Welcome Back Town Hall Highlights Commitment to Campus Community, Plans Moving Forward

August 14, 2020

Nearly 450 students, faculty, and staff attended a Aug. 13 virtual welcome back town hall to hear from campus leaders about what lies ahead for the fall 2020 semester. While there are still many unknowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing remains constant: CU Denver’s unwavering dedication to its campus community. 

“Over the last month I have spoken with CU Denver students, faculty, and staff who have told me they feel more anxiety, frustration, loneliness, sadness, even fear, and I get it. Life is a lot harder than it was six months ago,” Chancellor Michelle Marks said over Zoom in her opening remarks. “And yet, despite these hardships, since arriving last month, I have seen so many examples of the resilience and dedication of this community; the commitment to our students and to our mission.”

Meet the panelists: 

  • Michelle Marks, Chancellor
  • Rod Nairn, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs
  • Jennifer Sobanet, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance
  • Chris Puckett, Managing Associate University Counsel
  • Alana Jones, Interim Vice Provost/Senior Vice Chancellor for Student Success, Co-Chair, Safe Return Implementation Team
  • Paul Teske, Dean of the School of Public Affairs, Co-Chair, Safe Return Implementation Team

By the Numbers: 

  • 444 attendees
    • 110 students
    • 60 faculty
    • 205 staff
    • 69 unknown/other
  • More than half the attendees stayed over an hour
  • Average time spent on the town hall was 51 minutes

Since the start of the pandemic in March, university leaders have worked diligently to come up with a plan for the fall 2020 semester that protects the campus community and still provides a quality education. As listed on the university’s Safe Return website, there are four fall 2020 class formats—on-campus, remote, online, and hybrid, a mix of on-campus and online class formats. Extensive safety protocols are also in place, including daily health check-ins required for all students, faculty, and staff visiting campus, mandatory cloth face coverings, social distancing measures, cleaning and disinfecting schedules, and more. 

The fall 2020 semester will undoubtedly look different than ever before as we continue to navigate the pandemic paired with social and economic unrest, Marks acknowledged during the town hall. It’s also an opportunity to build on our strengths as Colorado’s premier public urban research university and reimagine how we deliver quality education for all students.  

“We must use this moment, though challenging, as one where we can make innovation happen,” Marks said, adding, “I’m proud to belong to a community as devoted to student success as this one.”

During the town hall, panelists addressed questions submitted by students, faculty, and staff. Below are some of their responses. 

What do you see as your biggest challenge related to the school for the year 2020-2021?

“I see my biggest challenge at CU Denver is to take care of this amazing community when the going is tough, when we don’t have our normal social support systems in place, and when we have serious financial and psychological strain. How can I bring empathy, compassion, and flexibility to a community in need? I’ll tell you what gives me hope. Our approach to safe return embodies these values, and I’m proud of that. It gives me confidence. I am paying a lot of attention to creative ways that we can manage the strain and still meet our mission and support our students. 

And what do you see as CU Denver’s biggest attribute, as an educational institution, to the community and students who attend?

“The biggest attribute? I could say the progress we’ve made as a public urban research university in one of the coolest cities in America. That’s what I thought when I first arrived. And that wouldn’t be wrong. But after the last 43 days on the job, I now have a different answer. It’s you. Our first-generation students who have worked hard to get to college. Our faculty who have worked their summers to get courses ready to be delivered flexibly for students. Our staff who have reimagined their jobs to support students, technology, websites, and everything else. Our community who is fighting for equity and holding us accountable to doing much better. Our administrators who are working 24/7 to safely reopen. This incredible community is such a positive force, and I’m honored to be a part of it.” – Michelle Marks, Chancellor

Will students have access to free and frequent COVID testing on campus? 

Students may receive free symptomatic COVID testing through the Auraria Health Center. Those individuals who have had close contact with someone on campus who is COVID confirmed may also receive free symptomatic COVID testing through the Auraria Health Center. 

“Residents of Lynx Crossing will be required to be tested at move-in and every 2 – 3 weeks.  We are working with a company to provide broad, asymptomatic testing on campus and throughout the Denver area. When we have more information on that opportunity, we will share it.” – Chris Puckett, Managing Associate University Counsel

Will tuition rates be reduced or compensated in any way for the switch in the format of many classes to online?

For the 2020-21 academic year, there will be no increase in tuition rates, keeping the same as it’s been for the last two years. Tuition is not charged based on the mode of instruction. Your tuition will continue to be based only on your residency, so an online course or a remote course costs the same as an on-campus course. The main accreditation criteria for our courses remain the same. Whether they are taught in person, online, or remotely, courses must involve regular and substantive instructor interaction with students.  

Faculty are essential to serve students. Even during COVID-19, it takes people to educate people. Faculty and staff are working harder than ever and we must pay them for their work. Teaching through a different modality (hybrid or remote) presents a whole host of challenges that require additional faculty time and preparation, as well as additional resources like IT, learning assistants, and virtual student assistants. We are making investments to ensure that remote and online courses will be high-quality by providing many resources to develop effective, evidence-based practices for remote and online learning.” – Jennifer Sobanet, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance

What are the student “fees” we’re getting charged for? Classes will be remote, so why are we getting charged a bunch of fees? 

Student fees are used to support and enhance the overall student experience. They support not only physical spaces on campus, but also a wide array of student services to build community and support success. We have expanded the student services available to our fully online and off-campus students and are making fees for these services more equitable, no matter the mode of instruction.” – Jennifer Sobanet, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance

In summary:

  • Student Services Fee: With the increase in online and remote services, all CU Denver students will now be assessed the Student Services Fee (formerly named the Student Life Fee) at a reduced rate of $185 per term.  
  • Online Course Fee and Information Technology Fee: We are eliminating the online and hybrid course fees and applying the campus-wide Information Technology Fee ($12 per credit hour) to all students.  
  • Given the limited amount of students who will be physically on campus in fall 2020, we are making a number of additional changes to fall 2020 student fees, including a temporary suspension of the RTD College pass and a 50% reduction in the Auraria Fees and the CU Denver Wellness Center fee.
Given that this campus prides itself on its diverse student population, what actions are you or will you take to get our university faculty and staff to mirror this mirroring diversity? How will CU Denver support our underrepresented students in a social climate that attempts to negate their identity and experience? 

This is the issue facing us as a society and a country right now. We need to be upfront about our past. The history of racism and injustice in this country is appalling and its shameful legacy continues. I recognize that CU Denver is not exempt from this history. It pains me to know we started as a campus that displaced minoritized communities. And we sit on land that belonged to native people. 

I’m proud that this campus has taken a stance to make things right and how much work you all have already accomplished. We still have much to do, and I recognize it’s my personal responsibility to see the work through. I accept that accountability as your chancellor—and I know that I cannot do it alone. That’s why I spent my first 10 days as chancellor listening to you on these issues specifically. As a response to your feedback during my listening sessions, here is what we are doing: 

  • Relaunching the national search for vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion. This position will report solely to the Denver campus and report directly to me
  • Hiring a part-time faculty fellow to advise me and leadership team on DEI issues
  • Working to start an advisory board for AHEC tri-institutional police force
  • Creating an Equity Task Force to put into practice proven methods to recruit, hire, and promote staff and faculty
  • Dedicating time and resources for CU Denver to take a serious look into our teaching and learning environment, our culture, and how we can ensure that it’s safe and welcoming
  • Modeling a listening and learning culture by engaging my cabinet and deans in a training to go deeper on learning equity and racial justice issues.” — Michelle Marks, Chancellor