Published: March 16, 2018

Speaking to a crowd of over 400 in attendance in-person and online, CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano set the stage for a reflection on the state of higher education and the university’s approach to its future.

“This university has a history of innovation in taking on new challenges,” DiStefano said, “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.”

DiStefano shared examples of the ways CU Boulder is meeting its vision of being a leader in addressing the humanitarian, social and technological challenges of the 21st century. From Spanish majors volunteering in schools to tutor non-English speaking students, to theater and dance majors flying the Kepler satellite, CU Boulder students are embodying the three strategic imperatives to lead, to innovate and to positively impact humanity.

Think university first. We have to think about the university, rather than our particular department or division. That has to be a prerequisite for success.”
–Chancellor Phil DiStefano

The university also finds itself in a unique position to assess its own 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,” DiStefano said. “We are fortunate to be able to work from this position of strength, and we need to seize the moment.”

The chancellor introduced the Academic Futures initiative as a key way for CU Boulder to guide its future and set transformational goals for the institution and characterized the campuswide discussion as an opportunity to develop a vision for the university to drive change and engage with the world around it.

He then introduced Provost Russ Moore and SVC and CFO Kelly Fox, who talked more about the Academic Futures process, the white papers and community conversations, and what to expect in the months to come.

“In the coming weeks you’ll start to hear about emerging themes that are coming from the Academic Futures committee,” said Fox.

To prepare for the next phase of the initiative, the Academic Futures subcommittees have summarized much of the input from the white papers and community discussions into emerging themes and are launching a series of spring town halls to further discussion on these topics.

The committee is expected to produce a campus report by Sept. 1, 2018, which will then be open to community comment until Oct. 1, 2018. After that, Academic Futures will move on to its next stage, where the efforts will undergo a definition and design phase.

The provost and senior vice chancellor introduced Academic Futures Facilitator Emily CoBabe-Ammann and Vice Provost Jeff Cox, convener of the Academic Futures campus conversation, who brought up several members of the Academic Futures committee for a group discussion on the process to-date.

Panelists included Alexis Templeton, associate professor of Geological Sciences; Sarah Krakoff, law professor; and Orrie Gartner, director of IT operations and cloud infrastructure.

The panel first addressed some of the interesting questions that have crossed their plate and ideas emerging. Affordability and flexibility were key concepts, along with creating a community that is inclusive and collaborative. Elevating our teaching mission—through interdisciplinarity, reward structures and flexible learning facilities—also was discussed.

“As we look at our activities as a research university, and we discuss the ways we want to integrate research and teaching, there is a strong will across the campus to work toward elevating our teaching mission, the ways in which we are recognizing, rewarding and supporting our teaching,” said Templeton.

The panel discussion closed with the question, “What are the top three things that you see as being a prerequisite to CU’s ability to fulfill this vision?” Each of the subcommittee representatives brought forward one item necessary for Academic Futures.

“We have a huge untapped potential here of people who have been wanting to be part of our teaching mission,” said Templeton. “We’re trying to dig deep and figure out ways to include people into the ways that we function that they haven’t been previously.”

“I’d say the biggest prerequisite is to start from a position of strength,” said Gartner. “We’re doing this process not because we’re in trouble as a university. We’re examining where we want to go because we need to, so we can stay in this position of strength.”

“We need the support from the state, our leaders, our legislators,” said Krakoff. “Otherwise what we come up with is just another piece of paper … We need our whole community, from top to bottom, to say, ‘That’s awesome, let’s go do it!’”

DiStefano closed the event by adding a fourth prerequisite to the panelists’ discussion.

“Think university first,” said DiStefano. “We have to think about the university, rather than our particular department or division. That has to be a prerequisite for success.”