Office of the President

Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.

Welcome Back!
September 13, 2011

While the fall 2011 semester began a couple of days later than expected, Hurricane Irene couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm for another exciting academic year. I thank everyone who worked so hard to ensure a safe and successful move-in for UD students—those who tracked the storm carefully, making difficult hour-by-hour decisions, and those who reorganized an already tight schedule based on them; those who kept the entire UD family well-informed throughout the storm, and those who kept our buildings secure.

The campus looks as though it never met Irene—and that’s because significant debris left in her wake was cleared as soon as the hurricane passed. Many sacrificed parking spaces to facilitate students’ late return, and shuttles operated nearly round the clock to serve displaced employees. I know quite a few of you donned your own “Arrival Survival Team” T-shirts, and helped students lug a seemingly endless supply of boxes from cars to residence halls. Again, I thank you all.

Affirmation of Accreditation
This summer, we celebrated a significant milestone; the Middle States Commission on Higher Education reaffirmed UD’s accreditation and commended us for quick and substantial progress on our Path to Prominence. We asked the Commission to look critically at our first three Path to Prominence goals: excellence in undergraduate education, in graduate education and research, and in professional education. The evaluators praised the goals and our efforts thus far to achieve them. They gave us valuable feedback on our direction and capabilities, on where we’ve excelled and where we need to focus attention. I’ll be talking a great deal about these strengths and challenges over the upcoming year.

The evaluators also acknowledged what our own Strategic Plan Review Committee last year called a “dizzying pace of change.” And while I’m grateful for your relentless drive to achieve our ambitious plans, I know what prolonged “dizziness” induces. Now that we’ve faithfully evaluated our mission, now that we’ve put in place several initiatives to fulfill it, it’s time for thoughtful, deliberative follow-through—a steady focus on implementation. It’s time we entrench ourselves in execution.

This isn’t an exhortation to stop what we’re doing—not by a long shot. (We’ll continue moving forward, adding programs, partnerships and expertise that strengthen our impact.) But it is an invitation to step back and truly consider how well we’re doing what we’ve set out to do—to put our full strength and resources behind our efforts so that we can be confident of their success.

Strength Through Challenges
Certainly, these efforts are made more difficult by the challenging economy, which has constricted state support to the University. Through the worst of this economic downturn, UD has seen a $15 million reduction in state appropriations, and state support now accounts for just under 12 percent of our operating budget, down from 17.2 percent in fiscal year 2008. And yet UD has been resilient—resilient enough to maintain pay raises, including a merit increase this year. In a national higher education landscape marked by austerity, we’re grateful to be able to continue rewarding your hard work and deep commitment.

In implementing necessary budget reductions, we’ve made strategic cuts to our administrative units alone in order to preserve resources for our academic functions. Additionally, through Responsibility-Based Budgeting (RBB), we’ve decentralized budget authority so that the faculty and staff closest to the programs we administer have the most say in discussions regarding their funding.

It’s fair to say that we introduced RBB at an exquisitely bad time, going into a recession whose full strength hadn’t yet been revealed. Plus, our processes, data and training were inadequate for a system that marked such a departure for UD. But I firmly believe it’s the direction we must go. In its accreditation report, the Middle States evaluators agreed; they credited RBB with catalyzing profound change at UD and pushing decision making out and down throughout the University.

We will improve the budget training we provide and ensure that the management processes and controls fundamental to the system’s success are in place. Despite the difficulties encountered at RBB’s outset—what our Strategic Plan Review Committee called “birth pangs”—the system is yielding more informed decision making, better stewardship of our resources, greater accountability for achieving established outcomes and a higher return on our investment.

A 21st Century Campus
Given the number of priorities competing for the state’s limited resources, we’re grateful that the Governor and General Assembly have allocated significant funding to campus building projects. Ten million dollars in fiscal year 2012 capital funds will expedite badly needed renovations to Alison Hall and construction of the Life Sciences Research Facility on Delaware Avenue.

Meanwhile, state funding committed to the Science and Technology Campus is advancing our redevelopment efforts there. We’re indebted to the Governor, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Delaware Economic Development Office, the Delaware Department of Transportation, the General Assembly and the City of Newark for their dedication to this important project. It’s this sort of broad partnership that has attracted the interest of Bloom Energy, a California-based fuel cell company planning to locate a manufacturing facility on the property—a move that could net Newark 1,500 jobs over several years.

Redevelopment of the Science and Technology Campus is proceeding well, and we expect demolition and debris removal to be completed by the end of 2011. An 85-percent recycling rate and strong worldwide commodity markets mean the University is actually making money on demolition. The revenue generated will be used for site stabilization, remediation, security and operations.

Nearly two weeks ago, we cut the ribbon on the new UD Bookstore, an enormous project completed in just 335 days. The construction timeline and quality are a powerful testament to the hard work of our Facilities staff and our contracting partners. Renovation and expansion of athletic and recreation facilities continue: Improvements to Delaware Stadium were unveiled at Saturday’s win against West Chester; the addition to the Bob Carpenter Sports/Convocation Center is nearing completion; and the Carpenter Sports Building—whose larger gym is undergoing refurbishment now—awaits an addition to be started early next year. This fall, we begin construction on the East Campus housing complex and expect students to begin occupying the site’s first residence halls in fall 2013.

It’s worth noting that most of these projects—the bookstore, student housing, athletic and recreation facilities—are being financed with licensing or lease agreements, or with student fees. Certainly it’s a challenge to fund capital development and improvement in this economic climate, but we’re moving forward aggressively because we need a physical plant that supports academic excellence and a high-quality student experience.

Endowing UD’s Future
Critical to our efforts is strength in fundraising. Well understanding the state’s limitations in its support, we’ve focused considerable attention on maximizing contributions from UD alumni and friends. While the struggling economy has left most U.S. colleges facing diminished private philanthropy, UD’s patrons have demonstrated a record-breaking commitment to the University. Last fiscal year, nearly 29,000 donors gave or pledged $51.4 million to UD, funding scholarships, academic programs, enrichment opportunities and community outreach. This gift total is up a full quarter over fiscal year 2010, and is the largest single-year fundraising total in UD’s history. In two years—during the country’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression—the Office of Development and Alumni Relations has increased private giving to UD by 63 percent.

I’m deeply grateful to the staff for the hard work that went into this extraordinary accomplishment. However, that work is far from finished. UD trails many of its peers in giving and in givers. Just 10 percent of our alumni are donors, a share well below the average of our comparator institutions. It’s clear we’re not going to make up financial ground through state appropriations. We’re not going to make it up through tuition. It has to be philanthropy.

And yet University development isn’t just about strengthening our financial position. It’s about strengthening relationships with people who can open doors for faculty and staff and, most importantly, for students. In so many ways, our benefactors and alumni help students achieve their college, career and life goals—and that will remain our #1 measure of success.

Where Our Students Lead
Students know what they want from us. Some of our most accomplished students—enrolling as freshmen or transferring from other colleges—have told us why they decided on UD: They appreciate not only the quality of education we’ll provide but also the level of attention; they’ll get more out of a class of 50 than they would 500; they want to go to a school where people care about them. This caring didn’t go unnoticed by the Middle States evaluators, who acknowledged students’ positive interactions with “a caring faculty dedicated to undergraduate instruction and success.”

I’m eager to see this care manifest in a rather untested way at UD—in greater curricular freedom. We need to loosen up our academic programs and dismantle barriers that silo students, so that they can step outside their majors and synthesize their thinking around problems in a cross-disciplinary way.

The most popular major at UD is University Studies—essentially, “undeclared.” There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, there’s something very much right with that. College is fundamentally about academic exploration, and we do this entire community a disservice if we hamper it. Our most innovative students are following their own creativity. We can watch where they go and forge programs around their destinations. If we let them, students will lead. In truth, they already are.

Students understand their intersection with other people and other disciplines, and the amplified impact of working together. This is the kind of education that makes change, and the kind of education that students are clamoring for. They want to be more than great geologists, great chemical engineers, great financial analysts. They want to be educated geologists and educated chemical engineers and educated financial analysts. They want a larger perspective on the world and its challenges, and an avenue for integrating knowledge and solutions.

Enabling this larger perspective is our work in the arts, humanities and social sciences, and the disciplines’ dynamic collaboration—with one another and with programs across the University. Vehicles like the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center, the Delaware Design Institute and the Center for Political Communication are giving students a frame for thinking broadly, critically and creatively, for contemplating our shared experience and considering decisions through this lens of deeper understanding. Extensive public programming is bringing the larger community into this academic experiment and making Delaware an inviting destination for people of ideas.

More than 1,200 of these people are new graduate students, 35 percent of whom are from countries outside the U.S., a significantly larger international share than last year. We continue to add new graduate programs—new offerings in 2011 include a master’s degree and doctoral degree in water science and policy and a doctoral degree in nursing—and 13 existing graduate programs have enrolled more than 25 new students this year. Several interdisciplinary doctoral programs are under development, and we look forward to giving students the chance to shape emerging, integrative fields.

I should add here that we also look forward to giving preK–12 students throughout Delaware and far beyond the kind of exceptional education that ultimately enables their college readiness and career success. With Delaware’s leadership in the federal Race to the Top school-reform program; with our intensive focus on underserved students and high-need disciplines; with our outstanding development of current teachers and instructional leaders; and with nearly 10 percent of UD’s students enrolled in a teacher-preparation program, we have an amazing opportunity for impact. With our partners, we can reimagine early childhood, elementary and secondary education and our collective accountability to the students served. We can help eliminate achievement gaps that have long imperiled our promise of educational equity and ensure the expert education of every child.

Our Land-Grant Mission
As UD and land-grant universities across the country prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, we’re thinking a great deal about our fundamental responsibilities to students and to the state: to undertake the practical and liberal education of our students; to connect citizens with research and resources that support strong families and communities; to coax knowledge out of the University and apply the benefits of higher education to the public good.

We are deeply committed to the land-grant mission—instruction, research, extension—and we know this triad is as important to our democracy and prosperity today as it was to a young nation’s. We are equally committed to the notion, conceived in that 19th century contract and in legislative sequels, that our land-grant status obligates us to take a leadership role in innovative economic development.

And we are. The University’s growing research is fueling discovery and invention on a scale we’ve never seen before, and we’re leveraging that capital more effectively. We’re turning our research ideas into marketable technologies and commercializing those technologies with our public and private partners. Our local and regional collaborations are building a base for sectors vital to Delaware’s economic strength, and creating jobs in high-growth industries.

A striking example of this collaboration is our new partnership agreement with the Fraunhofer Center for Molecular Biotechnology, a 100-employee tenant of Newark’s Delaware Technology Park. The agreement—relying on UD, Fraunhofer and state investment—creates a pipeline for translating University science into clinical and commercial applications.

Fraunhofer’s proximity to UD isn’t a coincidence. The center located here 10 years ago—becoming Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s first biotech research presence in the U.S.—due, in large part, to UD’s faculty expertise; to our core and complementary capabilities; and to the company’s access to UD students, well prepared for Fraunhofer’s operations and expectations. This expansion, an endorsement of our intellectual and innovative capacity, will mean at least a dozen new positions added over the next year.

High-wage, high-skill jobs simply won’t come to Delaware without the infrastructure to support them and without workers trained for them. Critical industry partnerships will not happen without our equal investment—investment in capital projects like the Science and Technology Campus and the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Lab, and in programs that fill emerging marketplace needs, like our undergraduate biomedical engineering program, whose freshman and sophomore enrollment has maxed out in only its second year. These investments don’t diminish our land-grant commitment; they reinforce it.

So That All People Are Welcome and Feel Welcome
I’ve invoked the Middle States affirmation of UD’s accreditation throughout this letter, as well as the evaluators’ praise of our efforts. But I cannot end it without acknowledging an area that drew not praise but criticism—the starkest criticism in the report. “UD is not diverse in either absolute or relative terms,” the evaluators said. “With few exceptions, we believe the University trails its peers in every measure of diversity in every constituency of the institution.”

We will change this. I commend the Office of Equity and Inclusion and the Diversity and Equity Commission for their profound dedication to ensuring that we do. The Commission has issued thoughtful recommendations for increasing diversity among students, faculty and staff, and ensuring that the entire UD community benefits from a climate characterized by fairness, equity and inclusiveness. We have begun implementing those recommendations.

Increasing diversity and ensuring equity at UD will require systemic change—not simply new policies and procedures, new programs and better training, but a wholly different outlook, one that prioritizes those things that a diverse environment advances: intellectual experimentation; critical thinking; a broader, richer education strengthened by exposure to different experiences, beliefs and perspectives; a keen and sustained commitment to multiculturalism; the unification of a society marked by deepening divides.

Diversity will be a highly visible focus of ours for some time. But if it remains a priority among only a few, if it’s not embraced by this entire community, we won’t be any closer to achieving our goal of a diverse and welcoming campus. We all have a part in this and—without doubt—we all have a stake in it. I look forward to working with you to deliver on this pledge, one fundamental to our Path to Prominence and our aspiration to take our place among the world’s greatest universities.

Change and Constancy
I started this letter urging us to slow our pace of change and renew our focus on thoughtful implementation of the many initiatives we’ve taken on. But, clearly, there is more change to come. Three of our colleges welcomed new leaders this year: Lynn Okagaki, dean of the College of Education and Human Development; Bruce Weber, dean of the Lerner College of Business and Economics; and Babatunde Ogunnaike, interim dean of the College of Engineering. I wish them the best as they set their agendas for this academic year and beyond.

I look forward to reflecting on my own leadership of this great University—my plans, priorities and follow-through. In Reframing Academic Leadership, authors Lee Bolman and Joan Gallos invoke three P’s that should attend significant change: patience, persistence and process. I promise to remain mindful of all three. And while we’re discussing P’s, I wish you three more: “passion”—always—and “peaceful progress.”

Best wishes for a satisfying and successful semester!


Patrick T. Harker

  • University of Delaware   •   Newark, DE 19716   •   USA
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