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.

The Land-Grant Mission
St. Edmond’s Academy, Wilmington
April 11, 2011

I’m truly honored to be the inaugural speaker for this Learning Series. I thank my good friend Ernie Dianastasis—and the entire Board of Directors of St. Edmond’s Academy—for the invitation to talk to you tonight. It’s a bit like family in here. Several members of the St. Edmond’s Board, and a good share of the school’s faculty, are University of Delaware alumni.

It’s a privilege to see this community in action—to see the strength that accrues from an abiding commitment to education.

I should mention to all those representing Archmere Academy that I was in DC last week with an alumnus whom our two schools share. Vice President Joe Biden asked me to give you all his best. I hope that, in a few years, some of the younger members of this audience will follow in the Vice President’s footsteps and opt to call themselves “Blue Hens” as well.

Archmere and UD
It’s a choice many Archmere graduates have already made. Right now, we enroll 70 Auks at UD. And this year, we offered admission to 44 more. It’s a credit to many in this audience that our Archmere students are so well prepared for college. The evidence of their preparation isn’t just in their competitive credentials coming into UD. It’s also in their resilient GPAs, post-admission. As many of their classmates succumb to the “freshmen slide,” Aucks stay strong.

Eight Archmere seniors have been accepted into our distinguished Honors Program this fall. And senior David Sang was one of 23 students from an applicant pool of nearly 25,000 to receive UD’s most prestigious academic award, the Eugene duPont Scholarship. He has my admiration.

Catholic Education
And so, again, I thank the faculty, the administrators, the parents, the boards, and the friends of St. Edmond’s and Archmere for doing so well by these students, and for doing so well by Catholic education—in the midst of challenges you certainly don’t need me to tell you about.

I’m a lifelong Catholic—the product of 12 years of Catholic school education. My children attended Catholic school; my wife teaches at a Catholic school. For many years, I volunteered with the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey. I’ve served on school boards for elementary and high schools. And I’ve been on the other side, serving on a Diocesan Council and working to find the money to keep schools going. As a former director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, I’ve seen—at close range—the national financial and operational landscape.

I’m not trying to convince you of my Catholic pedigree. I’m telling you this because I do understand the difficulties faced by Catholic education, and I’m grateful for your dedication to our schools and our students, to fostering faith communities and Gospel-centered living. If the Church is to be an instrument for justice and peace in our society—for compassion and charity—we need to nurture its disciples now.

The Land-Grant Mission
We share a mission of service and education—service through education. We echo St. Thomas Aquinas, who said, “It is better to illuminate than merely to shine; to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.” And while there is a deeply held theological and philosophical basis to Thomas Aquinas’s words, there applies a profoundly practical application in the secular university.

Let me explain what I mean: We tend to think that “higher education for the many, for the middle class” is a modern idea. It isn’t. It’s an idea that was actualized 150 years ago—on July 2, 1862—when Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law, granting federally controlled land to states for the purpose of creating colleges that would teach agriculture and engineering to working-class citizens.

Every land-grant institution was given 30,000 acres for each member of its Congressional delegation. In return, the institutions had to do two things: 1) Make higher education useful to the average citizen; and 2) Ensure that all citizens could access that education.

In terms of strengthening a young nation’s democracy and prosperity, the Morrill Act remains one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed. And it was with the Morrill Act that the University of Delaware, then “Delaware College,” became one of the country’s first land-grant institutions.

In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act took our obligation a bit further. The Act began federal funding of cooperative extension. Congress said that land-grant universities needed to actually go out into the community and help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives.

Together, these Acts succeeded in opening access to higher education; in serving the public with practical research; and in connecting citizens with the knowledge and resources that support family, community, and economic development. So you can see—for a very long time—our obligation has extended well beyond our enrollment.

What Do We Owe Our Students?
But that is where our mission starts—with our enrollment, our students—and I will, too. What do we owe our students? What does any institution of higher education owe its students?

Diversity/Academic Freedom
I think we owe them the confidence that we will value their presence and their contributions, that we won’t deprive the University of their voice or their talent.

We owe them an assurance that we’ll be equitable and inclusive—not just of different people but of different opinions and perspectives. Because fostering diversity on a college campus is more than skin-deep. It’s critical we guarantee students their academic freedom, and provoke their intellectual curiosity, at the very point in their lives when they’re testing their own theories, when their worldview tends to either shift or solidify.

College is as good a time as any to find out the whole world doesn’t agree with you. Actually, it’s probably a better time than most.

Academic Quality
We owe it to students to live up to our hype.

This was a good year for UD. In a prominent survey, college presidents and provosts across the country were asked which universities are worth watching. UD was #8 on the list.

And then in quick succession last fall, we got word of two academic honors that you wouldn’t dream would both hit in one year. We learned that Professor Emeritus Richard Heck would share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering work in palladium-catalyzed cross-couplings, a process that has revolutionized pharmaceutical and electronics development.

And then the next month, we learned that senior neuroscience major Matt Watters had won a Rhodes Scholarship, one of just 32 awarded nationwide. There couldn’t have been a better candidate. Matt is a true servant; he’s already done extensive public-health work in Haiti and Sudan. At Oxford, he’ll be pursuing a degree in global health science. Very fitting for this committed young man.

UD was one of only two U.S. schools that could claim both the Rhodes and the Nobel this year. The other was MIT. So I’d say we owe our students at least a maintenance of effort.

Environmental Stewardship
We owe it to our students to “walk our talk.”

UD is—without question—an international leader in alternative energy research and technologies. But our campus was shockingly carbon-heavy.

So we instituted a 20-percent carbon-reduction goal by 2020 and started making changes—using some of the very same technologies we’re known around the world for. Hydrogen fuel-cell buses were added to the fleet. A utility-scale wind turbine went up in Lewes last summer, powering the entire campus. 2,000+ solar panels were installed on three campus rooftops, giving UD the third-largest solar capacity of all East Coast colleges. They should reduce our carbon emissions by 1.3 million pounds.

Our students feel passionately about sustainability. And we feel passionately about living the principles we preach. Win-win.

Global Engagement
We owe our students meaningful engagement with the world around them.

The students of St. Edmond’s and Archmere are coming of age during this amazing “Arab Spring.” It’s been incredible to watch. The University had 22 students studying abroad in Egypt when the uprising against Hosni Mubarak began. They saw the smoke and the crowds; they felt the sting of the teargas. This was history. And it was far from Giza. It was all going down a few blocks away, in Tahrir Square.

Nearly half of UD’s students go overseas during their time at the University. And they’re doing a lot more than sightseeing. They’re studying, of course, but they’re also serving.

For four years, over multiple trips, UD’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders has been building an intricate system that provides clean water to three villages in central Cameroon. They’re installing wells, solar-powered pumps, water tanks, and a network of pipes to strategic village locations. Around the world, 1.1 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water. But now 3,000 Cameroonians do. This is just one project. There are hundreds more.

As educators, we often proclaim the need to prepare students for global competition. But what about global cooperation, global citizenship? What about teaching our students how nations relate to one another—historically, culturally, politically, economically, ideologically—so that they might develop the capacity and the inclination to work across borders to solve issues of international significance?

The world’s been flat for a while now, and as we move toward even more interconnectedness and interdependence, we should be applying our ideas and our effort to affirming our shared humanity—to improving the human condition and the world in which we live.

Opportunity to Serve
Of course, you don’t have to cross even one border to do that.

The volunteers in a student group called Lori’s Hands do most of their work right in Newark. Lori’s Hands was founded by a UD senior and nursing major, Sarah LaFave. Sarah named the organization in memory of her mother, who died of breast cancer in 2003 and had spent her life helping neighbors in need.

The student volunteers assembled under Lori’s Hands do the same. They visit the homes of the elderly and the sick and do whatever needs doing. They rake leaves; they clean houses; they run errands and relieve tired caregivers. Sometimes they just sit and talk.

Last year, 12,000 UD students—more than half our enrollment—donated 140,000 hours to service. We just finished a study quantifying the value of those hours. UD volunteerism provided $1.4 million in free labor last year, and contributed $4 million to Delaware’s economy.

But it also built homes and planted gardens and tutored children and fed the hungry.

Discovery Learning
This is all part of discovery learning. And that’s something else we owe students.

We owe them an education that gets them off campus and into the community, where they can apply their learning and measure its impact, wherever that is—classrooms, board rooms, labs, clinics, neighborhoods, farms, factories.

We owe students access to faculty mentors, and meaningful participation in faculty-led research. We owe undergraduates our refusal to hold their age and inexperience against them. We can encourage and expect undergraduate excellence, and we can develop their capacity for it. We can raise the bar for students’ involvement in the academic experiment of higher education—it’s always an experiment—and create a true community of learning.

In short, we owe students a chance at transformation—the opportunity to discover and pursue their true passion, and witness its power in their lives.

Commitment to Delawareans
And because UD is the state’s flagship university—because we’re a land-grant institution—we owe this transformational experience to all Delaware students. And so we made a Commitment to Delawareans.

Four-and-a-half years ago, we began outlining for students the courses they should take in high school and the grades they should earn in them—courses and performance that would prepare them for the UD curriculum. It’s an academic roadmap, a clear path from Point A to Point B. If students follow the map, they’re admitted to UD. They don’t have to compete with anyone but themselves.

Last fall, we enrolled nearly 1,200 Delaware freshmen at the Newark campus—more than 35 percent of the freshman class and a nearly 4-percentage-point climb over the year before. In all, 89 percent of in-state applicants were offered admission—either to the Newark campus or to our Associate in Arts program at Georgetown or Dover or Wilmington.

Then, two-and-a-half years ago, we raised the stakes, and pledged to meet the full financial need of all in-state students—up to the total cost of tuition, room & board, books, and fees—and to cap students’ debt at one-quarter the cost of a 4-year UD education.

Forty-nine percent of our in-state freshmen and sophomores are eligible for assistance through the Commitment to Delawareans. And the average award is more than $12,000. With the effects of the recession still crippling many Delaware families, we expect that nearly 60 percent of the in-state freshmen we enroll this fall will qualify for financial help. And our projected expenditure for the program will climb to around $9 million.

There’s no doubt this is a significant dedication of funds: Already, a full quarter of our tuition revenue goes directly to financial aid. And yet this pledge has been a lifeline. It’s made college possible for scores of Delaware students. And so it’s worth it—to all of us.

Economic Development
Because all of us benefit when educational attainment climbs. Vermont Representative Justin Morrill knew this way back in 1857, as he was doggedly trying to push his land-grant bill through Congress—a push that took five years. He knew it was a bill that would alter the scope and the very purpose of American higher education.

So let’s revisit the Morrill Act. The intent was to seed colleges across the states that would “promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the … pursuits and professions of life.”

Basically, it democratized higher education. And in opening its doors to the many—in insisting on a connection between researcher and practitioner, the Morrill Act essentially sealed education’s centrality to large-scale economic development. Science was drawn out of the university and coaxed onto the farm.

Fast-forward 150 years, and nothing and everything has changed.

Our goal is still “research with impact”—research that’s driven by the critical needs of the community, local, regional, and national; research that puts us in those communities and solves their problems; research that fundamentally changes what and how we teach, and what and how students learn; research that provides the bedrock for vigorous economic development.

But, today, the stakes are incredibly high: 80 percent of the U.S.’s leading new industries are directly or indirectly related to university research. Economic growth is no longer consumption-based; it’s innovation-based. True recovery and growth—here in Delaware and across the country—will come only with a deep structural adjustment, where we become better at taking ideas out of our universities and research institutes, commercializing them, and allowing them to flourish.

The University of Delaware is up to the challenge. Our externally funded research has doubled over the last decade, and we’re now in the top 100 universities in federal dollars obligated for science and engineering R&D. That’s no easy feat when you don’t have a medical school. And speaking of not having a medical school, among universities without one, we’re in the top quarter in the number of patents issued.

We have an abiding commitment to entrepreneurship. And with the Delaware Technology Park, we’re bringing small businesses into Delaware, and incubating home-grown ventures—activity that’s generating thousands of “real” jobs. We’re brokering significant regional partnerships that expand our reach and compound our economic impact.

Science & Technology Campus
And we’re investing in our own success, on a scale many would have considered unimaginable just a few years ago. Where the shuttered Chrysler Plant used to stand in Newark, UD’s science and technology campus will rise, bringing life and jobs and vibrancy to those 272 empty acres. This is where we’ll join our intellectual and capital assets—with space to grow.

The property will house UD’s marquee and emerging industries—energy and the environment, health sciences, national security and defense. It’s where we’ll bring together the people inside and outside UD who are powering the region’s innovation economy—academics, entrepreneurs, investors, private companies, partnering researchers.

The Community As Destination
Think about that for a second. Think about this community I’ve just conjured out of thin air. Is it a place you’d want to be?

We have a saying at UD: “Talent goes where talent is.” It’s how we explain spiraling quality. By the same token, creatives go where creativity is. Artists go where art is.

If we build a vibrant community, that community will demand vibrancy in culture, in the arts, in the humanities. And if those requirements are satisfied, you start seeing that accumulating effect. We build it, and they come. And, all of a sudden, it’s not just a science and technology campus; it’s not just a university. It’s an engaging, dynamic, attractive environment where people—all people— want to be. It’s the power of place. (Now I just feel like I’m trying to sell you a plot.)

But it is exciting for us; 272 acres is only about three-quarters the size of the average U.S. research park. But in Delaware, it’s huge. It’s 22 percent of our existing campus footprint, and it’s our next 100 years of growth.

UD’s Return on Investment
I realize I might sound—optimistic?—given a higher education landscape that’s pretty grim right now. I’m sure you’ve read about the carnage to our north, where Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed the most dramatic appropriation cut in the history of American higher education—52.4 percent to the state university system.

Slashing that from Penn State’s budget would bleed $182 million. The school would lose $70 million more than we’re projected to get. Penn State President Graham Spanier said the move would fundamentally change Penn State, and push a Penn State education out of reach for many families.

The situation is clearly not as difficult in Delaware. We’re fortunate to have a Governor and a legislature committed to innovation as the vehicle for strong growth. And we know UD’s a good investment: The entire University community spent $3.9 billion in-state last year—expenditures that supported more than 30,000 jobs. Every state dollar allocated to UD returned nearly $13 to Delaware’s economy. We’re a steal.

I have no trouble saying that UD is one of the ways through recovery and to prosperity. We are. We reinvest ourselves every day in Delaware’s communities—through our education, our research, and our service. This is our triple mission, and none works without the other two.

Because of this, I’m confident there’s no one in Delaware whose life we don’t somehow touch. It’s a humbling responsibility and an incredible opportunity. And I think that’s exactly the way Justin Morrill wanted it to be.

Alumni Weekend
Before we open this up to questions, I’d like to invite all the Blue Hens in the audience to come back to campus June 3–5 for Alumni Weekend. If you haven’t been back for the celebration before, just ask someone who has—and I guarantee you’ll show up. I hope to see many of you there.

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