Published: April 5, 2024

In his last address as CU Boulder chancellor to the Boulder Faculty Assembly (BFA) on April 4, Philip DiStefano said that, of all the titles he’s held at CU Boulder, “professor” means the most to him; that his most important achievement is helping CU Boulder’s academic excellence to earn it a rightful place among “the 71 public and private institutions in the Association of American Universities”; and that his most pressing concern for the future is “the public perception of higher education.” 

The chancellor responded to BFA questions on his own views of his legacy and about his concerns for CU Boulder’s present and future. 

On negative public perceptions of higher ed, particularly from legislators

“We have seen legislators making decisions about what we teach and don’t teach and how DEI is managed and discussed. We’ve never seen that before in higher education, and that’s a real concern. We’re fortunate that we have a governor, a (state) house and a senate that support higher education…but I remain concerned about the public perception that there is not value, when we know there is so much value, in getting a college degree,” DiStefano said. 

On chancellor finalist Justin Schwartz

“I don’t know Justin well, but he brings a wealth of experience as a professor, researcher, dean and provost. I’m pleased we have a strong academic as the finalist for the chancellor’s position.” 

On the state of academic freedom, free speech at CU Boulder

“Since October, we’ve all been affected directly or indirectly by the conflict in Israel and Gaza. It challenges all of us to face difficult issues. I’ve been encouraged by the many ways I’ve seen faculty, staff and students engaging with the topics, promoting discourse and denouncing discrimination. Universities must remain a house of conflict—organizations become stronger when they deliberately engage with difficult topics. That must remain the case with CU Boulder.” 

On his work with BFA  

“The concept of shared governance is really unique to higher education. The guidance of this group, and staff council and CU student government…it’s been a wonderful experience to work with our GPSG and CUSG, and I cherish the relationship I’ve built with all of you. I look forward to continuing the relationship as a faculty member in the Center for Leadership. I want to thank you all for the work you’ve done and the wonderful opportunity I’ve had to lead this university over the last 15 years.” 

On his specific achievements

“The first is the importance of continuing shared governance. Being around for 50 years, I can say the last five to eight years I’ve seen shared governance work so well. The work between BFA and the administration is so great. Other colleagues in the Pac-12 and Big-12 tell me they seldom meet with shared governance. I’d advise (chancellor candidate Justin Schwartz) to continue to meet with shared governance and (remember) the importance of shared governance.”

“I’m proud of the Instructors Bill of Rights that I worked on as provost with (BFA members) Rolf Norgaard and Cathy Comstock that has improved things so much.” 

“I was the first (CU Boulder) chancellor that spent any considerable time fundraising. We needed to do that; we’re behind our peers when it comes to fundraising. When I started we were raising about $83 million a year, and we’ve doubled that.”

On his advice for Schwartz should he be named chancellor

“I’d advise him to continue to meet with shared governance and (to recognize) the importance of shared governance.”

“The cabinet I have is a diverse cabinet, and we have to continue with that. We have to have a diversity of ideas. That will be important to him—diversity of leadership within the chancellor’s cabinet and across the campus.” 

On student debt

“When students graduate with debt, it’s bad, but it’s worse when students don’t graduate and have debt. About 50% of our resident students leave with debt, it’s lower than the national average, but that debt is there, so we need to make  sure students taking out loans are staying at the university, and that’s what the BUS (Buff Undergraduate Success initiative) is focusing on.”

In other BFA action

From Student Affairs

The assembly received an update from Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs D’Andra Mull on how her division is partnering with faculty to take “a holistic approach” to student success that will get students “an amazing education and an amazing educational experience.”

Mull showed the assembly how her team’s approach focuses on four cornerstones: comprehensive student development, campus engagement and belonging, academic support (through wraparound support services and focus on the first-year experience), and “high impact” practices demonstrated to improve student success.

Faculty course questionnaires

BFA also introduced a new resolution that asks the Office of Academic Affairs to convene a working group composed of faculty and student representatives from or nominated by the appropriate shared governance bodies to review issues related to faculty course questionnaires.

The resolution seeks a report to be delivered to the provost before Oct. 30, addressing the following issues: 

  • Would the removal of the open comment section be an overall benefit or cost to both faculty and students? 
  • What additions or changes to the FCQs should be made to provide students with the proper resources and information on reporting inappropriate behavior and alerting them to campus support services?
  • Should the university create an inventory of recommended practices for faculty to collect student feedback on courses and teaching methods that is reviewed annually and notes potential bias issues, and if so, how should this inventory be created and publicized?

The resolution will be voted on at the assembly’s May 2 meeting. 

CU Book Access

The group also heard a presentation by CU Book Store Director Jessica Carlsen and Tim Shea, vice president of product at digital instructional resource provider Redshelf, on how the CU Book Access program is serving both students and faculty, and soliciting feedback for how the program can be improved.

In closing

BFA Chair Shelly Miller asked the assembly to:

Visit the BFA website for more information on this meeting and other BFA business.