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.

University of Delaware Board of Trustees
Trabant University Center
May 10, 2011

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I thank Chairman Gil Sparks and the entire Board of Trustees for this chance to deliver my year-end remarks. This has been a dynamic year for UD. We’ve built infrastructure and strengthened systems that support our Path to Prominence. We’ve launched institutes and initiatives that augment our teaching and research capabilities. We’ve formed partnerships across the region and around the world that expand our reach and amplify our impact.

But amid all this activity, it’s also been quite a year for introspection. We’ve dedicated a lot of time to evaluating the path we’ve chosen and our fidelity to it. Last fall, the Strategic Plan Review Committee released its Path to Prominence Progress Report, outlining how far we’ve come in meeting our milestones and what we need to keep moving forward.

And then—just days ago—we received the final report on UD’s decennial reaccreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The reaccreditation process actually began two years ago with an intensive self-study, and I thank everyone who contributed to that effort. The process was extremely valuable, and many of our own findings—findings from the self-study and from our Path to Prominence review—were echoed by the Middle States evaluation team, led by Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon.

It should come as no surprise that we’ve been found in compliance with all 14 standards, and will be reaccredited in late June. But as an outside perspective on our direction and our progress, the report is illuminating.

We asked the evaluators to look critically at the first three Path to Prominence milestones, as they go to the heart of our education mission: a diverse and stimulating undergraduate experience; a premier research and graduate university; excellence in professional education.

Cross-Cutting Recommendations
But the panel also had a few cross-cutting observations and suggestions.

The evaluators acknowledged throughout the report that UD has undergone quick and significant change; that our Path to Prominence is the right plan at the right time; and that it’s begun to truly transform UD’s culture. For instance, our more intense focus on research and graduate education is a departure for UD, which has historically emphasized undergraduate education. And while there’s the opportunity for tension between graduate and undergraduate education—between research and teaching—I agree with the evaluators who said it’s a false dichotomy: that a robust research program is an opportunity for better scholarship and better education; that great researchers can and should be great teachers.

Because for all the changes transforming UD, there are constants that endure. For instance, our land-grant mission—that fundamental charter—is alive and thriving. Our Commitment to Delawareans has greatly improved in-state students’ access to a UD education. The Commitment’s academic roadmap has better prepared them for college-level work. And our pledge to meet their full, four-year financial need has been a lifeline for Delaware families—especially now. As many as 60 percent of fall’s incoming Delaware freshman will qualify for financial assistance under the program. This is a historic commitment to Delaware students, and it’s making a demonstrable difference.

We’re connecting citizens with the knowledge and resources that support family, community, and industry development. And we’re serving the public with practical research—research that’s driven by the critical needs of our local and national communities; 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.

We’re exploiting our central role in economic growth and prosperity, and positioning Delaware as a state where talent attracts talent, innovation attracts innovation, and resources attract resources.

The Middle States reviewers acknowledged that a strategic plan as bold as ours needs infrastructure that enables its achievement. And they credited part of that infrastructure—Responsibility-Based Budgeting—with catalyzing as much change on campus as the Path to Prominence. They said RBB is more than a financial management system. It’s a mechanism for pushing decision-making out and down throughout UD—empowering deans, directors, chairs, and faculty.

Nevertheless, coming from a highly centralized budget system, it’s a big change. And it wasn’t without difficulties—especially given its implementation in the midst of recession. But we’ve improved the data and the data systems supporting RBB and stabilized the process.

We need to be clear that there won’t be a trade-off between generating revenue, sustaining academic quality, and providing public service. We need to be clear that we’ll require funds to support essential, cross-cutting, and interdisciplinary University operations—that not all revenue will be siloed. We need to be sensitive to faculty concerned about their role in a research-intensive University, and be faithful communicators—transparent in our decision-making.

There’s one more broad observation that the review panel shared with us. And it’s something we already know. We see it in our institutional data and in the just-released campus climate survey: We absolutely must improve diversity among students, faculty, and staff.

In a remarkably positive report, diversity drew the starkest words from the evaluators: “With few exceptions,” they said, “the University trails its peers in every measure of diversity in every constituency of the institution.” We have to change that. Because I can say with certainty that we will never achieve what I know we can until we guarantee that UD is a welcoming campus to all, and that every member of this community can fully and actively contribute to our mission.

We’ve gotten some good recommendations in this regard from the Diversity and Equity Commission, and I look forward to implementing them.

Diverse and Stimulating Undergraduate Experience
That leads to the first milestone we asked the panel to look at: A diverse and stimulating undergraduate experience. The reviewers cited UD’s history of distinguished undergraduate education, and our caring faculty dedicated to undergraduates’ success. They called this reputation for undergraduate excellence an important recruitment tool. And we can see its influence in the growing quality of our students.

They praised our honors program, study-abroad, undergraduate research, problem-based learning, and service learning. They praised a reinvigorated Office of Student Life and its focus on creating a true living-learning environment.

But, again, we need to improve diversity. We simply don’t have a campus that reasonably reflects the larger society. And that disadvantages all students, whose learning isn’t adequately enriched by studying, working, and living with people from different backgrounds. We need to improve the graduation rates of underrepresented minority students—especially African American students, and help our growing number of international students acclimate to life at UD.

Again, we need to make sure that our systems support our ambitions for excellence at the undergraduate level as much as they do at the graduate and professional levels. The evaluators cited a few things that make the case for undergraduate excellence at UD—the strong leadership of our deans; the fact that faculty own the curriculum and the curriculum change process; and, maybe most notably, our effectiveness in assessing learning outcomes.

I say “most notably” because, a few years ago, this wasn’t an area of strength for us. But with a focused Office of Educational Assessment, with technical assistance and assessment fellowships for faculty; with faculty invested in the process and the result—we’ve turned this around. It’s stunning. And it’s indicative of what we’re capable of doing.

The panel suggested we pay attention to the richness and coherence of our Honors Program, especially at its upper levels, and that we strengthen our First Year Experience program—make it more uniform and more integrated across the University. Students just shared this same sentiment through our Blue Hen Poll.

The evaluators noted the importance of undergraduate advising, and challenged us to make ours an exemplar for other institutions.

Premier Research and Graduate University
As far as our second milestone goes, becoming a premier research and graduate university, the panel acknowledged UD’s global ambitions and global capabilities—that we have the talent, innovation, and opportunity to have an impact in the state and around the world, and that by thinking big, we’ll ultimately serve Delaware best of all.

The evaluators recognized our growing research portfolio and competitive success, our more effective tech-transfer program, and the infrastructure and partnerships we’re building to support R&D growth.

The five-year, $19.5 million Department of Defense grant we just won for optimizing orthopedic rehabilitation is a great example of the research synergies we’re tapping. The grant—intended to improve rehabilitation care for injured soldiers—was made to a consortium of military training facilities, academic researchers, and rehabilitation institutes. Our own Steven Stanhope is serving as principal investigator and consortium director, and our partners are “who’s who” of rehabilitative care: Harvard Medical School, the University of Texas at Austin, the Mayo Clinic, two Army Medical Centers, two Naval Medical Centers.

The grant opens up new opportunities for collaboration with the U.S. Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and capitalizes on our key capabilities in rehabilitation science, physical therapy, and advanced materials. It’s a natural fit with the work of our College of Health Sciences, our Center for Composite Materials, and our new Delaware Rehabilitation Institute.

The Middle States evaluators called our efforts in research & graduate education “transformative.” But the transformation isn’t finished.

We need to expand meaningful undergraduate research opportunities with faculty. We need to make sure budgetary incentives are aligned with the larger, high-quality doctoral programs we want, and higher-volume funded research programs with big impact. We need to institutionalize and prioritize funding for interdisciplinary research. As we implement key cluster hires spanning departments and colleges, we have to have an eye on our tenure and promotion policies to be sure they support this push into interdisciplinarity.

The review panel praised our Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center, and suggested we approach our ambitions in the humanities, arts, and social sciences as we do in more technical areas. That we leverage existing strengths, select key areas of opportunity, and form external partnerships to develop world-class doctoral and research programs—programs that make the most sense for Delaware, some that will be connected to our existing technology strengths and interdisciplinary programs, and some that won’t.

With rich, cross-discipline efforts like the Humanities Research Center and the Delaware Design Institute, we’re spotlighting our strengths and gaining good traction with external funding opportunities.

Excellence in Professional Education
Our third milestone—excellence in professional education—was the last one the panel looked at. The reviewers acknowledged our high-quality professional programs areas like in business, education, health sciences, and marine science and policy.

Of course, we’d be wise to integrate professional education into new interdisciplinary areas, and use it to strengthen partnerships with industry and government. We already have several vehicles at the ready: the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance, the Delaware Rehabilitation Institute, the U.S. Army’s Research, Development, and Engineering Command, the Delaware Environmental Institute, our Master’s in Teaching Program (through Race to the Top).

We must be sensitive to the time burdens that good professional programs place on faculty—designing and teaching courses, supervising practicums and capstones—and strive to keep those burdens in check. We must strike a good balance maintaining professional programs that generate revenue and those that support our public service mission, especially in areas like health and education.

We need internal and external quality benchmarks for professional programs, and to leverage partnerships that provide reliable quality control.

While I’m talking about professional programs, it’s fitting that I update you on the status of our deliberations regarding a law school at UD. In November, the Board authorized the preparation of two analyses required for the establishment of a law school: a draft feasibility study and a draft business plan. Since November, a team of University officials has conducted a thorough analysis to determine whether a law school would contribute to UD and to the community, and whether its cost is manageable, given the University’s other priorities.

Today, we know more clearly than we did last fall how big our fundraising effort in support of a law school would have to be. And so, while I acknowledge the benefits to be gained by a UD law school—benefits that the last several months of analysis have illuminated—I have proposed to the Board that we terminate further active consideration of this initiative.

There is the possibility that we could reconsider a law school at some future date—but only if its establishment can be achieved without displacing existing University priorities.

I thank the entire UD community for its eagerness to shape the University’s ongoing conversation—a conversation about our mission and how we hope to achieve it; about our critical and concurrent goals; about leading UD into the top tier of American higher education, while ably serving the constituents who rely on us.

Thank you.

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