CU Denver student commons building with sunset in the sky.

Meet the Finalists for CU Denver’s Chancellor

March 23, 2020

CU President Mark Kennedy is one step closer to naming CU Denver’s next chancellor. The two finalists in the search, Keith Whitfield, PhD, and Michelle Marks, PhD, participated in virtual forums March 19 and March 20. The timing brought unexpected challenges, as the campus has moved to remote learning and working to combat the spread of coronavirus. With conditions being unsafe for candidates to travel to Denver, the forums were held via Zoom to ensure the CU Denver community had a chance to meet each finalist. 

Stephanie Santorico, PhD, mathematical and statistical sciences professor and director of statistical programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, moderated the separate hour-long forums that drew 230 participants each. She serves on a 14-member chancellor search committee consisting of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community representatives. She posed questions, some broad and others specific to the candidate, that were submitted by the campus community and reviewed and prioritized by faculty, staff, and student governance leaders. Topics covered everything from leadership style to student success to fundraising. For the final 10 minutes of each forum, candidates responded to questions submitted by people watching via Zoom.  

Last fall, Chancellor Dorothy Horrell announced her retirement this spring. Soon after, the Office of the President hired Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search firm, which has experience with Colorado and other public, urban universities, to assist in recruiting candidates and supporting the search committee in its work. 

Members of the search committee and campus community were invited to share the chancellor search announcement widely and nominate or recruit candidates. The search firm contacted more than 700 potential candidates and the search committee scaled the dozens of applicants down to 12 people, who were interviewed in late February. The committee sent the top five candidates to CU President Mark Kennedy for consideration. Kennedy moved forward two finalists and urged the CU Denver community to ask questions, join the open forums, and fill out an online survey on each candidate following the virtual campus visits. In addition to the open forums, each of the finalists met with CU leaders, including the provost, CFO, deans, chancellor’s cabinet, faculty, staff, and student governance groups, vice presidents, regents, and other chancellors. A decision on CU Denver’s next chancellor is expected late March. 

Meet the Finalists 

Keith Whitfield

Keith Whitfield, PhD, serves as provost at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Whitfield holds a BA in psychology from the College of Santa Fe, an MA in psychology from Texas Tech University, a PhD in life span development from Texas Tech University, and a post doctorate from the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

Whitfield’s previous roles include professor-in-charge of the Graduate Program Department of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University, chair of Developmental Psychology at Duke University, director of the Center for Biobehavioral Health Disparities Research at Duke University, and vice provost for Academic Affairs at Duke University.

Whitfield took interest in the chancellor position because the makeup of CU Denver closely resembles his current university, he said. Known as Michigan’s most diverse campus, Wayne State University has a focus on research, is located in the downtown setting of Detroit, and serves roughly 27,000 students. “Your university is much like ours,” Whitfield said. “It’s an urban, research university and that brings with it some interesting opportunities as well as challenges.” Some of those challenges include state funding and a demographic shift, he said.

Whitfield’s commitment to diversity, equity, and success among student, faculty, and staff bodies was evident throughout the forum. He highlighted pride points at his current university, such as hiring a chief diversity officer tasked with connecting student groups, creating a pool of “equity dollars” to reduce inequities in teacher pay, streamlining mental health services on campus, and prioritizing shared governance. Whitfield serves as chair of Wayne State University’s Faculty Senate and chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee.

“I take my office as a team sport,” Whitfield said. “For any problem that comes up, we typically have at least two people on it. With a lot of these problems, we have somebody from student affairs and somebody from faculty affairs involved because we come up with better answers that way.”

For the future of CU Denver, Whitfield said he would build on the university’s strengths—naming CityCenter and the strong connection to the city of Denver—and use past data to make strategic decisions moving forward. He would also focus on strengthening CU Denver’s brand. “You are so well positioned to have a huge impact—an even bigger impact than it has had—in the Denver metro area,” Whitfield said in his closing remarks. “I think that the kind of faculty that you have care about student success … With focus, dedication, and strategic planning, that can be something the university is known for.”

Listen to Whitfield’s full forum here.

Michelle Marks

Michelle Marks, PhD, serves as vice president for academic innovation and new ventures at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Marks holds a BS in psychology from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, an MA in industrial/organizational psychology from George Mason University, and a PhD in industrial/psychology from George Mason University.

Marks’ former roles include vice provost for academic affairs and associate provost for graduate education at George Mason University, professor of management in the Business School at George Mason University, and assistant professor of psychology at the International University in Miami, Florida. 

Marks took interest in the chancellor position in part because CU Denver faces some of the same challenges as her current university, such as strengthening the university’s role and brand regionally and beyond and increasing enrollment. George Mason University is a public research university located near Fairfax City that serves roughly 37,600 students. 

Marks’ experience as an administrator and faculty member in academia reinforced her responses, as did her dedication to innovative solutions, student success, diversity and inclusion, and shared governance—she works closely with her university’s Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, and Student Government, she said. “It’s important to bring all voices to the table when it has to do with decisions that impact the institution moving forward,” Marks said. 

Under Marks’ leadership, George Mason University implemented a holistic coaching advising model that helped increase the six-year graduation rate from 64% to 70%, as well as a “seamless pathway program” that helps students move from a community college into a four-year institution with no wasted credits. The university is also in the middle of rolling out a CRM that will create a single technology backbone for the university, improving the student experience. “The result will be a student-centered care approach, sort of equivalent to when you think of a patient-centered care approach in the medical system.”

For the future of CU Denver, Marks envisions advancing the university’s mission and finding creative solutions to challenges facing the university. “If I were to come in as chancellor, I would promote first and foremost an environment of equity and inclusion, where students, faculty, and staff feel like they belong and where everybody can thrive,” she said in her closing remarks. 

Listen to Marks’ full forum here.