Dean Emeritus Jim Griesemer looks back on three decades of service
When Jim Griesemer arrived at DU in 1990, the University was experiencing a financial freefall. As the chief financial officer, he approached that crisis head-on. His retirement last fall prompted a look back.
For 20 years before he came to DU, Griesemer was a city manager. He taught at colleges throughout his public service career. As a result, he was already comfortable in academia when then-Chancellor Daniel Ritchie hired him.
He faced his first big challenge upon arrival.
“There was a million [point] eight or so deficit, which doesn’t sound like a lot of money in today’s budget world, but it was a very big amount of money given DU’s budget at the time,” Griesemer recalled.
Colorado’s economy was in a downturn, and the University was experiencing falling enrollment. He wanted to know what other factors might have led to the shortfall.
“Chancellor Ritchie was leading the broad effort to renew the University. I was focusing on the financial issues. It became clear that we had a disjoint between revenues and expenditures. The University managed revenues, and expenditures were managed in a decentralized way. So, we created what we called responsibility centers linking the revenues and the expenditures for each unit,” said Griesemer.
He also led the implementation of an innovative gainsharing program that, for the first time, allowed departments to keep a portion of excess revenues and funds they hadn’t spent by fiscal year-end.
Provost Emeritus and Professor Gregg Kvistad said he had a “long and fruitful” professional relationship with Griesemer for more than 20 years.
“I think Jim’s strongest attribute, among many, is his laser-like focus. He came to meetings prepared to work through and discuss various options he had identified and mapped out. He always did his homework,” said Kvistad.
As CFO, Griesemer helped deans understand the financial aspects of their work.
“Political theory professors like me are not trained and typically not interested in the revenue and expense relationship of their workplace. Jim gently and systematically worked with me to embed that in my understanding of academic administration. It became part of me—both when I was dean and even more intensively when I was provost,” said Kvistad.
The steps that Ritchie and Griesemer took to “right the ship,” combined with a concurrent increase in fundraising and enrollments, turned the tide. In four years, the University of Denver was financially stable. (Learn more about those times through oral history interviews conducted with Griesemer in 2019.)
With the financial issues resolved, Griesemer sought a new challenge.
“My plan [initially] was to see if I could play a role in turning the place around. And then I thought, I’d be a college president somewhere. I never counted on falling in love with the University of Denver,” said Griesemer.
He served as dean of the Daniels College of Business for the next decade, during which he was responsible for raising the College’s profile. Over that period, he oversaw a 70% increase in enrollment and quintupled the endowment. The Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management and Daniels buildings were constructed without incurring debt. Degree programs were expanded. And, for the first time, the College received high national rankings.
“I remember the day that the Wall Street Journal ranked us in the top 50. We started getting calls from deans all around the country and abroad asking, ‘Would you like to do a joint project with us?’” said Griesemer.
Professor of the Practice Stephen Haag, who works in Daniels’ Department of Business Information and Analytics, said Griesemer was an essential mentor to him throughout his academic career, beginning when Haag was first hired as an adjunct professor in 1995.
“Jim took me under his wing. He would spend all the time with me that I needed, and he’d listen carefully with a critical ear,” said Haag. “He provided invaluable feedback and guidance as I navigated through all of my administrative responsibilities.”
As much as Haag appreciated their many talks, he also learned from Griesemer’s example.
“Jim’s commitment was heart, soul and mind to the Daniels College of Business, and that was what truly enabled him to succeed and enabled us to succeed,” Haag said.
After leaving his position as dean, Griesemer directed DU’s Strategic Issues Program for 16 years. The program addressed pressing problems—immigration, campaign finance, the state constitution and fiscal sustainability policies. It brought together a panel of about 20 Colorado citizens who met with national and international experts on a topic. Based on a wide range of input, panel members would discuss an issue and come to a consensus, finalizing their work in reports that remain available online.
“It was a nonpartisan discussion. It was about solving a problem, not about winning. It was a remarkable process and brought closer to DU some wonderful folks,” said Griesemer.
Additionally, for 26 years, Griesemer was a professor in the Daniels College of Business, where he taught graduate-level business strategy and strategic management courses.
“As I think about my career at DU, my overwhelming feeling is a sense of gratitude. I feel very fortunate to have come to DU and to have had the chance to deal with interesting questions and hopefully contribute to the University,” Griesemer said.
Even after retiring, he continues to serve on DU’s Board of Trustees. After all these years, he’s still in love with the place.