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Setting the course for student success

A student-focused mission brings presidential finalist Janine Davidson to campus for a series of community forums.

By Cory Phare

February 14, 2017

Over the course of two days, MSU Denver presidential finalist Janine Davidson, Ph.D., is meeting members of the campus community in seven open forums.

On Monday, Davidson began with an all-campus meeting hosted by Board of Trustees Chair Michelle Lucero and Search Committee Chair Rob Cohen in the King Center Concert Hall. Cohen provided the audience with an overview of the search process, from Dr. Jordan’s retirement announcement to assembling the 15-person search committee, and ending with the selection process. From a pool of 68 applicants, the committee reduced the search to three semifinalists and presented them to the Board of Trustees. Cohen also recounted notes from Davidson’s interview, which included descriptors such as “prepared,” “expertise in complex organizational dynamics,” “willingness to learn,” “inclusive,” “entrepreneurial,” and “gravitas.”

“We believe Dr. Davidson will continue Dr. Jordan’s path of creating amazing experiences for students, faculty, staff and alumni,” said Cohen. “My personal opinion is that we got this right.”

Lucero then introduced Davidson and invited her to answer why MSU Denver was the right choice for her.

Davidson emphasized the University’s mission-driven commitment to access, affordability and diversity. She said that MSU Denver is a place where the American Dream still lives, and it reinforces her commitment to creating a workforce-ready engaged citizenry. She also pledged to continue the legacy of Dr. Jordan, including progressive advocacy for DACA and ASSET students.

“I have three top priorities: students, students and students,” said Davidson. “Every single issue has to come back to setting students up for success, and I will wake up every morning thinking about it.”

She finished her remarks by expressing a desire to connect and learn from all constituents of the University community, noting the buzz about campus from everyone she met.

“Just walking around campus, I really got the sense that there’s something special, something cool going on here,” said Davidson. “The passion of everyone is infectious; I knew then I wanted to be part of it.”

Lucero and Cohen then asked Davidson to specifically address her background from both military and academic fields. Davidson pointed out that she considers herself less of a nontraditional candidate and more of a “hybrid,” noting the similarities of budget management, strategy development and public accountability in the two fields.

“Serving in the highest levels of government at the Pentagon was almost like field research,” she said. “My colleague and I would joke about being ‘embedded nerds.’”

Throughout the question and answer session (and subsequent open forums in the Student Success Building), Davidson repeatedly noted the need for open, iterative information-gathering as both a process and prerequisite before she answered specific policy questions.

In both the classified staff and faculty forums, Davidson was asked to address anxieties faced by DACA and ASSET students. She stressed the balancing act between day-to-day support and long-term advocacy.

“I’m very supportive of public efforts to push dialogue. And to best meet the objective of supporting students?’” asked Davidson. “We need to believe in the process and engage with it, while in the day-to-day, focus on our students right here, right now.”

“Beyond being the right thing to do, it’s important [for legislators] to understand the economic impact on Colorado,” she added in the student forum.

Data-driven decision-making also underscored a question brought up in the administrator’s forum about MSU Denver’s funding allocation and budget prioritization. Davidson stressed the need to balance new programs with existing ones, building a culture of programmatic sustainability.

“In the Navy, we had to have conversations about putting ships on the water and planes in the air,” she said. “That required figuring out where we are now while not giving up on innovation; if we don’t take care of immediate moment, there isn’t a future.”

In the faculty forum, Davidson faced several questions about decision-making and funding for different competing priorities across constituencies. She emphasized the need for ongoing, transparent communication among faculty and administration with differing perspectives.

“While we can’t please everyone, we won’t do anything at all if we don’t have the conversation,” said Davidson. “We need to get all of us on one side of the fence and the problem on the other side; if we do that, we’re already a few steps up the ladder.”

And, as she continually noted, the bedrock to all of this is outlined in the University’s mission: student success.

“I plan to help tell the MSU Denver story – the value of this place,” said Davidson in the student forum. “And when students are succeeding, the story starts to tell itself.”

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