the last year, we are new to this designation, and we can expect some fluctuation in our enrollment numbers, especially coming out of the pandemic.
  • And we have seen similar dips at some of our peer institutions.
  • That said, we are eager and determined to regain this status.
  • Our forthcoming Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) plan will be a significant contributor to our success in this area as we strive to diversify and make education work for all.
  • I will ask Marty Dunn and Antonio Farias to address any questions you may have during the Q&A regarding our HSI status, as there are some specific steps and considerations for our researchers as they apply for grants.

For Goal 2, becoming a university for life:

  • The first update here bridges Goal 1 and Goal 2.
  • When I arrived at CU Denver, I heard from our faculty loud and clear that we needed to elevate Ethnic Studies to a department.
  • I am thrilled to announce that this month the Regents took the final step to approve the formation of the Ethnic Studies Department.
  • At that same meeting, the Regents also approved a new interdisciplinary BS degree in data science, enabling us to offer yet another degree that will have a big impact on the workforce.
  • Collaboratively developed by the College of Engineering, Design and Computing; the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and the Business School, this degree will increase the diversity of students pursuing careers in data science by providing a more accessible, broadly applicable, learner-centered education that aligns with employer needs.
  • Additionally, we are set to offer a new BS in Cybersecurity that prepares students for careers in online security with critical technical skills.
  • Our future success depends on this renewed focus on academic programs as we showcase our faculty expertise and meet learner and market needs.
  • To that point, let’s talk about our task force work.
  • As most of you know, becoming a University for Life — meeting people where they are and how they want to receive their education — is one of the most exciting, differentiating, and needed ways that we can serve our community, the Denver metro, the state, and beyond.
  • Toward this end, this past fall, Provost Nakuma and I charged three task forces to look at specific academic and enrollment issues.
  • This will help CU Denver grow and thrive, bring our academic expertise to the forefront, and serve our learners effectively.
  • It’s important not only because the landscape of higher education is shifting, and we have to continue to evolve along with that, but also because the way our students need and want to learn today is radically different than when CU Denver was founded nearly 50 years ago.
  • First, our Strategic Enrollment Management Plan, led by Senior Vice Chancellor for Strategic Enrollment and Student Success Monique Snowden, is outlining our approach to growth, student support, and retention across all learner populations. That work is ongoing but wrapping up soon. More details will be shared in the months ahead.
  • Our Interdisciplinary Computing Task Force, led by Interim Information Strategy and Services Officer Doug Sicker, is creating a vision and program plan for an initiative in interdisciplinary computing. Their report launched this morning, and Doug would be happy to answer any questions during the Q&A today.
  • And finally, our Digital Strategy Task Force, led by Associate Vice Chancellor for Digital Strategy and Learning Katie Linder, is re-envisioning the way we develop and deliver digital and hybrid education. This report was made public on April 5, and Katie hosted a well-attended Digital Strategy Community Conversation on Tuesday.
  • I have been blown away by the work of the task forces, their commitment, and their collaboration across the institution.
  • Their alignment to the Strategic Plan and each other shows a collective vision that we are all heading toward, which is so gratifying to see.
  • I also want to thank all the members who have been part of these efforts.
  • We had representation from faculty, staff, and students across all the schools and colleges and many administrative units to help us carve out this future.
  • We have all experienced how the world has changed since the pandemic.
  • Learners of all ages, backgrounds, and stages of life and career want choices to receive education their way.
  • I am so proud that CU Denver has deep expertise and leadership in digital education.
  • We are literally setting the standard nationally for what a “hybrid or multimodal campus” of the future could look like today.
  • Part of that strategy means having the right infrastructure, personnel, and systems in place to embrace and lead a best-in-class hybrid model.
  • That’s why I am thrilled that we — CU Denver, the CU System, and our fellow campuses — have also decided to move our digital education practice back to the campuses.
  • The Office of Digital Education (ODE) as it is currently structured will not exist in the next few months.
  • Those associated services will move back here, and we are happy to have you back.
  • Most of you probably know how passionate I am about digital education and the need to reimagine the way we offer it to our learners.
  • But as we discuss the transition with ODE, I want to make sure we all acknowledge the human element.
  • Many of our talented colleagues at ODE actually used to be CU Denver employees, and we will make every effort to bring them back to campus if we are able to.
  • I also want to acknowledge that there are a lot of changes happening at CU Denver more broadly.
  • While these are strategic and needed changes, I fully understand that change is hard, and we are here to bring you along and help provide context.

For Goal 3, being internationally known for our research and creative work:

  • As part of that commitment to working together, the Provost is running an interdisciplinary process in partnership with our faculty and staff to select the first two grand challenges for Goal 3.
  • We received a number of transformative proposals and are now working toward selection for those that will be supported by the initial seed funding.
  • Those announcements are coming in just a few weeks, with work to begin in June.

For Goal 4, the open innovation district, anchored by our new Engineering building:

  • We’re making good progress on the Engineering Building.
  • We’ve selected an architect, the SmithGroup, who has successfully designed a number of the nation’s leading engineering buildings
  • We’re now in the final stages of selecting the construction management firm.
  • Just the other day I was looking out my office window and I could see the surveyors working on-site on Larimer and Speer.
  • So, mark your calendars because we’ll have shovels in the ground by this December.

For Goal 5: being a best place to work:

  • Many of you wrote in questions for today’s Town Hall that focused on issues of work life.
  • In other conversations we’ve had with faculty and staff — either in more informal meetings or in previous Community Conversations — concerns such as compensation, staffing, and hiring continue to come up.
  • I want to discuss some of what we’re doing to address these concerns.
  • I’ll also give my senior leaders a chance to speak to them in more detail during the Q&A.
  • First, during the April Board meeting, I am pleased to announce the Regents approved upcoming 3% merit-based pay raises for faculty and staff, effective this January.
  • This follows on the heels of a 3% compensation increase last January.
  • We are very pleased to be able to do this in a fiscally challenging time.
  • And yet I also know that inflation is at an all-time high and that affordability in the Denver metro is increasingly challenging.
  • Institutions across the nation are struggling with some of these same issues.
  • We know we need to do even more, and we’re committed to finding ways to do that, which our CFO Todd Haggerty can expand on shortly.
  • I’ve also heard many questions about hiring replacement staff, and a desire for more professional development opportunities
  • Like other institutions of higher ed and, frankly, all employers right now, our turnover rates are higher than they’ve been.
  • The Great Resignation has not spared us.
  • But I want to be clear because I’ve heard some rumors out there — there is no hiring freeze.
  • We’re focused on filling vacancies throughout the organization.
  • Our leaders continue to meet with their staff and colleagues to determine how best to approach vacancies, which we also recognize pose challenges with the hiring landscape being what it is.
  • We are being creative with building out areas that need support while also re-thinking our organizational design.
  • And we are making progress.
  • Dr. Snowden is leading great work in this area, which she can address in a bit.
  • And I have also been hearing a lot of excitement about many of the recent hires we’ve made at all levels across the university, on both staff side and faculty side.
  • I’m confident that we will be able to fill these vacancies with the talent we need.
  • It may just take some time.
  • As far as professional development for faculty and staff, this looms large for us.
  • Teri Engelke, our new Assistant Vice Chancellor for HR, is working closely with me, with other members of our leadership team, and with many of you to identify ways we can better invest in your work.
  • I do want to call out the incredibly important work done by a 4th task force this academic year.  
  • In the fall, Provost Nakuma charged the Lecturer, Instructional, Research, and Clinical Faculty Task Force to analyze policies for IRC faculty and then bring back a set of recommendations.
  • IRC faculty teach a majority of our classes and are essential and highly valued members of our university.
  • But we know there is more we must do to support them.
  • Provost Nakuma and I will be briefed by this committee in a few weeks, and we look forward to putting this institution on a stronger path to supporting our IRC faculty.

All these steps — increasing compensation, filling vacancies, investing in professional development, supporting your work — are essential for us to retain and recruit talented faculty and staff.

  • All of you.

Our Executive Vice Chancellor Jennifer Sobanet and Todd Haggerty will offer a few more updates on current year projects in the HR space in just a bit.

Beyond these concerns though, we’ve also been getting questions about our telework policies.

We temporarily revised our telework policies to manage through the pandemic.

And to look ahead, we have to be thinking about the future of work in a post-pandemic world and what that will look like for CU Denver.

And we’re wanting to serve our students where, when, and how they need to be served.

Many take classes in-person on our campus — others online or multimodal.

We need to put our students’ needs first.

But it also goes to the issue of community.

How can we create, or re-create, a campus community post-pandemic?

What does that mean as far as supporting mental health needs, which many of us have dealt with these last two years?

And what does that mean as far as living up to our fundamental value of equity while recognizing that different jobs require different requirements?

What’s necessary in the student success area will be different from those who work in facilities or IT.

So, looking ahead, things we’re taking into account:

  • Our students’ needs
  • Flexibility
  • A sense of community
  • And different modalities of work

We’re in the middle of conversations with our staff and faculty as we unwind what this means for the future of work here.

For next steps, we’re going to continue seeking your input this month.

Then in May, we’re going to be hosting a Community Conversation to come together for more feedback.

In June, we’ll be sharing policy guidance about how to move forward, with a timeline for implementation.

We recognize things are changing — in many ways.

And we’re committed to meeting those changes head on in a manner that supports your work, lives up to our values, and achieves our goals.

Wrap Up

One last thing I want to mention before we take your questions.

As you probably know by now, CU Denver turns 50 next year!

It’s an incredible milestone for our university.

And we’re going to be celebrating — big time.

We’re still planning the details of that celebration, and I welcome any ideas you have for how we can really make this historic moment shine.

Whatever we wind up doing though, I know it’ll be fantastic.

And I can’t wait.

Thank you again for joining us today.

And thank you for your support, your hard work, and your dedication.

I’ll turn it over to Dean Teske to help us address your questions.

Remarks by:

Michelle Marks
CU Denver Chancellor