Goodbye, Professor Medema

July 16, 2019

“Quality, only and always.”

That is the advice and the legacy that Steven Medema, PhD, professor of economics and director of the University Honors and Leadership Program (UHL), leaves behind after three decades with CU Denver. In that time, he has taught thousands of students, authored and edited several books, and established himself as a singularly renowned expert on the history of economic thought. His many accomplishments lead him, now, to a prestigious post at Duke University, where he will continue his research.

Explaining his decision to join the faculty at Duke, Medema notes, “It’s the leading center for history of economic thought research and teaching in the world, and it’s the ideal job for me.”

It’s a fitting reward for someone who has done an ideal job for CU Denver.

A bittersweet farewell

A President’s Teaching Scholar and CU Distinguished Professor, Medema has helped CU Denver since 1989 to establish its commitment to upholding the highest standards in higher education, particularly through his foundational work with the University Honors and Leadership Program, CU Denver’s university-wide honors program.

Jeff Franklin, PhD, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate experiences, writes of his colleague: “Steve believed we at CU Denver could achieve the highest standards for ourselves and for our students. He’s done exactly that in every arena in which he’s participated, but most of all in the UHL program. UHL students and their parents knew from the start that Professor Medema stood for the same level of dedication and rigor to be found at the most prestigious universities.”

A quality program

As Franklin fondly recalls, “Steve dedicated himself to the learning experience of our students, to ensuring that it be a challenging and rich growing experience from the first day to graduation. As one of the original designers of the UHL program, he continued to tune and redesign the UHL curriculum to make it a more complete preparation for students [and to provide them] the skills needed to serve their communities, our society, and the world.”

Reflecting on his own work with UHL, Medema stresses, “Quality is what I worked to achieve in that program since the very beginning. We’ve got UHL students doing research in labs and clinical settings all over the downtown campus and out at Anschutz. Those research experiences really set students apart when it comes to grad school admissions and the job market.”

“If quality is your guiding light, then the other issues take care of themselves. And the UHL program is a great example of that.”

Steven Medema

An iconic professor

Medema might be remembered by the campus as much for his lessons as for his distinctive and ever-present bowtie. Representing both “intentional professionalism and self-parodying professorialness” (per Franklin), the wardrobe staple typifies Medema’s high regard for his students and peers.

Franklin further attributes the bowtie to Medema’s sense of humor. “Steve has an uncanny ability to be both very serious and humorous at all times. He makes use of [humor] the way a matador makes use of a sword: to skewer those who lack acuity or self-reflectiveness or an ability to laugh at themselves sometimes.”

Elisabeth Hawksbee, program coordinator for UHL, aptly summarizes Medema and the impression students will keep of him: “I believe he is most proud of the opportunities he has helped to nurture and create for student research. Students see him as an advocate, mentor and an academic, in the very best sense of the word.”

What Medema hopes students remember, though, differs slightly. “I hope that they’ve gotten a sense that I actually cared. That’s what stands out for me from my own undergraduate education, is professors that actually cared about me and what was going on, whether that’s what I’m learning or me as a person. Obviously, I hope they take a little [economic] content away, too. That’d be a great thing.”

Parting thoughts

Offered the chance to share his hopes for the university, Medema provides these characteristically thoughtful bits of advice: “My fervent hope is that the campus will do two different yet related things. One is to, as we’ve done with the UHL program, continue to attract the best and the brightest to CU Denver. The second, which is related to that, is to continue to develop the research mission of the university, which is important for attracting high-end faculty.”

In wishing Professor Medema well, the campus says goodbye to one of its very best and brightest. His 30 years of dedicated service to CU Denver have helped to make the university what it is today, and everyone who has learned from his example is grateful, no doubt, for the experience.

Thank you, Professor, for your knowledge and for your faith in what CU Denver can be.

“I’ve appreciated my time at CU Denver and the support I’ve received. I’ve had the privilege of working with fabulous colleagues in the Department of Economics and the UHL program, and I can’t say enough about them. I’ve appreciated getting to know them, being able to work with them, and their support, particularly for the UHL program. Up and down the administration, we’ve had tremendous support from the program’s inception, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”