Great Progress in a Challenging Year

Sent: May 17, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

As I was moving across the country last summer in the middle of the pandemic, I wondered how on earth I’d work with this community without actually meeting you in person. Now, nearly 11 months into my time as chancellor, I’m amazed by how we’ve navigated this historic moment, together. Getting to know you over Zoom calls, email, and the occasional masked encounter on campus or Larimer Square, I’ve appreciated not only your warm welcome, but your ability and willingness to adapt and to put in many extra hours. Because of it, we have propelled this university through an incredibly challenging year.

Thanks to your massive efforts, we designed a model to keep our community safe, ensure our students’ ongoing success, and innovate for the future. CU Denver was able to offer a mix of in-person and remote classes in both semesters this academic year, and to keep most research and creative activities continuing albeit with changes.

And it worked! We saw very few cases of COVID on campus, our enrollment remained relatively stable, and we figured out a way to serve students whatever their modality of access. The silver lining was that we discovered an agility that I don’t think people realized we had.

Just keeping our university going required a lot from all of us. But I’m extremely proud that in addition to managing through this pandemic, we accomplished so much more to position ourselves for a stronger future.

Strong First Steps Toward Equity

It was a year marked by violence against Black and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, social upheaval, and unrest. The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on people of color spotlighted the urgent need to address racial justice and equity, both in our society and at our university. Starting with my listening tour that began in July, I heard your calls for us to do more. I was pleased to receive recommendations for real progress from our Equity Task Force in April and to show my support with a total $4 million commitment toward our efforts in the areas of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

An Inclusive Process for Strategic Planning 2030

In January we embarked on an ambitious 2030 strategic planning process for CU Denver. More than 500 people helped identify our key values and set our vision. Then eight multidisciplinary, cross-functional vision teams engaged 2,000 participants to develop bold ideas to strengthen and differentiate CU Denver. We’re now synthesizing their ideas into a cohesive strategic plan for CU Denver’s future, with goals that are inspirational, ambitious, and actionable. Over the last three weeks I have personally shared drafts of that plan in 25 sessions, receiving feedback from more than 500 of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and community members. I’ve been delighted by your overwhelmingly positive reactions and your thoughtful feedback, and I can’t wait to finalize the plan and start implementing it.

Bringing Strength and Diversity to Our Leadership Team

With substantial input from this community, we’ve been steadily building a leadership team of equity-minded innovators. In the spring semester alone, we filled vacancies for leaders in university communicationsDEIstrategic enrollment and student success, and partnerships, as well as our  CU Denver-focused provost. National searches are or will soon be underway for new leadership in researchdigital learning, and information technology. Since we’re using the cost savings created from the elimination of several positions, there is no net gain of administrators. We’ve maintained our commitment to transparency with you, sharing search information and inviting your feedback all along the way. And with your input, we are building a team who help lead us through these complex and challenging times into a stronger future.

Firming Up Our Financial Footing

Beyond COVID-19’s tremendous human toll, its disruption of our campus operations significantly impacted our budget. Cuts in state support, reimbursements to students for housing and dining, diminished auxiliary revenues for parking and leasing, and enrollment mix changes all reduced our revenues. When I arrived last summer, we were facing major financial challenges. We had to make difficult decisions, including a pause in merit increases, a hiring chill, and the graduated furloughs. But thanks to the smart and proactive budget management measures we’ve implemented over the last year-plus, we’ve been able to outperform budget expectations, lift the furloughs in March (earlier than anticipated), and provide a one-time 2% raise for July-December. There is more we need to do in the coming years to shore up our finances and position ourselves for our future, but we’re heading in the right direction.

Returning to an Improved Campus

And now, as vaccines improve the public health landscape, we are happily planning for a full return to campus in the fall. By then, our new City Heights Residence Hall and Learning Commons will not only provide housing for 550 first-year students, it will be a welcoming and defining presence on campus. I got to tour it last week. It’s beautiful, and I’m especially impressed by the incredible space in the Learning Commons that will be a hub for all our faculty, including the first dedicated space for Thinqstudio and UCDALI and landing areas for visitors, lecturers, and instructors.

These are just some of our many accomplishments from this historic year. There are many, many others, in areas that spanned how we support each other, teach, keep our students learning and our research and creative activity going. In a year that was perhaps the most challenging of our professional (and personal) lives, I extend my profound thanks to every one of you who has gone the extra mile—more like the extra marathon—to get us through it. All of our collective, hard, good work positions us well for next year and the future.

It is a future that looks very bright for CU Denver. We are collecting and analyzing innovative ideas worth keeping. We’re implementing a comprehensive enrollment strategy with an eye to stabilizing our long-term financial picture. We’re determining the investments that will help lead us to a more equitable culture. And in the fall, we’ll pull it all together when we begin implementing our exciting and ambitious strategic plan. I can hardly wait.

Happy summer, and here’s to meeting each other in person very soon,

Michelle Marks Signature

Michelle Marks

Chancellor’s Office

CU Denver

Lawrence Street Center

1380 Lawrence Street

Suite 1400

Denver, CO 80204


CMS Login