Published: Feb. 21, 2018

Any process with as much input as Academic Futures has generated—long before it changes anything—will produce a mountain of information. We have received many opinions about what CU Boulder is, but it is hard to distill from that a collective sense of who we are.

Vice Provost and Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty Affairs Jeff Cox
Vice Provost and AVC for Faculty Affairs and Convener of the Academic Futures Campus Conversation Jeff Cox

Research & Innovation Office Grand Challenge Director of Strategic Projects Emily Cobabe-Ammann
RIO Director of Strategic Projects and Facilitator of the Academic Futures Campus Conversation Emily CoBabe-Ammann

As we were discussing such matters, a colleague reminded us of a question posed by Shakespeare in King Lear (Act 1, Scene 4): 

“Who is it,” Lear asks, “that can tell me who I am?”

Lear finds his self-image, largely grounded in his title of king, confronted by those who oppose him, most strikingly his own daughters. He must strip away all his delusions about himself, all the comforting roles he has played, to perhaps reach his bare humanity, before he rediscovers himself through others. 

We might be able to answer CU Boulder’s identity question for ourselves (with far less cost than that suffered by King Lear), if we draw on the enormous amounts of quantitative and qualitative data we already hold about our university. We can perhaps strip away some of our own unfounded illusions and opinions to find in conversation with one another what we are as an institution.

We don’t need to guess about who we are. We don’t need to “trust our gut” about what works. As Academic Futures proceeds, data will directly shape the paths we choose.  

We will use data to build pictures of what transformation looks like on the ground, based on where we actually are. 

We will use it to dispel myths and conventional wisdoms that distort our perceptions of where we are or blind us to possibilities of where we may go.   

Take student success as an example. Using institutional research data, we can look realistically at such critical touchstones as time to degree, student retention from year to year and the placement of our students in jobs or graduate programs.  

We can then compare that data to our Association of American University peers to get a real sense of where we’re standing now, so that we can be both precise and bold in moving toward our Academic Futures.

The same is true for research. We know much about our faculty’s incredible productivity as measured by publications, funding, citations, awards and impact on society—and we can compare that data with that of peer and aspirational institutions to get a clear snapshot of where we are—again, so that we can more precisely plot and measure where we’d like to go.

As the Academic Futures committee moves ahead, weighing and measuring ideas and suggestions from our community, the campus can rest assured we will ground our visions in the realities of the work we do and can do. Data will help delineate our vision of our collective future.

Of course, data is not truth. Data is not judgment. Student success, for example, is not graduating in X years; it is living good, full, caring lives. As Lear finds and as the text King Lear challenges us to recognize, we finally know ourselves through interpreting the bare facts of our lives, by turning data into stories we can tell to others.

When others understand our stories, then, perhaps, we know ourselves.

And in more clearly knowing what CU Boulder is now, we will be clearer about where we want to go.

Jeff Cox,
Vice Provost and Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty Affairs
Convener of the Academic Futures Campus Conversation

Emily CoBabe-Ammann,
Director of Strategic Projects for the Research & Innovation Office
Facilitator of the Academic Futures Campus Conversation