Campus & Community

Chancellor Chopp and former University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman discuss the future of higher education

More than 300 University of Denver faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends gathered Tuesday at the Cable Center near campus for a “fireside chat” featuring Chancellor Rebecca Chopp and Mary Sue Coleman, president emerita of the University of Michigan and a member of DU’s Board of Trustees.

The conversation, titled “The Future of Higher Education for Work and Community,” offered insights on the importance of research universities, the secrets of fundraising, the crucial nature of public-private partnerships, and how to design campus spaces where intellectual curiosity can flourish.

Coleman said that when she was at Michigan, it was important that campus residences intersect with the intellectual life of the university.

“We designed collaborative spaces where faculty could go to lecture, students could meet and performances would take place,” she said. “We created living pods with common spaces for people from different disciplines to live together, all in the heart of campus.”

Asked how the University of Michigan approached graduate student housing, Coleman said that the institution acquired a seven-story building near campus where graduate scholars could live collaboratively among visiting faculty members. This gave both groups the opportunity to interact across disciplines.

To catalyze community engagement and public-private partnerships during a time when Michigan was experiencing record unemployment, Coleman noted that the university dedicated itself to becoming an anchor institution for the state. Under Coleman’s leadership, UM built technology accelerators and a business engagement center. It also created interdisciplinary academic programs and entrepreneurship certificates to help address economic and social issues across the state.

“UM had a huge responsibility to respond [during the recession],” Coleman said. “We started by revising all of our policies; it took us five years to do what we needed to do. We granted intellectual property rights to students and created a business engagement center where local professionals could access our intellectual resources more efficiently. We were open for business, and our students were pushing us and leading the way.”

To support these ongoing partnerships, Coleman was tasked with raising prodigious sums, which she did, to the tune of $3.2 billion — the most ever raised by a public university. During her presidency, Coleman also was selected by President Barack Obama to help launch the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a national effort to bring together industry, universities and the federal government to tackle critical initiatives.

Asked by Chopp to share her “secret sauce” for fundraising, Coleman said that being a good listener and translator between a donor’s desires and the university’s needs was paramount.

“It’s mostly about helping donors fulfill their dreams and helping faculty members articulate how their research impacts people — the nexus between the two,” Coleman said. “I loved being able to explain to people the exciting things we were doing. I enjoyed making people happy by giving them the opportunity to realize a dream through their donation. It’s one of the most fulfilling parts of the job.”

For a private university such as DU to continue to thrive, Coleman said, exploring the power of partnerships across the Front Range will help connect the University’s research with the social and economic needs of Colorado.






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