Dennis Wittmer retires after more than three decades at the Daniels College of Business

Dennis Wittmer is a teammate in every sense of the word.

He’s proud of it, his colleagues know it and he imparts those lessons on his students too.

In the frequently siloed world of higher education, Wittmer is a connector, a collaborator and an ally to all he crossed paths with. If you ask him his proudest memories as a professor at the Daniels College of Business, it should come as no surprise that he defaults to team teaching with fellow faculty members.

“Every one of those faculty members who flowed in and out brought something new and innovative to the whole dynamic of the team,” he said of team teaching the Business for the Public Good course. “And to me, that was just the best.”

Now, after more than three decades teaching in the Department of Management, Wittmer is stepping back, cheering the team on from the sidelines in retirement.

He arrived at the University of Denver in 1991, following his wife as she had accepted an academic position at another institution in the city. His expertise was public policy, management and ethics, making Wittmer a perfect fit for Daniels’ ethics-based business education. He’s proud of the curriculum that the College has developed over his tenure. The key, he says, is giving students the tools needed to navigate their careers as ethical leaders.

“We’re giving them practice before they’re in real situations to make more informed judgments,” he said. “And our educational experience will, I hope, strengthen their ability to be practically wise, as well as ethical. To be more practically wise in how they’re running companies, managing companies and living their own personal lives.”

Photo of Dennis Wittmer

Dennis Wittmer

He’d rise through the ranks as an adjunct instructor, assistant and associate professor, and, ultimately, full-time professor, a title he’s held since 2007. Across that journey, Wittmer was up for any challenge. He’s taught classes across various levels at the University, ranging from first quarter freshmen courses to the Executive MBA and Executive PhD offerings. Always a willing contributor, he wouldn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, say no.

“Some people, I suppose, like to stick with what they’re familiar with. I am not that person. I love to be challenged and I love new opportunities,” he said.

In the spirit of being challenged, he fondly recalls leading a freshmen seminar course one fall that held every class outside.

“I had a goal one fall to see if I could make it through the entire quarter and never be inside a classroom,” he said with a smile. “And we would meet outside every day. And I made it one time through the entire fall without a rain shower.”

In addition to his roles in the classroom, Wittmer has worn a variety of hats on the leadership side of the College. He has been frequently involved in curriculum design, was part of the committee for the creation and administration of the Daniels Code of Academic Integrity, served on a past Dean’s search committee, helped design Race and Case, a signature case competition and ski race for the College, and served as chair and co-chair, with Cindi Fukami, of the Management Department for a decade.

Fukami, along with Doug Allen, have been mainstays in Wittmer’s fondest co-teaching memories. She lauded Wittmer’s knack for working in teams.

“When you look in the dictionary, the word “colleague” should have Dennis’s name,” Fukami said. “He exemplifies everything about that term: a great team member, partner, collaborator and ally.”

She added that Wittmer did more than just walk-the-walk when it came to ethics, it is ingrained in the fiber of his being.

“His impact on all of us is enormous. He not only taught ethics, he lived ethics. He lived well and was well-loved,” Fukami added.

Allen said he respected Wittmer’s consciousness of the DNA of the College and desire to do right by the students and faculty

“Over the years, if we appeared to be drifting from our DNA, it has often been Dennis who has lovingly nudged us back, often prefacing his words with, ‘As the source of historical perspective in the College,’” Allen said. “We have learned so much from Dennis about how to infuse ethical considerations into our classes–taking on hard issues, while avoiding confrontation.”

Dennis Wittmer

Dennis Wittmer with his grandson at his recent retirement celebration.

Wittmer isn’t leaving Daniels because he feels teaching has passed him by or that’s he tired of the daily, weekly and quarterly grind. Quite the contrary, he said.

“There are a lot of days where I feel like I’m teaching better than I ever have and am more connected than I ever have been with my students,” he said.

Instead, the decision hit him out of the blue. One night while grading papers he began to ponder retirement. He’s not traditionally a snap decision maker, so he decided to approach it as if he would any other business or ethical issue, considering all sides.

“I sat down with the computer, quickly opened it up, and asked myself, ‘what would I do if I retired?’ And within five minutes I had 15 or 20 things on that list, and I did not have to do pros, cons or some kind of net present value. I didn’t need that,” he said. “It just was intuitively clear to me that this was the time.”

He’ll retire from Daniels officially at the end of June, using his newfound free time to travel (the French Riviera is up first) and spend more time with his family. Wittmer will also be searching for a community that matches the one he had at Daniels.

Always hungry for knowledge and willing to share with others, Wittmer referenced Harvard’s long-running longevity study when asked how he’d spend his time in retirement. That study found that maintaining relationships was the key to longer and healthier lives, and Wittmer knows he’ll have a hole to fill leaving Daniels.

“The community here has been absolutely remarkable from top to bottom in my 33 years,” he said. “And I have another community like that for our retirement.”

Wittmer added his profuse appreciation for Daniels.

“I was so fortunate to find Daniels 33 years ago,” he said. “I’ve loved being part of a community that supports the importance of ethics in business and the power of business for achieving social good, along with financial success.”