Chancellor DiStefano delivers the 2017 State of the Campus address

Thank you for coming today. It is always my pleasure to recognize my wife, Yvonne.

Thanks to the deans and my cabinet members who are here today. If you would all stand please.

I’m pleased to be starting my 44th year on campus. But, we have at least one notable member of our campus who exceeds me in seniority … our mascot, Ralphie. Although she has a distinct advantage over me, with 5 incarnations.

This year we are celebrating 50 years of the Ralphie tradition and it’s been a lot of fun. And I want to thank Athletics, the Heritage Center, the Alumni Association and their Coloradan magazine for so colorfully telling the great story of Ralphie. If you haven’t seen this month’s edition, you should check it out, it’s terrific.

It’s during this time of year, with our 50th reunion class, the Class of 1967, returning to campus for Homecoming, that I find myself looking back over the years. Yet, just last month I was looking to the future with our new incoming class, the Class of 2021. It’s during these contrasting moments that I realize that our university has a great history……. And a great future.

How much we have changed is nothing short of amazing. How we will continue to change as a campus to meet our vision is inspiring. We have extraordinary faculty and staff who work every day to benefit our students and society.

Today I will speak about the progress on our strategic plan to align the campus around common values and goals. This plan will enable us to meet the rapid pace of change in society, anticipating what is next, and excelling as one of the leading public universities of the future.

First, I want to take a moment to celebrate just a few of our many successes across our campus.

Our faculty and research staff achieved the highest level of research funding in the history of this campus: $508 million dollars! That represents a 16 percent increase in funding over the previous year. Surpassing $500 million dollars in research funding reflects a growing focus on innovation and collaboration across the campus. This is made possible through the excellence and scientific merit of the proposals for grants made by our faculty and the great support they receive from the administrative units.

But this is not just about the dollars and winning grants. It’s about the positive impact of this research on humanity. Here are just a few examples:

  • We received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for just over a million dollars to develop vaccines that require no refrigeration. These vaccines will defend against infectious diseases with just one shot. This could radically transform life-saving immunizations in developing countries.
  • Researchers in mechanical engineering are working to develop a so-called third lung that could be used for severely injured patients to keep them alive until they arrive at the hospital. Now that’s impact.
  • The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence received a nearly $6 million-dollar grant from the federal government to expand its work in Denver neighborhoods. This is creating opportunities that empower communities to curb violence among 10 to 24 year olds.
  • These are not the only areas in which we are having an impact. In the arts and humanities, we continue to dynamically benefit our community through the creation and presentation of art works, plays, music, films, dance, design and lectures. They are potent teachers of different cultures, perspectives, historical interpretations and philosophical discourse. More than 300,000 people visit this campus every year to engage with us.
  • I could spend hours on this topic, but you can clearly see that our faculty and researchers – with the support of our amazing staff – are having a dramatic effect, impacting humanity locally and around the globe.
  • We want to continue to thrive as an R-1, top research university so that we can deliver these positive impacts and provide unique research experiences for our undergraduate and graduate students. We continue to have one of the highest participation rates of undergraduates conducting research and creative work, exceeding 2,000 students every year. And we are not stopping there. We feel that exposure of undergraduates to research is fundamental to our mission. Our long-term goal is to have half of our undergraduates involved in research.

As we can attest, it takes more than tuition and research dollars to fund this university. Donor gifts and a passion for education started CU 141 years ago. That was in 1876, five months before Colorado became a state.

Our dynamic advancement team led us to more than $140 million dollars in private donations last year. Our generous donors are as passionate as we are about developing tomorrow’s leaders, being leaders of innovation and impacting humanity. This generosity touched every college and many areas of research, as well as benefiting our students directly through scholarships and support of student services. These donations range from $15 million dollars given to Aerospace Engineering Sciences to further position the university at the center of the state’s aerospace innovation ecosystem, to a $50-dollar donation to the Alumni Scholarship Fund, buying a CU Boulder license plate. Every donation makes a difference.

To continue to bring in research dollars and donations, we must fulfill our basic mission of educating students. We continue to reach new levels of student recruitment and retention. Your hard work to retain our continuing students is showing success. Retention between the first and second year has improved to 87.5 percent this fall after a number of years of being stuck at 84 percent. Something is happening here after many years of no movement in our retention numbers, and it is a direct result of your efforts. … Give yourself a round of applause.

This fall we were pleased to welcome the most diverse and one of the best academically prepared freshman classes in our history. This exceptional class was drawn from another record year of applications confirming that CU Boulder is a university of choice for high-achieving students from Colorado, the nation and across the globe. We also achieved a higher level of transfer students from schools around the nation and from local community colleges. Overall, we strive to build a campus characterized by diversity in all forms, which gives us the opportunity to learn from our many perspectives, cultures and backgrounds.

I would be remiss if I did not call out the success we are having in graduate student recruitment. Unlike many of our peers, our graduate enrollment has gone up, and our graduate students are key to the success of our campus as they are engaged in teaching and research throughout the colleges.

Common Values

Last year at this time, I announced our strategic plan, with its imperatives of creating tomorrow’s leaders, leading innovation and positively impacting humanity. All of these must be grounded in a common and strongly held set of values.

 These values were clearly defined for us by our students as the Colorado Creed and they are:

  • Act with honor, integrity and accountability in all interactions with students, faculty, staff and neighbors. 
  • Respect the rights of others and accept our differences. 
  • Contribute to the greater good of this community. 

Given events around the country this past year, the Colorado Creed takes on more importance than ever. Honesty, respecting others and being accountable. It is my expectation that every member of the CU Boulder family of students, staff, and faculty, as one university, will actively proclaim these values and demonstrate them in our actions every day. If we do this, we will be a place where the open and candid exchange of all ideas and perspectives can occur.

We often have the opportunity to host events and speakers and we support free speech. We believe everyone should be allowed to express their beliefs, even when we strongly disagree with them. It’s part of what we do every day – encourage open and civil debate. What we can, and should do, is clearly proclaim our values whether they do, or do not, align with those speakers. I am proud that our faculty and students created the Buffs United group and held an event last spring to demonstrate our values. To continue in the tradition of open, civil debate, this fall, our history faculty is hosting a series of educational forums on Charlottesville in Historical Perspective which provides historical context of slavery within our country. The Center for Western Thought and Policy, student groups, the Leo Hill Leadership Series and others are bringing a number of speakers to campus this year. Those will run the gamut on political and philosophical perspectives and I encourage you to engage and demonstrate our values of respect and civil debate.

Let me be clear. We do not support discrimination in any form, we abhor hateful acts and philosophies and we strive to clearly demonstrate our values. CU Boulder’s identity is defined by respect for diversity and achieving the highest levels of excellence through intentional inclusivity. These convictions are at the heart of any decision we make as we pursue our goals and interact with one another daily.

There is no denying we live in tumultuous and increasingly volatile times. It is clearly a time in which we each individually, and as an institution, need to take a stand for our values. I ask you to join me in remaining committed to improving our campus climate and to ensuring every member of our community feels safe, welcome and respected.

One of the challenges facing all higher education institutions is how we can best support our Dreamers – undocumented students who were brought to the United States as children, graduated from American high schools, and are now pursuing their academic dreams. Many Dreamers will be the first in their families to graduate from college.

This week has been designated Protect Dreamers Higher Education Week. To help Dreamers on their journeys to a better life in the only country they have known since childhood, this week, President Benson and I are signing a letter of support sponsored by the Protect Dreamers Higher Education Coalition. This coalition – led by more than a dozen higher ed associations – will work to ensure Congress acts as quickly as possible on bipartisan legislation to protect the Dreamers. So watch for the “Protect Dreamers” hashtag on social media.

Now, let me remind you of our vision under our strategic plan. It is: CU Boulder will be a leader in addressing the humanitarian, social and technological challenges of the 21st century. Let’s talk for a minute about our three strategic imperatives that will help us achieve that vision and where we are in advancing them. Those imperatives are: shape tomorrow’s leaders, be the top university for innovation, and positively impact humanity.

We have been working across the campus on a number of initiatives and programs that have advanced these strategic imperatives. Many of you have been involved with those. Many campus units have completed, or are working on strategic plans, and have developed visions that align to the campus. The deans, vice chancellors and our Athletic Director are continuing to meet to determine how we will collectively achieve these strategic imperatives at the campus level.

 In September, Provost Russ Moore and Senior Vice Chancellor and CFO Kelly Fox complemented the campuswide work on the imperatives with the initiative called Academic Futures.

  • Through this initiative we are asking faculty, staff and students to fully engage in developing unfettered visions, aspirations and ideals for what our university should be. We have had a number of town halls to engage the campus community in discussions and more are scheduled. I encourage you to attend those and contribute to the ideas that will shape our future.
  • CU Boulder’s core mission is to educate students and engage in cutting-edge scholarship and creative work, research and discovery. But how will our students learn five, 10 or 20 years from now? How will we teach them? And how will we discover new knowledge? We want to draw on the experiences of all of you – faculty, staff and students in creating a future academic vision for our university.
  • In the first phase, we are talking about what we want to do, not how we do it. We want to think independent of constraints. In the second phase, we will decide what we can do within our limits.
  • Academic Futures commits to integrating and drawing from our other initiatives, so that together they form a coherent whole – reinforcing how we teach and conduct research in ways highly responsive to our students, and the world into which they enter.
  • There are several of these underlying initiatives which you will hear more about this semester and be invited to engage in. They range from working to be more strategic in our budgeting to creating a meaningful first- year experience for all students.

The deans have been, and will be, meeting with faculty and staff in the schools to further develop specific initiatives in their colleges that will support the imperatives and our progress.

It is important that we align our unit initiatives to support those at the campus level and, ultimately, our strategic imperatives will unite the campus around a common focus. Who we are as a campus is a function of how we teach our students to lead, innovate and positively impact humanity.  

Today, we are taking action to further our imperatives and benefit our students. I think we would all agree, and our regents have made clear, that we must enable our students to succeed while making our university more affordable to people from all walks of life. This is a complicated place and cost comes from many quarters. The primary costs for students are tuition and the related mandatory fees such as the rec center fee, the bus and bike program and the student health services fee. Add to that the myriad course-related fees that our students encounter across the campus, which can be as much as an additional $12-hundred dollars per semester. Costs can mount quickly and unexpectedly. CU Boulder has more than 60 course and program fees.

To address these issues – reducing the cost of attendance and lowering the complexity of charges students receive – I asked Russ Moore and Kelly Fox to determine how we can do that in a sustainable way.

Many of you know that this is the second year of the CU Boulder Guarantee, which means tuition and mandatory fees for entering resident freshmen are locked for four years. This has only been possible with the strategic support and long-term vision of our regents. They approved a multi-year tuition plan for the campus. We have had a similar guarantee in place for non-resident students for several years. These are very popular as they allow families to plan for the cost of their student’s education with certainty, while placing the economic risk on the university instead of the student. When I have conversations with parents here, and around the state and country, I hear how important it is for them to be able to plan ahead.

This guarantee and increased scholarships have helped us lower average student debt by 14.5% since 2014.

In helping us formulate the tuition guarantee, our regents provided the campus with the benefit of planning over multiple years. At the time the guarantee was developed, our regents approved a four-year tuition plan that is crucial to our ability to forecast our long-term finances, find ways to reduce the cost of education and increase our transparency to students. They have provided invaluable peace of mind to our students and families. I want to also recognize our former Regent Steve Bosley, who was instrumental in working on this plan. Let’s give Steve, and the rest of the Board, a round of applause.


Today, I am announcing another major step in reducing the cost of attending CU Boulder, The Be Boulder Pact. It is our commitment to our students and their families to further lower cost and increase accessibility to an education at CU Boulder. These are the components of the Be Boulder Pact:

  • Number one: In the fall of 2018, we will lower the cost to students by eliminating all course-related and program fees. What does that mean? It means, all students will see those fees eliminated, whether it is an art, science or business class. Students will no longer pay those.
  • For the departments that depend on those fees, the administration will continue to provide them. This money will come from increased revenue thanks to the higher enrollment and improved retention I previously mentioned. This is complemented by the work you have been doing to improve the way we manage and operate the campus. All of this hard work is paying off, both for our students and the departments!
  • By eliminating course-related and program fees across the campus at one time, we will save our students $8.4 million dollars each year. We will eliminate unnecessary overhead in administrative units and still support the academic units. This will help us retain and attract students by lowering cost and simplifying bills for tuition and fees.
  • This elimination of course-related and program fees increases the transparency to students and their families about the costs of tuition and fees, and it demonstrates our commitment to the success of our students. We want our students to get a degree in a timely manner at the lowest cost possible for themselves and their families. Our collective purpose is to take this burden off our students.
  • Number two: We will increase access to CU Boulder, by fully funding our pilot CU Boulder Impact Scholarship program. This scholarship is a result of an innovation proposal by the financial aid and admissions team. It looks beyond traditional measures of accomplishments, evaluating the academic success as well as the persistence of a student, based on their socio-economic circumstances. 90% of the pilot round of these scholarships awarded this fall went to first-generation students. This year’s first contingent of students represents a $185,000-dollar commitment to funding by the university. This will now be a permanent scholarship program.
  • Number Three: We are committing to partner with our student government leaders who are working with the Colorado Department of Higher Education to bring Open Educational Resources, or OER, to our students. The goal is to provide openly licensed teaching materials, shared in an electronic format, to students at an extremely discounted rate, potentially saving them hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per semester. We are committing to being the state’s leader in moving to online textbooks. The Boulder campus is offering to invest up to $1 million dollars to pilot this program on campus. We hope to partner with the state in this effort. The goal is to ultimately benefit all Colorado higher education institutions.

This a great day for our students. And it is a great day for our university in demonstrating value to our students and what our collaborative work can do. In short, lower fees, increase scholarships and start the process to reduce the cost of textbooks and teaching materials.

I should note that the Governor’s office and the legislature work hard to continue to fund higher education across the state under really tough constraints in our state's constitution. We certainly appreciate that, and we will continue to work with them to enable us to offer an affordable, high-quality education. A recent increase in state funding has made it possible to begin to address our deferred maintenance backlog and bring more technology to the classroom. We continue to need the state’s support to address these critical items. And, again I want to thank our regents, who have been steadfast in encouraging us to find innovative ways to lower the cost of education.

The heart of my message today is this: We must be focused on the students at the center of everything we do, and every action we take.

The hard work we are all doing is paying off. Our major metrics are moving. Our retention is significantly up, our donations are up, our research dollars are up, the quality and diversity of our students is up. The work you are doing is carrying us forward.

We are facing a multitude of changes in the world. How we respond so that CU Boulder will be a leader in addressing the humanitarian, social and technological challenges of the 21st century is our challenge. We must anticipate the future so we create an institution that quickly adapts to meet the needs of the world as it changes.

Call to Action & Conclusion

There is no doubt that collaboration and discovering new ways of thinking is hard. The deans, VCs and I have been having exciting conversations about how to extend the strategic imperatives throughout the campus in a tangible way. This can be challenging, but it is critical to our future success. How do we innovate in teaching and discovery? How can we approach our budget so we thrive in the future and yet reduce the cost to our students? How can we use technology most effectively for our students, research and enterprise?

There is a lot to do. If we stay focused on our common objectives, we will succeed and be stronger. It’s going to take all of us, collectively, to achieve our strategic imperatives. The initiatives we have discussed are the pathways to achieving our imperatives, and I urge you to actively join in. Let your voice be heard and be open to change and input from others around you. Everyone has value in this process as we educate tomorrow’s leaders, innovate and impact humanity. In short: Lead, Innovate and Impact.

Thank you.