In 2014, Rebecca Chopp made history at the University of Denver by becoming the University’s first female chancellor. However, now it seems as though she may be making a different kind of history at the University, creating what some – in particular sexual assault survivors and members of the Greek system- charge as an increasingly controversial and even questionable legacy.
Chopp has accomplished a great deal since receiving her B.A. from Kansas Wesleyan University, Master of Divinity from the St. Paul School of Theology, and her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. She has been the president of Colgate University and Swarthmore and is currently the Chancellor of the University of Denver.
Chopp brought a lot of experience with her to DU: She had been the president of both Colgate University and Swarthmore, the provost and executive vice president of academic affairs at Emory University, and the dean at Yale University.
When she came to the University of Denver, Chopp emphasized that she cared about student opinion. In fact, she was quoted as saying that she was looking forward to engaging with the University of Denver students.
“As chancellor, I look forward to engaging with faculty, students, staff, alumni and the DU trustees along with the communities we serve, as we advance the university’s vision to be a great private university in service to the public good, preparing students to live lives of meaning, purpose and accomplishment,” she said.
However, when examining Chopp’s past and the future currently being built at the University of Denver with her at the helm, some in the DU community believe student opinion is not something Chopp has ever truly cared about, and is not likely to truly care about in the near future.
Chopp entered the institution of Colgate University in 2002 and left in 2009. While she was president of Colgate, she presided over some decisions many at the institution found controversial. Under Chopp, Colgate University forced what some say were unwanted and unpopular strategies on the campus. According to Christine Burtt, former executive director of A Better Colgate, previously known as Students & Alumni for Colgate, Chopp simultaneously ignored the voices of students and alumni.
Burtt stated that, “In regards to Greek life, Rebecca Chopp believed that one transgression on the part of one person was enough to take everyone down.”
In 2005, the Board of Trustees with the help of Chopp, sought to implement a four-year residential program. While such a program may appear innocuous, the repercussions, according to some, were far reaching.
The campaign evolved from a four-year residential program to a statement being issued by Colgate, in which the university essentially pressured Greek organizations on campus to sell or face elimination. According to Burtt, “Chopp was hired at Colgate to deconstruct Greek life – she was aggressive and unreasonable.”
The “Residential Education Vision,”mandated that all students live in university owned housing, including fraternity and sororities. This ignored the fact that Greek life had been an essential aspect of Colgate University for 149 years.
Colgate’s Greek life tried to work with the school, stating that if the school allowed them to keep their houses Greek life would have “…long-term leases with the school, immediate and unquestioned access to the houses by university personnel, in-house residential advisors, and required residential education training for the Greek-letter undergraduates.”
However, Colgate, led by the Board of Trustees and Chopp, refused to listen to any of the efforts put forward by the Greek organizations.
According to Chopp,“Any private property owned by fraternities or sororities that had not been sold to the University would lose their recognition, and that any student who participated in an unapproved organization would be subject to suspension or expulsion.”
Eventually, five fraternities and two sororities gave in to the demands of Chopp and Colgate, while others disbanded.
At the time, according to an official crime incident report provided by the Campus Safety Department at Colgate University, between 2005 and 2007 there were four forcible sex offenses on on-campus property, four forcible sex offenses in residential facilities and zero on non-campus building or property. In terms of liquor law violation and drug law violations, between 2005 and 2007 there were a total of 958 drug and liquor law violations in on-campus property, 862 drug and liquor law violations in residential facilities, and one case of drug and liquor law violations in non-campus buildings or property. These numbers show that more forcible sex offenses, liquor law violations, and drug law violations were occurring in on-campus property and residential facilities than any non-campus buildings or properties, which were where Greek life houses were located.
In 2009, Chopp left Colgate University and became the president of Swarthmore College. However, Chopp’s approach at Colgate went with her.
At Swarthmore, students brought to Chopp the issues of mishandling several sexual assault cases, and the divestment of resources away from fossil fuel companies. The issues and lack of response to the issues became a controversial topic on the Swarthmore campus, receiving an inquiry by the U.S. Department of Education and receiving the name, “the spring of our discontent.”
Swarthmore students rallied together throughout Chopp’s time there to confront her. The student body rallied together at a May 4th Board of Managers meeting where students demanded Chopp listen to the issues of sexual assault and divestment. However, the only response from Chopp was an email to the student body.
In it, she stated that, “Acrimony, hurtful accusations, and distrust have been expressed all around the campus. We are all tired. The community we love, at least most of the time, is fraying at its edges.”
At the end of 2014, Chopp decided to leave Swarthmore, unexpectedly, to became the Chancellor at the University of Denver. This resignation stunned the faculty and staff with her reason being that she had the desire to live in Denver and that it had nothing to do with the challenges she faced at Swarthmore.
Now that Chopp has arrived at the University of Denver, some students and advisors at DU feel as though her old patterns are resurfacing. For example, during Chopp’s short tenure at DU so far, forcible fondling has never been so prevalent around the campus, CAPE seems to be the only positive organization for sexual assault survivors, DU is currently on a list of Higher Education Institutions with open Title IX sexual violence investigations, and our Greek life has slowly come to a halt.
Between March 11, 2016 and May 10, 2016, the University of Denver Department of Campus Safety daily crime log report has had 12 cases of harassment or sexual assault — and it is likely more have gone unreported.
However, for the sexual assault and harassment cases that have been reported, the support from CAPE and the director Dr. Gillian Kaag have been unwavering; Kaag believes that even though reports of sexual assault and harassment are increasing, sexual assault on campus itself is not increasing.
“I think the number of individuals who have reported has increased, I don’t think there has necessarily been an increase in assaults happening. I think the increase in reports is a good thing, because it means that students are trusting the system,” stated Kaag.
In terms of Greek life at DU, Sigma Alpha Epsilon has been expelled from campus, and other fraternities say they are suffering from the restrictions Chopp has put in place.
“I think she is overall trying to make fraternities obsolete, and is pulling strings to make it harder for us to exist,” says one DU fraternity member who preferred to stay anonymous.
Kat Cobb, a Greek advisor for the Theta chapter of Gamma Phi Beta at the University of Denver for the past six years, when asked what she believed that future of greek life would be at the University of Denver, responded with, “That is still to be determined, I am skeptical. Liliana Rodriguez, the Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence, is saying that we will have a more open communication between the Greek life advisors and her office. But, I feel like those are just words and it will be interesting to see if and how those words are implemented.”
In a quantitative survey which polled 55 University of Denver students, conducted by another University of Denver student around campus a couple of weeks ago, 82.69 percent of students polled said that they do not feel Chopp has had a positive impact on Greek life, 82 percent said they do not feel Chopp handles the issues of sexual assault on campus appropriately, and 94 percent said they do not feel that they have a voice on the University of Denver campus.
Chopp seems to be ignoring the issues at the University of Denver, and charging forward with her agenda. After looking at Chancellor Chopp’s past, one can see that history might begin to repeat itself here at the University of Denver.