Campus & Community

Chancellor Chopp brings educator’s voice to Aspen Ideas Festival

University of Denver Chancellor Rebecca Chopp attended the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival as one of 28 emerging leaders selected by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations as their 2015 Arthur Vining Davis Aspen Fellows. Chopp joined other fellows at the annual conference, which ran June 25 through July 4 in Aspen, Colo.


Q: The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations operate as a grant-making institution primarily in the areas of private higher education, secondary education, graduate theological education, health care and public television. What’s significant about being named among the organization’s first class of Aspen Fellows?

A: The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations believed there was a need to have more people who are involved in education at the Aspen Ideas Festival. The foundations also wanted to support innovative leaders in education and to engage such leaders in conversation about the future of innovation, leadership and excellence in education.


Q: The Ideas Festival is known for bringing together public officials, artists, scientists, authors, business executives, scholars, economists, foreign policy specialists, entrepreneurs, and leaders of all kinds. With such a wide array, what stood out for you at this year’s event?

A: There were so many sessions and so many people, it is hard to say any one thing stood out! I attended several sessions on neuroscientific research relating to children and the developing brain. It was fascinating. I also attended various sessions on international issues, the quest for meaningfulness, the nature of millennials, and one session on women and leadership. One of my favorite sessions featured artists who are using art to transform neighborhoods in Detroit and Houston.


Q: What insights or ideas did you hear that could involve or impact higher education?

A: I saw a great hunger for political conversation across party lines on difficult topics such as climate change, poverty and education. Maybe it is just the nature of being in Aspen, but I did sense that people were really anxious to start framing problems in a way that could lead to joining together to find solutions. I think the role of the arts in innovation, community engagement and cultural change was emphasized in a powerful fashion. The need for new moral leadership stood out as especially relevant for higher ed. But critically speaking, I became concerned about the lack of institutional and historical analysis or awareness, especially in some of the sessions focusing on millennials. Indeed, I have suggested to the planners that some sessions at next year’s Aspen Institute be focused on the importance of history and the importance of building and changing institutions. There was too much overlap between the celebration of individual entrepreneurship and how to find individual meaningfulness. It was as if there was a subtle message that everyone should just focus on his or her own meaning and success. I don’t think we can live without institutions, and I know it is not wise to ignore the lessons of history as we face the problems in our country and around the world.


Q: What’s next for the Arthur Vining Davis Fellows?

A: I think the foundations, ably led by Nancy Cable, will invite another group of innovative leaders to be Aspen Fellows next year. The fellows will serve as consultants, of a sort, to the foundations. I have already been in contact with several fellows I met who work on persistence rates, especially among underrepresented groups on campus. So what is next for me is to follow up with some of the new resources this group could bring to DU.



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