By Daniel J Vaccaro
In her first major address to the MSU Denver community, President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., made her top priority exceedingly clear – students.
“My three priorities are students, students and students,” she said to a packed house in the King Center Concert Hall at the Sept. 13 Welcome Home event.
The laugh line underscored a theme that ran throughout her address and formed the backbone of her multifaceted vision for the University – that the future of the institution would be built around ensuring that all students have access to upward mobility through higher education; in short, the American dream.
“We are a university that doesn’t define itself by who we exclude, but by who we include,” she said. “This is one of the most important roles higher education has played in our nation … but it is getting harder and harder. Despite the challenges to affordability, MSU Denver should be the model for how to keep this vision alive.”
Fittingly, two of the five focus areas that comprised Davidson’s vision directly addressed student outcomes – strengthening the systems that help students graduate and delivering on the promise of preparing students for success after college.
Davidson also said she aims to change the “fantasy narrative” that has risen up around college rankings.
“The dirty secret of these rankings is that the ‘top’ schools have more students in the top 1 percent than they have in the entire bottom 60 percent. Well, that’s a pretty big head start on running your own road, don’t you think?” she said. “The American dream does not start with the top 1 percent, but somehow that is how this college ranking story is being portrayed. But the 99 percent of people looking to run their own road and lift their lives are precisely why we exist as an institution; and not only are we going to hold the line here, but we are going to use these stories and our stats to change this national narrative.”
Davidson also highlighted three other focus areas in her vision. She said that the University will continue to tackle shrinking resources by building on this year’s record-breaking fundraising numbers and also through the growth and development of additional public-private partnerships. She also spoke about investing in people through better employee engagement and compensation as well as her aim to lead with inclusivity and intention.
To take a deeper look at the five focus areas, Davidson announced plans for the creation of five new councils that will examine the challenges the University faces and provide recommendations to the President’s Cabinet. The issue-based councils will include members from across the University and look at things like strategy, processes and culture.
With this work, Davidson believes that MSU Denver can become “a model urban university for opportunity, diversity, excellence and transformation.”
The core of Davidson’s vision was shaped by several months of listening sessions with the campus community and external stakeholders.
In those conversations, Davidson says she learned a lot about the characteristics that make MSU Denver Roadrunners unique and that employers have come to expect from the University’s graduates. She shared the five traits she heard most often: diverse, tenacious, primed, purposeful and entrepreneurial, which she termed the “Roadrunner Difference.”
“I am committed to ensuring the Roadrunner Difference endures,” she said, “that we continue to deliver high-quality education at an affordable price to as many would-be Roadrunners who want to take this journey.”
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