When Jim Griesemer arrived at DU in 1990, the University was experiencing a financial freefall. Colorado’s economy was in a downturn, and the University’s enrollment was falling. As the chief financial officer, he approached that crisis head-on.
“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.
Then-Chancellor Dan Ritchie led the broad effort to renew the University, while Griesemer focused on its financial issues, linking revenues and expenditures for each unit. 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. 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.
For 20 years before he came to DU, Griesemer was a city manager. He taught at colleges throughout his public service career, so he was already comfortable in academia. After his role as DU’s CFO, he served as dean of the Daniels College of Business for the next decade, during which he raised the College’s profile—overseeing a 70% increase in enrollment and quintupling the endowment.
The Joy Burns and Daniels buildings were constructed without debt. Degree programs were expanded. And, for the first time, the College received high national rankings—spurring calls from deans worldwide when the Wall Street Journal ranked Daniels in the top 50.
“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,” said Professor of the Practice Stephen Haag, who considered Griesemer a mentor.
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 20 Coloradans along with national and international experts to discuss issues and come to a consensus. Their reports remain available online.
“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 in fall 2020, he continues to serve on DU’s Board of Trustees. After all these years, he’s still in love with the place.