Chancellor Phil DiStefano gives speech at the 2018 spring town hall

Welcome. Thank you for coming to the annual all-campus Spring Town Hall. Today we will engage in an important discussion about the future of our university and the future of our students. Each one of you is key to this discussion.

I would like to acknowledge my wife, Yvonne.

Also, CU Regent Sue Sharkey is with us.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the support of all our regents and President Benson for making a college education more affordable and accessible for our students at CU Boulder. I would also like to thank our federal and state delegation for their support of our research funding and other key legislative issues. 

Let me begin by reminding you that our vision at CU Boulder is to be a leader in addressing the humanitarian, social and technological challenges of the 21st century. This forms the foundation of today’s discussion.

We are a leading global comprehensive research university. In all our actions, we are committed to inclusive excellence, a quality that defines our passion to be on the forefront of change for a more sustainable and understanding world. This is supported by our three strategic imperatives to develop tomorrow’s leaders, be a leader in innovation and positively impact humanity.

Lead. Innovate. Impact. These are not just words. These are core to our daily work at CU Boulder. Our students are embodying them every day.

Maddie Kern, a new doctor of mechanical engineering, saw a need and did something about it. Maddie was studying in South Africa and saw a pile of donated prosthetic limbs that had been discarded because they didn’t fit the people who needed them. She developed an adjustable socket to make them work, and her team won startup funding from the New Venture Challenge. Her company is called Reform, and it's raising money now.

At the same time, many Spanish majors are volunteering in local schools to tutor non-English speaking students. And theater and dance majors are flying the Kepler satellite.

Tyler Huggins and Justin Whitley, recent PhD engineering graduates, made a renewable-energy storage battery from beer. They took the waste water from beer production to grow a fungus. They baked it at 1,472 degrees to create a carbon electrode. Their team secured a patent on their renewable batteries and founded a startup.

Emily Daub, an undergraduate in Technology Arts and Media, has developed lighting systems for costumes that expand the creative possibilities for performances.

Maithreyi Gopalakrishnan earned concurrent bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering physics in 2016. She developed an affordable hybrid conversion kit for gas rickshaws in her native India, to provide clean transportation to everyone, regardless of location or socio-economic status. She developed this with a team of CU students. Their company Surya Conversions is headquartered in Broomfield.

These students are leaders. They are innovators. And they are impacting humanity. What’s really exciting: They aren’t the only ones. Their stories are a microcosm of what students, faculty and staff are doing all across this campus.

We have ideas. We produce results. It’s in our DNA.

As we do this work, we need to be aware of the external forces driving higher education. 

Higher education is under the microscope for accessibility, affordability, educational delivery and its value.

It’s under pressure by a shifting political landscape whether it’s de-regulating student loans, free speech, support for research and myriad other issues. Many are questioning the value of higher education. This is something we have taken on directly with our four-year tuition guarantee for resident students which began in fall 2016. It is similar to the guarantee we have had for years for out-of-state students.

We also announced the Be Boulder Pact at the State of the Campus last fall. This includes eliminating $8.4 million annually in course fees beginning next fall. It supports our student leaders as they pursue online, openly-licensed textbooks and learning materials, to possibly further reduce costs for students. And finally, we funded a new CU Boulder Impact Scholarship that recognizes students for persistence in tough socioeconomic circumstances.

This is not the first time we have faced challenges. Over the last 20 years we have had experience with budgetary pressures and changing expectations of higher education that many states have only recently begun to confront. Together, we are experienced in responding to changing circumstances and adapting.

This university also has a history of innovation in taking on new challenges. Our Academic Futures initiative that we are delving into today is a no-holds-barred invitation to everyone on the campus to bring their most creative ideas of what the university could be.

We are in a unique position right now to take a truly visionary approach to our future. We have strong enrollments, relative budgetary stability, an invigorated set of new, innovative deans, highly productive faculty, dynamic and dedicated staff, and highly energized students. We’re in a place that a lot of public universities can only envy. We are also at a moment of confidence and optimism that we can harness for our future. We are fortunate to be able to work from this position of strength, and we need to seize the moment.

When we look at the world around us, no one has to tell us how quickly it is changing ... socially, technologically, environmentally, geo-politically and economically. CU Boulder is part of this moment of transformation.

What are some other new forces being brought to bear on our institution?

Expectations and needs of students are changing. Today’s students are digital natives, activists, entrepreneurs and change agents who want to design their own world and make an immediate impact. At the same time, CU and universities across the country, are seeing record demand for mental health services and overall student support. This requires us to quickly adapt to meet our students' needs.

Parents expect digital learning and resources, measureable progress and results, and they expect us to be run efficiently, like a business. In other words, they want good customer service whether they live in Colorado Springs or Saudi Arabia.

As I meet with the extended CU family around the world, I see larger global forces at work. We are in a world in which climbers atop Everest have excellent cell phone service and self-driving cars are taking to the roads. An explosion of economic interdependency has created new riches and spiraling debt. Amazon and Apple are starting their own healthcare companies. Cyber threats are rearing up in ways we wouldn’t have imagined even two years ago. The pace of change is exceeding society’s capacity to adapt. The future is challenging.

I am now serving on the managing committee for the Association of American Universities, and we have been discussing just in the last few weeks, that it is imperative that we, as the top research universities in the nation, come together to shape the national narrative on the value of higher education. The future is here. It is universities that can be an integral part of the adaptation that society and our students must make.

Our students are stepping into this world now. We have to equip them with the skills to take on these challenges and become the leaders of tomorrow.

This rapid pace of change is confronting every university, but we are responding in a unique way. With our Academic Futures initiative we have asked all of our faculty, staff and students to think wildly outside of the box in developing unencumbered visions and aspirations for what our university could be.

Academic Futures is a bold examination of how we teach, conduct research and create works of art, engage in our scholarship, organize ourselves, and deliver education in the transformative world I spoke of. We are doing something here at a broad scope, that no one else has dared to take on—and we’re sure of that—because we’ve looked closely at what our peer universities are doing.

Academic Futures is guided by our strategic imperatives as we are committed to developing tomorrow’s leaders, becoming the top university for innovation and positively impacting humanity.

Businesses tell us that universities need to embrace the role of being the research and development backbone with which they can actively partner.

They tell us that they need students who can think creatively, solve problems, capture ideas in multiple formats and work collaboratively.

This is in direct opposition to those who are heralding the death of the liberal arts. These very skills are at the foundation of the liberal arts.

Students have shown us they want more options for learning in new and different ways, rather than lectures and menus of rigidly organized courses and degrees. They want to be the drivers of their education—choosing freely from a broad menu of available disciplines.

Universities are at their best when they drive change. This rapidly transforming world that we are a part of gives us the opportunity to direct that change ourselves. We do it for the future of our students and for raising the value of the university to the people of Colorado.

Academic Futures is a key first step in achieving these transformational goals—about how our ideas, creativity, innovation and experiences will propel us forward. This is a campuswide discussion about developing a vision to enable the university to drive change and engage with the world around it.

Today, we’re going to hear about the work the Academic Futures committee has done to sort through and examine the many ideas that were brought forward in more than 100 community meetings and over 150 white papers. We’re going to hear about how those ideas are taking form and about what the next steps are going to be in prioritizing them.

I would like to give credit and congratulate our faculty, staff and students for bringing us to this place. Your collaborative effort has brought us to this game-changing moment.

Now I would like to bring up the people who are leading this effort: Provost Russell Moore and Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice Chancellor Kelly Fox.