Published: Dec. 1, 2015

Philip P. DiStefano

Fuel for the Mission

The campus scheduled or hosted events this fall that included Jane Goodall, Bernie Sanders, the Dalai Lama (who had to cancel due to health reasons) and, of course, the third national Republican debate. What does CU-Boulder get out of hosting events like these?

We fulfill the heart of our mission: To enhance student success by providing a forum where our students and the surrounding community are exposed to a wide range of ideas that they then debate, discuss and analyze. In doing this, we also showcase the best of our campus to wider audiences — in the case of the GOP debates, a global audience in the millions.

What are the challenges for the campus in hosting events?

They are many. It’s a huge logistical undertaking.

We moved the Jane Goodall lecture from Macky Auditorium to the Coors Events Center because of a ticketing snafu, but thanks to a great partnership between intercollegiate athletics and our physics department, we tripled the audience for her talk.

Another challenge is that when people don’t like the speakers or what they have to say, they think the university somehow agrees with the speaker because we’ve invited him or her. We have dozens and dozens of speakers on campus each year representing a wide range of philosophical and political ideas, and the point in having this wide array of speakers isn’t that we agree with each of them, but that our community will be enriched and moved to further discussion and debate by hearing them.

Don’t students get that kind of exchange in the classroom? And what about the expense?

They get great exchange and discussion opportunities in the classroom, absolutely, but guest speakers, debates and public forums widen the discussion further. This is why I continue to support the Conference on World Affairs: It brings the world to Boulder and creates thousands of conversations that add to students’ learning and to our faculty’s teaching.

The expense for public events I view as a direct investment in student success and in our reputation: We always want to be a place where ideas are born, but also where they are discussed, debated, challenged and, in the end, made better.

Philip P. DiStefano has been chancellor since 2009 and a member of the CU-Boulder faculty since 1974.

Illustration by Melinda Josie