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General Faculty meeting

UD President Dennis Assanis highlights memorable semester and shares path forward

At the General Faculty meeting on Dec. 4, University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis discussed the multiple ways the University is thriving — record undergraduate applications, enriching academic and student experiences, impactful research, and investments in the University’s future.

But most importantly, Assanis expressed his gratitude to the University’s faculty for a successful start to the academic year.

“I want to extend a big thank you from deep in my heart to all of you for continuing to work together and to pretty much navigate successfully every challenge that has been thrown at us, whether it is world events and struggles, pandemics, economic disparities and challenges — I believe we've been able to go through all of that together successfully,” Assanis said. “We are positioned well not just to survive, but to thrive.”

Assanis said that several positive developments and trends show that UD is enjoying strong momentum in advancing its mission.

As an example, Assanis shared that UD was named among the best colleges in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.

UD advanced 13 slots to the rank of #76 among the nation’s best overall universities and placed #36 among top public national universities, up two spots from last year. UD’s chemical engineering program remained in the top 10 nationally, ranking fifth overall. Along with chemical engineering, several individual undergraduate academic programs were recognized in the 2024 rankings as among the nation’s best, including psychology, computer science, business, economics and nursing.

Rankings reflect the hard work of faculty and staff and their commitment to providing an excellent educational experience for students, Assanis said.

“I hope that this will be a sustaining trend in the subsequent years,” Assanis said. “When we have great news, that is quickly reflected in interest and applications from new students who want to come to the University.”

Undergraduate applications have continued to increase at a record pace. Assanis said he anticipates that 2024 will be another record year in terms of applications.

“Our ability to thrive as a University depends on our ability to bring great classes of undergraduate and graduate students. … We've been doing a very good job, but we can always improve,” Assanis said.

The University is working to address some of the issues that may be affecting graduate student enrollment, including housing and stipends.

Assanis highlighted some of the ways that the University is expanding international education and global opportunities.

“We're working holistically — truly global 360 — to enhance our international programs and everything we do in the international arena. It's so important to us in education, research and service,” Assanis said, noting global experiences like study abroad and World Scholars, as well as recruitment, partnerships, scholarship, advancement and reputation. “We’re really leaving no stones unturned. We're trying very hard to make sure that our global presence is felt.”

Assanis recognized several outstanding faculty members, including Joe Fox, the 2023 Francis Alison Award recipient, and Kyle Davis and Kenneth Shores, the Gerard J. Mangone Young Scholars Award recipients, as well as several other faculty members who’ve received honors recently.

“When it comes to academic experience and excellence, the most important thing is our people,” Assanis said.

Hiring and retaining distinguished faculty continues to be a priority for the University, Assanis said. “The beating heart of the University is our faculty,” Assanis said. “They're the intellectual capital of our University, so we need to continue to invest in our faculty.”

As the fall semester is wrapping up, Assanis said the University is looking forward to Winter Session, a five-week term from Jan. 3 to Feb. 2, 2024, that provides students with the opportunity to enhance their academic experience at UD. More than 570 undergraduate and graduate courses are available in-person, online or hybrid format for Winter Session this year, as well as study-abroad programs.

“Winter Session can truly help our students to catch up and excel,” Assanis said.

Assanis highlighted a recent acceleration of growth in UD’s research enterprise. In the latest Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey released by the National Science Foundation, UD ranks 47th out of 626 academic institutions across the United States when comparing non-medical school R&D expenditures, rising 27 spots from last year and now ranking in the top 8% nationally.

In late November, UD Athletics announced it had accepted an invitation to join Conference USA as a full member, effective July 1, 2025. As a result of that announcement, Blue Hens football will transition to the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the sport’s highest level of competition in the NCAA. At the General Faculty meeting, Assanis discussed the University’s decision to switch conferences.

“[This decision] has already proven to be right in terms of the extra visibility exposure that our University is getting,” Assanis said. “We will be on national television … and able to highlight the great things that we're doing in education, research and everything else within the University. Just this announcement alone has created, since last week, millions of views on social media. That's pretty impressive. So we do have a platform and an opportunity.”

Assanis also expressed his commitment — along with that of the Board of Trustees and the University’s administration — to shared governance and to working closely with the faculty to address important academic issues. He gave an example of shared governance in action. In May, the Faculty Senate voted to revise the section of the Faculty Handbook related to the selection of department chairpersons. Over the summer, Assanis and Provost Laura Carlson met with the proposers of the resolution as well as the Faculty Senate executive committee to implement that change in the Faculty Handbook.

“Everybody — the president, the provost, the dean and the faculty — all play important roles in this process,” Assanis said. “We’re talking shared governance at its best.”

Assanis also highlighted continued momentum across new development of campus facilities. The FinTech Innovation Hub on the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus opened earlier in the fall. The 25,000-square-foot addition to Drake Hall, which features teaching and research labs for chemistry and biochemistry, was completed in the spring. “Building X”, which is scheduled to be completed in fall 2024, will provide research and teaching spaces for multiple departments including biology, psychology, neuroscience, physics and quantum science. Renovations to the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Design Studio in Spencer Lab will provide additional room and modernized maker rooms and equipment for our students.

The University is facing a tight budget this year, Assanis said. Health care and other personnel costs have increased significantly in the past few years, and students need more financial aid because of economic pressures on families, he said. But overall, the University’s financial profile is strong, with stable enrollment, significant momentum with fundraising and robust enterprise risk management.

Assanis thanked faculty members for their flexibility, creativity, ambition and collaboration.

“Thank you to you, faculty, for everything you’ve done. It has been a great year so far, and we're only at the halfway point,” Assanis said. “I look forward to great things in the next part of the year.”

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