Letter to the Editor: The Chancellor’s message to students

Chancellor Pamela Shockley-Zalabak

January 2017

Dear UCCS students,

     After 40 years on this campus, the last 15 as chancellor, I knew that my thoughts would turn toward all of you as my time as chancellor grew short. That time is now. On Feb. 15, I will leave campus, and the very capable Venkat Reddy will take over as interim chancellor. A search for a new UCCS chancellor is already underway.

     It is you, the students, who have been at the center of my work on our campus. Always, I strove to be your champion. My commitment has been singular: to provide higher educational opportunities to students no matter what their circumstances. More than 80 percent of you work while you pursue your studies. Many of you support families. Others of you are the first in your family to go to college. Thousands of you served in our armed services, or have family members who do. All of you, wherever you came from and whatever degree you are pursuing, are irreplaceable members of this campus community. You are valued. And I could not be more proud to have served as your chancellor and faculty member.

     In these waning days, I am struck by the very many happy memories I have of my time here. As many of you know, I have continued to teach and conduct research while serving as chancellor. I am thrilled every time I run into a student or alum in the grocery store or a city park. My bonds with you run deep.

     I also am struck by the very urgent need for the very existence of the university. Much of my recent tenure has been devoted to safeguarding the fundamental aspects of higher education that we hold dear – academic freedom, freedom of speech and the expression of ideas, inclusion, respect for diverse viewpoints, the importance of inquiry and the unremitting need for intelligent and thoughtful discourse. As student members of this academic community, it is imperative we take seriously our responsibility to protect the university in each of these areas on behalf of our communities, state, nation and the world.

     The tone of our campus is defined by the quality of interactions among members of our community, including our students. Our differences – be they race, gender, religion, gender identity, national origin or political belief – do not separate us. They enrich us.

     Every student at UCCS – man, woman, gay, straight, transgender, Muslim, Jew, Christian, immigrant or native-born, Democrat or Republican, young or old – has earned a place on this campus. Each person deserves support and respect.

     Late last year, as I prepared for the announcement of the end of my tenure as chancellor, I also prepared for the December commencement. I turned to the words and actions of CU President George Norlin, who led CU from 1917 to 1939 for guidance.

     Each commencement, a regent recites the Norlin pledge as one of the last actions of the day. In part, the pledge reads:

     “Wherever you are at work, there is the university at work. What the university purposes to be, what it must always strive to be, is represented on its seal, which is stamped on your diplomas – a lamp in the hands of youth. If its light shines not in you and from you, how great is its darkness! But if it shines in you today, and in the thousands before you, who can measure its power?”

     President Norlin is known for his courage in the face of those who demanded that he fi re Jewish and Catholic faculty. He faced down a reportedly KKK-led Colorado General Assembly. Lawmakers retaliated by reducing funding to the university. Each member of the campus community felt the sting of the General Assembly’s actions. However, because of that stance, the university emerged with a solid ethical and moral base that has sustained it through numerous challenges.

     At each commencement, as I hear the words of President Norlin, I commit myself yet again to these principles. I commit myself anew even now, as I prepare for a new chapter in my life. You, the students of UCCS, are the reason I came, the reason I stayed and importantly the reason I always will care. As I always have, I will continue to cheer you on from afar.