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Chancellor Robert Coombe inaugurated

Robert Coombe in ceremonial regalia

At his inauguration, Chancellor Coombe said he wants DU to be a place where "differences are our competitive edge." Photo: Michael Richmond

On April 20, in a ceremony rich with tradition, Robert Coombe was inaugurated as the University of Denver’s 17th chancellor.

The University community celebrated Coombe’s inauguration with grand pageantry. The carillon heralded the start of the ceremony at Magness Arena while faculty from DU and 30 other U.S. and international institutions filed onto the floor in a rainbow of academic regalia behind students bearing the flags of 40 nations. Members of the Consular Corps were in attendance, and on the dais, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper joined Board of Trustees Chair Dan Ritchie in recognizing a new era of leadership at DU.

“For 142 years, the University of Denver has been lighting a flame of knowledge for Colorado citizens,” Owens said. “We trust that you, Robert Coombe, will carry that torch far into the future.”

Ritchie officially installed Coombe as chancellor, presenting him with the University medallion and a handful of gold buttons for the red vest traditionally worn by DU chancellors. He charged Coombe with preserving the University’s assets and accomplishments, with nurturing the scholarship of faculty and students, and with sharing his leadership and vision with the communities of Denver and DU.

“The university you have served with passion and integrity calls upon you to lead and inspire us,” Ritchie said.

Student, faculty, staff and alumni representatives also welcomed Coombe as chancellor and pledged their support.

In his inaugural address, Coombe vowed to meet the financial needs of every DU student by increasing DU’s endowment. He committed the University to a leading role in the internationalization of higher education, to increasing diversity, developing new partnerships with the private sector and to serving the city of Denver.

Symbols of the University of Denver chancellorship

The mace: A mace was originally a heavy staff or club used as a weapon of war. Later it became a scepter of office, borne on ceremonial occasions. The University of Denver mace is three feet long and made of sterling silver with gold plating. Near its crown, six Colorado gemstones alternate with six symbols that represent the scope of the University.

The medallion: Worn by the chancellor for official academic functions, the silver and gold medallion is suspended by a massive silver chain that bears the names of the University’s 17 chancellors.

The red vest: In 1900, Chancellor Henry Buchtel hosted a senior breakfast in his home and wore a handsome red vest. In later years, DU quarterbacks were promised similar red vests if they led the Pioneers to victory. The tradition lapsed until Chancellor Chester Alter resurrected it for gala occasions. Since then, many University of Denver chancellors have sported red vests of their own, wearing them as symbols of leadership, hope and promise.

Coombe described the waves of change washing over academia and promised that DU would lead the transformation of higher education by embracing times of change as times of opportunity. He committed to building new research and financial partnerships with the private sector to supplant rapidly diminishing federal funding.

To attract the best and the brightest students from every walk of life, Coombe pledged to work tirelessly to build the University’s financial resources. Despite more than 70 percent of DU students receiving some financial aid, he said, the University cannot fully meet every student’s financial need. Coombe set a goal of meeting those needs by increasing the endowment to “multiples of its current value” by the University’s 150th anniversary in 2014.

“I believe that every student who can benefit from the truly distinctive education we provide here, every one who has the intellect, commitment and integrity to succeed at DU, should have the opportunity to do so,” he said.

To an ovation from the more than 1,300 people in attendance, Coombe also passionately described his vision for diversity at DU, calling on the University to be a place that respects and celebrates difference.

“It’s about the excellence that can be achieved from a blending of lives, different in many dimensions, focused on achievement,” Coombe said. “I want DU to be another kind of oasis, where students, faculty and staff of many colors, many religions, many nationalities, many philosophies, many perspectives and persuasions work together, think together and create together.

“I want it to be a place where those differences are our competitive edge.”

Visit for more information about Chancellor Robert Coombe and the inauguration ceremony, including audio and video recordings of the chancellor’s inaugural address.

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