Naropa University’s Next President.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Mar 30, 2009
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Naropa University, in green-minded, progressive, outdoorsy Boulder, Colorado, is an idyllic, alternative small school. Founded only 30 years ago, it’s still forming, still young—and yet its roots go back not only to the Beat poets that founded its excellent writing school, but all the way back to Nalanda University, the Harvard or Oxford of ancient India. It’s a vibrant, artistic, genuine and vibrant community to be a part of, and it’s story is still being created today by its students, staff, faculty and Presidents.

Recently, I was invited to attend a meeting of trustees, faculty, and friends of Naropa University to meet and listen to, and ask questions of, the final two candidates to succeed present President Dr. Thomas Coburn. I only went to one of the meetings—dammit—and while I loved the candidate I met, and his wife (the candidate had me at “Oh, I watched your interviews of Dr. Coburn!”—considering the interviews are two hours long, that’s some thorough extracurricular preparation). The other candidate was also strong, apparently. Both hailed from diverse, intellectually-rich, professionally-stellar backgrounds. 

Still, my concern is thus: I knew former President John Cobb pretty well, and also interviewed him in an early issue of elephant magazine (before we went paperless). I got to know the present President, Dr. Thomas Coburn quite well. I personally admire and respect both. I knew Judy Lief, and Barbara Dilley, and many of the early faculty (my mom was one of them back in the 80s—my dad and ma attended the first summer of Naropa, in 1974. Conveniently, I was born on the day off between two sessions). I consider Naropa’s writing school co-founder Anne Waldman a mentor, and even knew Allen Ginsberg somewhat (I was named after his colleague in Beat arms, Philip Whalen, according to my ma). In 2002, I attended the Jack Kerouac Writing School, got As, but dropped out due to lack of scholarships (at my undergrad education at Boston University—which was/is more expensive than Harvard—I got through four years with $4,000 in debt, total. One semester at Naropa, which at that time couldn’t support poor but academically-excellent folks with scholarships, put me $8K in debt). But all’s well that ends well—I left Naropa to start what would become elephant. Seven years later, it’s my understanding that the financial and scholarship situation at Naropa has a growing foundation.

Anyway: here’s the point. I’ve personally experienced the rising, falling, lefting and righting trajectory that is the short, brilliant history of Naropa University. And here’s where I see things going:

  1. We name a professionally solid, academically-skilled administrator and Naropa becomes more conventional, continues to fail to fundraise adequately, and become just another love-able, small, poor liberal arts school. 
  2. We name someone who gets Naropa’s mission—who isn’t bothered by questions like “are we Buddhist or Buddhist-inspired or not Buddhist at all?” We name someone who will travel 300 days a year, and fundraise so much it’s silly, build new buildings, unite the three campuses to some extent, have a few less classes on diversity understanding and a lot more scholarships to support diversity of every kind, continue Dr. Coburn’s excellent work in making Naropa a green, outward-looking campus, and re-magnetize Naropa’s amazing, underpaid faculty and administration. And hire an excellent, skilled administrator (VP) to actually run the school, day to day.

 I remember when I attended St. Johnsbury Academy, a prep high school, on scholarship. The Headmaster traveled, fundraised, intimidated people, and gave inspiring speeches. His higher-up staffers and faculty ran the school. It was successful, academics were brilliant, teachers were like Robin Williams out of Dead Poets. 

So, Naropa trustees, forget about resumes and fancy academic talk…and find someone with vision, boldness, energy, and an ability to fundraise and delegate.

Let’s make Naropa something cutting-edge, forward-thinking, unique—and financially-solid, and academically-excellent. Our past Presidents have delivered the ball down the field. Now it’s time to forget the running game. Step back, return to our roots, take a deep breath, survey the field…and Hail Mary! 


The beautiful Arapahoe Campus. Right: an old school logo.

naropa boulder university institutenaropa institute


Naropa Institute (now University) founder Chogyam Trungpa (from an early draft of an old issue of elephant magazine).naropa trungpa elephant journal

A few random Naropa videos for those not overly-familiar:


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


8 Responses to “Naropa University’s Next President.”

  1. Darrin Daniel says:

    I agree with option 2 much more than option 1, which is really not an option for a sustainable Naropa future. Just by being able to get a "heavy hitter" is not enough. Someone has to be able to be like Barbara and John. Barbara came up with Naropa as a vision and I think we need someone who could create a new level of enthusiasm and get out and recruit. Agreed. Obviously, this will ruffle some folks at Naropa, but the faculty (i would think) would really agree with that type of leadership direction. It seems like we have always been struggling for some kind of conventional recognition and seen like any other "normal" private university, yet we have not adopted it throughout the entire system (apropos new directional leadership) with a financially viable component. We can be as unique as we want to be, but if we want to advance we have to innovate Chogyam Trungpa's 100 year plan! How do you bring the brightest and the best when their is this financial equation that has never really been advanced or capitalized by getting the word out about what Naropa has to offer.

    Naropa Alumni '91

  2. elephantjournal says:

    Thanks, Darrin. In Chinese tradition, they talk about vision as Heaven and practicality as Earth. The Human principle joins the two.
    Heaven: make Naropa big, brilliant, bold, cutting-edge
    Earth: fundraise, fundraise, fundraise. Pay faculty and staff more. Unite campuses (try).
    Human: capitalize on the great work on our foremothers and forefathers—Dilley, Cobb, Coburn. Our still-strong faculty, and dedicated administration. Our gorgeous campuses, and inspired students. Our heritage, and growing reputation in various fields: writing, hospice, psychology, arts.

  3. elephantjournal says:

    Honor to see you reply, Candidate I Met. That's the danger of writing on such an important peice, as an outsider and non-academic—I really have no idea what I'm talking about, even if I have a good sense of who/what Naropa is and where it needs to go. I did get the sense that you had a strong business/fundraising ability, and whomever the next president is, that to me is one of the keys. Whether it's about getting some rich wonderful people drunk and putting their names on buildings or, as you say, a process that takes time and infrastructure I don't really care. My concern is that teachers I love who contribute so much to Naropa have been underpaid for too long, and we're in danger of losing some of them if such continues. And, I think the three-campus split isn't great, but everyone at Naropa is working on that with their strategic plan, which I've also been an incredibly small part of (invited to meetings to contribute my two cents, which were worth exactly that).

    My feeling is that we'd be honored to have you—if you can show Naropa the money, and if you 'get' who Naropa is, and who it isn't. It was great meeting you.

  4. I believe that if Naropa's vision can encompass the cutting edge of education and create the leadership internally through its students to meet the needs of the future, money and abundance will flow easily to it. I observe that education is the largest investment that people in their late teens to early twenties make with their money. If that money is well invested in an education that bridges the inner development with outer capability, then the world will be catalyzed to the model.

    Currently, as a professor at Naropa, who teaches permaculture and sustainable living skills, I wonder how sustainable it is for my students to be saddled with large debt (as Waylon did for a short period and dropped out of school) and graduate with expanded consciousnesses but a lack of marketable skills.

    I am a believer in the benefits of a wide-ranging liberal arts education but I feel that education in this era of powerful computing, open source sharing of deep traditions, radical economic upheval and ecological shift needs a create a graduate who is ecologically literate but also economically competent to use their skills to create abundance in their communities.


  5. […] was invited to a press conference, just this morning, announcing Naropa University’s decision on their new president. I asked a few questions of Dr. Stuart Lord, who will in […]

  6. […] bonus videos from the same 1978 film of the Naropa poetry scene in Boulder, FRIED SHOES COOKED DIAMONDS, which can be seen in its entirety […]

  7. […] For a bunch more Videos, scroll to the bottom of this old post about Naropa’s vision. […]