Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Chancellor takes questions from parents of new undergraduates

From questions about honor, ethics and the University of Denver’s place in the world to a simple inquiry about the University’s flip-flopped initials, Chancellor Robert Coombe covered a variety of topics during the annual question-and-answer session for parents of new undergraduate students on Sept. 8.

The session allows direct communication with the chancellor and other top administrators and is part of special programming for parents and families during Discoveries, DU’s undergraduate orientation. The first question, probably one that was on more than a few minds, was about the DU’s initials.

Coombe admitted it’s never been 100 percent clear why the school is known as DU, just that it is.

“That is a Rocky Mountain regional tradition. We have always, always been DU,” he said. “If we were to go to U of D, there would be about 100,000 angry alumni.”

Other questions focused on bigger issues.

Coombe touched on DU’s vision for the future, which includes widening its international reach and continuing to enhance educational opportunities.

“The focus for the University right now is improving its academic quality,” he said. “You will see us not getting bigger, but you will see us adding faculty and adding programs.”

Asked about DU’s unusual quarter system, instead of the more common semester system, Coombe told parents the goal is to provide the greatest variety of courses possible. That said, Coombe noted the University is focused on becoming more flexible, allowing for courses as short as five weeks or as long as 20. The goal, he said, is to meet student needs rather than sticking to a rigid calendar.

Coombe outlined a host of new construction projects on campus and talked about academic efforts, spotlighting how the School of Engineering and Computer Science (SECS) has been rejuvenated with a mission to offer programs that inspire scientific research and learning and apply that knowledge to entrepreneurship.

Coombe called on Computer Sciences and Engineering Dean Rahmat Shoureshi to explain how that program, for example, focuses on helping student researchers and faculty conduct research that meets the needs of society and brings new ideas to the marketplace. That effort includes developing a technology incubator that will help shepherd innovation from the lab to the community.

“More than a quarter of the engineering students who get a degree at DU also leave the University with a business degree,” Coombe told parents.

And as the world becomes a more complicated place subject to lapses in ethical judgment, he said, classroom discussions are honed to stress the importance of ethical decision making and integrity in every profession.

Financially, he said, DU is stronger than most schools. The University planned carefully during the good times and was on firm footing even as the economy struggled in the past year. He said administrators are mindful of higher education’s cost and are determined to hold costs as low as possible. The bottom line, he said, is that tuition goes directly into academic programs, ensuring students benefit from low faculty-to-student ratios. An ongoing effort to build the University’s endowment will help manage tuition growth, and DU has of late held tuition increases well below national averages.

“The prognosis for us is really very good,” he said.

Coombe said DU continues to see itself as a national university, drawing a majority of its students from outside Colorado, while retaining its proud connection to a city that was founded only six years before the University was established in 1864. Moving forward, DU is becoming more and more an international institution.

“We are very well positioned to become the great international school for Denver, as Denver becomes an international city,” he said.

For students, that means educational opportunities with a globally minded faculty based in a vibrant, growing city with a host of activities to offer when they are not in the classroom, he said.

When they are ready to graduate, Coombe said for those 60 percent who choose not to attend graduate school, DU is expanding and developing its placement office and strengthening ties to alumni and the community to help students land that first challenging job in the real world.

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