leather book that says chancellor on cover

Chancellor—What Does it Mean and What Does a Chancellor Do?

May 4, 2020

This article continues our series about academic terms—what they mean, how they came about, and why they matter. We are hoping to demystify certain words students come across during their educational endeavors.


CU Denver is getting a new chancellor, which may make some students wonder what exactly the term means. From the Middle English chaunceler (chief administrative officer of a ruler) and the Late Latin cancellārius (secretary; doorkeeper), chancellor now refers to the chief executive officer of a university or campus. 

In terms of U.S. university systems with more than one affiliated university, a chancellor is typically the executive head of one university, while the president is the executive head of the overall system. This is exactly how it works at the University of Colorado. The CU president governs the entire system (all four campuses in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Anschutz Medical Campus), and the chancellor governs one campus (CU Denver, in this case).  

Now that the name is clear, what exactly does a chancellor do? Just about everything, as it happens. In fact, the chancellor is ultimately responsible to the president for all academic, fiscal, and administrative matters at the campus. This includes overseeing all aspects of the institution (financial management, facilities, fundraising, public relations, emergency operations, etc.). 

Essentially, the chancellor is the CEO of the university. Just to complicate matters a little, keep in mind that around the world the CEO of a university can be called by other names, including vice-chancellor, principal, provost, and rector. 

In conclusion, the chancellor at CU Denver oversees everything related to the campus, while also having a vision for the university’s future.