Shakespeare reminded us in Julius Caesar of the importance of praising effective leadership with Marc Antony’s famous line “I have come not to bury Caesar but to praise him.”
Too often in our time, citizens and others feel license to offer nothing but criticism of our leaders. But in the person of CU Boulder’s “home grown” Chancellor Phil DiStefano, we have a leader that, so far, is well worth praising.
Having just completed his first 200 days in office, DiStefano has thus far proved to be both visionary and action-oriented. He has demonstrated a grasp of the possibilities of his office with imagination and the true scope of his office.
Just last week CU Boulder was ranked fifth on the Princeton Review’s best value list of public colleges, the same week that the Amgen Corporation committed over a million dollars for the new biotech building on the east campus. Under DiStefano’s leadership NASA has committed over $50 million to CU Boulder for scientific research. He has continued to attract and retain some of the most laudable deans in the country. CU Boulder has now been ranked as the number one “green” university in the nation, while city- university relations continue to improve, just to enumerate a few of his early accomplishments.
But what is most impressive about Chancellor DiStefano thus far are not his skills per se, but the complete “authenticity” from which they spring. Phil DiStefano the person clearly understands the boundaries between himself and his office.
He has already demonstrated an ability to work with Colorado legislators on terms that clearly state CU Boulder’s case without ruffling feathers.
He has shown a keen understanding of the important partnerships that must be forged with the private sector in order for CU Boulder to fulfill its mission of preparing students for an ever-changing workplace.
Finally, he has risen above the intra-campus conflicts that often plague the CU system, and under his leadership the University has a “chance” to truly become an integrated system of higher education rather than a loose confederation of campuses.
It is on the last subject that I want to encourage Chancellor DiStefano to continue his efforts. What sometimes plagues the University most is a narrowness of vision for what the “entire” CU system could be.
From the department level on up, the CU system often suffers from a narrow vision and an overly proprietary orientation.
Professors who seek to create truly interdisciplinary programs and experiences for students face a shortage of resources compared to their colleagues who pursue more “pure” agendas of research and teaching.
Department chairs right up to deans and Chancellors too often work to secure tighter control of their faculties and budgets rather than demonstrating true vision and leadership for what those budgets and faculties can achieve.
Faculty struggle all the while with lower salaries than many of their counterparts around the country, low public esteem, and their own low expectations for the University that rise from the other factors I’ve listed.
Where Chancellor DiStefano can truly make a profound change in our midst is to continue to re-focus CU Boulder’s collective gaze outward — toward students, the public and their representatives — while at the same time working to shore up the various internal challenges that hamper CU Boulder’s progress.
Based on what I’ve seen of his leadership thus far, real progress on these and a host of other issues is within the university’s grasp in these unprecedented economic times. This progress will require equally visionary leadership from the Board of Regents, a legislature willing to see all of CU in a new light, parents and business leaders willing to act as advocates for CU Boulder, and finally, a strengthened, rejuvenated faculty during these constricted state budgetary times.
This is the proverbial tall order. But, as John F. Kennedy reminded us, “this will not be accomplished in the first 100 days or the first 1000 days, but let us begin.”
Former CU Regent