This month marks one year since I assumed the presidency of the University of Colorado — an eventful year, to be sure. Nine months in, COVID-19 struck. Coincidentally, nine months into my career as a U.S. congressman, the 9/11 attacks happened. Experience has taught me that effective leadership in times of crisis requires promptly responding to the pressing demands of the moment while keeping a keen eye fixed on the actions necessary for post-crisis success. Working in partnership with the Board of Regents, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and Coloradans, CU must continue forward with a proactive, future-focused approach.
As the state’s flagship university and one of its largest employers, CU is tightly woven into the fabric of Colorado and has been since 1876. We are committed to making meaningful contributions to the quality of life — and the quality of our workforce — across the state and beyond.
Given our intellectual capacity, research, innovation and educational offerings, CU is poised to play a pivotal role in developing practical solutions for the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Since the start of the pandemic, CU has made significant contributions to the state’s battle against the virus. Experts on our campuses have offered critical guidance to Gov. Jared Polis and his team in developing protocols for Colorado, while adding to the arsenal being used to fight it. Our researchers have developed antibody tests and a saliva-based COVID test. We are helping to advance therapeutics and the search for a vaccine.
Even before the full force of the pandemic revealed itself, however, we pivoted quickly to remote teaching and work to ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff. We then moved from triage to stabilization by planning how to safely open our campuses this fall while unifying higher education leaders statewide to address the fiscal fallout.
Certainly, pandemic-induced economic realities pose significant challenges. But in the face of uncertain enrollment numbers and substantial budget and funding reductions, I see opportunities for transformation in key areas. Since day one of my presidency, I recognized the urgency of defining our strategic priorities, accelerating our online offerings and enhancing our technological capabilities.
We began work on them last fall, and our future success hinges on continued advancement and investment in them. CU must meet the ever-changing lifestyles and learning styles of our students and the demands of our digitized society with robust online and on-campus portfolios and the technology to deliver both seamlessly.
Another opportunity for transformation lies in our work to foster diversity, inclusion, equity and access. These principles have long been at the core of how we meet our educational mission, but as events related to racial justice continue to unfold across the nation and on our campuses, we can do more. We have a special obligation as an institution of higher education to confront racism and inequality. This work will strengthen our university and help ensure equitable access to a quality higher education and a positive student experience for all — fundamental steps toward a more just society.
Also central to our mission are discovery, innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit. As the nation’s 10th most prolific public research university — and 20th in a global ranking of universities granted U.S. utility patents — CU continues to improve lives and advance society in Colorado and beyond.
Maintaining our competitive edge as a university and a nation is directly tied to protecting our intellectual property and creative solutions. With rigorous cybersecurity programming like that at UCCS, and initiatives that harness the collective expertise of all four CU campuses, including a new National Security Advisory Group, CU is an increasingly important contributor to the nation’s current and future space and security efforts.
Undeniably, this is a watershed moment. CU is committed to continued transformation so we emerge from the pandemic as an even more meaningful contributor to the future success of our graduates, the Pikes Peak region, our state and nation.
Mark Kennedy is president of the University of Colorado.