Magazine Feature

Chancellor Duncan helped turn around DU’s financial instability

When Chancellor Frederick Hunter abruptly quit in 1935, DU trustees seized upon David Shaw Duncan, a dean renowned for his popularity with faculty and students, self-discipline and “capacity for patience.”

Duncan had come to DU in 1906 as an instructor in the department of history and economics. He rose to head the history department, then went on to become dean of the school of Liberal Arts and of the Graduate School.

Trustees persuaded him to become DU’s sixth chancellor, Allen D. Breck wrote in his history of DU, and he persuaded the faculty to take a 6 percent salary cut.

“His goal was to bring the school out of its financial problems,” Breck wrote in From the Rockies to the World: The History of the University of Denver, 1864–1997.

Duncan did so and by 1939 had balanced the budget and restored 50 percent of the salary reduction the faculty had self-imposed six years previous.

But Duncan’s impact went beyond bookkeeping. He brought to the chancellorship a background in political science and history at a time when democracies around the world were under assault and the role of universities under debate.

Duncan spoke out forcefully on behalf of “free inquiry” and the modern university, emphasizing higher education’s duty to be the “interpreter of knowledge” and “to see that the various viewpoints are presented.”

“Is the next generation to find its values in some closed form of thought, like certain European countries?” he asked in an address reported in the Christian Science Monitor in 1936. “. . .  The danger to democratic institutions is not in pointing out their defects and shortcomings, but in suppressing discussion and facts.”

Less than six years later, Europe was in chains and the world was at war.

Read about the future of Duncan’s old apartment.

Comments are closed.