On May 4, Chancellor Michelle Marks hosted the final town hall of the 2020-21 academic year to provide an update on the fall semester, as well as several significant campuswide initiatives underway. Nearly 500 faculty and staff tuned in to the virtual event, which concluded with a Q&A with a panel of campus leaders.
In Marks’ opening comments, she expressed optimism for a full return to on-campus learning and activities for the fall 2021 semester. She also recognized the devastating loss the campus community recently experienced: the passing of Rebecca Kantor, dean of the School of Education and Human Development. “Having served our university for nine years, Dean Kantor was a beloved, respected, and invaluable member of our campus community who cared deeply about education and social justice, and most of all she cared about our students, faculty, and staff,” Marks said.
Marks started hosting the virtual town halls when she began as chancellor last summer to directly communicate with the campus community, and to address issues and concerns, brought on by the pandemic. Many community members have expressed appreciation for the transparency and openness—which is exactly what Marks’ envisioned for this new means of virtual connection. “I’m so grateful for your willingness to adapt and engage with us this past year through these town halls and in so many other virtual ways, from my listening tour to the equity task force to our strategic planning, and much more. It illustrates your flexibility and commitment to our institution,” she said.
The CU System and its four campuses recently decided to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all faculty, staff, and students before the start of the fall semester. They join Colorado State University, Metro State University of Denver, and the University of Northern Colorado, as well as universities across the nation, in announcing the requirement.
CU Denver will follow Colorado law, allowing people to seek a vaccination exemption for personal, medical, or religious reasons. However, anyone who is not vaccinated will be required to undergo routine testing to help keep the campus community healthy and safe.
Return to Campus
Marks emphasized the importance of getting back to in-person connection, which is why CU Denver is planning for staff to start a soft return to campus beginning June 1. Some departments may choose to be in person one to two days a week, others may alternate weeks. “This is where unit-level leadership judgment and flexibility come in,” Marks said.
She also recognized that while some community members may be excited to return to campus, others may have valid concerns such as childcare, health, and mass transportation. “We will work through all of this, together. It will take some time and that’s why we’re giving ourselves the summer, especially for our staff, to figure it out,” Marks said.
The 2030 strategic planning process is now in phase three. Marks and other campus leaders will convert the eight vision team reports—106 pages of documentation—into one inspirational and concise high-level plan that paints a vision of CU Denver’s success for the next 10 years.
Over the next two weeks, Marks will hold 25 meeting sessions with all schools, colleges, major staff units, and governance groups to test and refine high-level goals and strategies with the campus community. She plans to present the finalized report to the University of Colorado Board of Regents on June 17.
After a break in the summer, she and other leaders with hold a campus- and community-wide rollout of the strategic plan in the fall semester. Shortly after comes the exciting part: implementation.
Marks accepted the Equity Task Force’s recommendations for funding commitments of $1 million and announced an additional $3 million in funding to further support CU Denver’s equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts. To ensure continuity of structure for this crucial work moving forward, leadership is establishing an Institutional Equity Advocacy Council of faculty, staff, and students.
CU Denver recently announced the hiring of three new leaders: Dr. Constancio Nakuma, CU Denver-focused provost; Monique Snowden, senior vice chancellor for strategic enrollment and student success; and Anthony Graves, managing director of partnerships. The AVC for Digital Strategy and Learning search is approaching the finalist stage, with virtual campus interviews and forums expected the week of May 17.
“We’ve maintained our commitment to transparency with you about these searches, posting all of the information on the chancellor’s website and inviting your feedback along the way, from input on the roles and job descriptions to virtual forums with the finalists,” Marks said.
In recognition of the challenges employees met during the past year’s pandemic and the compensation cycle shift approved by the Board of Regents on April 8, 2021, the campus is providing, for this fiscal year only, a one-time, non-base building payment to eligible faculty, research faculty and university staff employees in the July 30, 2021 paycheck. The one-time payment covers the six-month gap between the previous July 1 merit date and the new Jan. 1 merit date. This results in a payment for the employee equivalent to 1% of their annual academic year contract or 12-month salary.
Additionally, CU is initiating a new pilot tuition assistance benefit that will give CU Denver employees more flexibility to engage in lifelong learning. Starting July 1, employees taking graduate courses will be able to register seven days prior to the first day of the semester; previously, faculty and staff had to wait until the first day of the course. “This is good news, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of our educational and other benefits at CU,” Marks said.
Before opening the discussion for questions, Marks thanked Michael Zinser for his “outstanding leadership” as chair of Faculty Assembly over the past two years. Zinser will be succeeded by Jarrod Hanson, senior instructor and site professor in the School of Education & Human Development.
She also thanked Daniel Casillas and Fabian Laguna, this year’s Student Government Association leaders, and welcomed the new SGA leaders: Nadia Crowley Prez and Christopher Hilton. Marks also extended her appreciation to Michelle Larson Krieg, who will serve a second term as Staff Council chair.
“Shared governance remains a critical voice in the leadership of this campus, and I want to thank everyone – students, faculty and staff, involved in representation during a demanding academic year,” Marks said. “When so much has changed in the world and may feel at times out of control, the changes actually opened up huge possibilities for thinking about and defining our own future in new and different ways. This community has risen to the challenge. With courage, compassion, and creativity.”