Harker urges faculty to think of innovative ideas
Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 21:10
President Patrick Harker said faculty members need to think of innovative ideas this year to keep the university competitive amidst budget challenges and a decline in prospective college-aged students.
“To assume that we can just keep business as usual and this cloud will pass, I don’t get the sense this could is passing us,” Harker said. “I think this time around in higher education we’re going to have to be creative about this.”
Harker spoke prior to the Faculty Senate meeting in Gore Hall last night about the budget, updates on faculty and construction and the freshman class. He said while the university is dealing with a decreased endowment and relying more on tuition, it still has a comparative advantage.
He said he disagrees with the notion that the traditional campus experience is dead. Yet, he recognizes that the university has to be a worthwhile experience for students.
“When we bring students here, it has to be for a really good reason,” he said. “In other words, we have to engage them in what some of my colleagues call ‘authentic learning.”
Professors need to offer students hands-on experiences they cannot get from watching a lecture online, he said. He said officials need to figure out how to use technology to enhance students’ experiences. He called on faculty to be productive with their ideas, especially since they are the university’s biggest cost.
Harker said in the future, more colleges will be competing for fewer students as the last members of baby boomer’s children, called the “echo boom” generation, are enrolling in college now.
“We’re going to need to make sure that we are extremely competitive and attractive for that declining number of students that all universities are going to face,” he said.
The university is not in fiscal crisis, and has fared well compared to other universities, but still must think about the future, Harker said. There was a 1.6 percent increase in funding from the state last year, and $3 million was given for laboratory renovations.
Money is still a challenge with rising healthcare costs, aging infrastructure and stabilizing endowments, he said. Harker said society’s demand that tuition does not rise adds difficulty.
Harker said officials will look toward grants, partnerships, fundraising, recruiting in other states and internationally, and more graduate programs to create revenue. He said he plans to ask state officials to reinstate agricultural funding that was cut.
Last year’s freshman class’ statistics were positive, Harker said. The Admissions Office received 26,798 applications, an eight percent increase from last year and a record high. This year’s class is also more diverse, he said. There was a 56 percent increase in enrollment from black students, and a 10 percent increase in Hispanic students, he said.
He said the quality of students improved as well, with 372 students having high level SAT score, a five percent increase from last year and a 21 percent rise from more than four years ago.
“What we continue to see is we’re a very attractive campus and increasingly we’re improving the quality of the student body [. . .] and that’s good sign for us.”
Harker said the amount of Delawarean students increased by 14 percent from last year. He attributes that to the Commitment to Delawareans which led more middle school students to understand what they to achieve in high school to get to college.
“As a result, we’re seeing GPAs of our incoming students also generally, and specifically, of our in-state students, are up,” Harker said.
He also announced that the search committee for the new athletic director is making progress and interview will start this month. The search for a vice president of communication and marketing is also underway, Harker said.
He said there is a committee for a new dean of the College of Engineering, but that will be delayed until the new provost is named. He said the goal is to name the new provost by winter and have them start the job in the summer.
Officials are also searching for a new director of the Office for International Students and Scholars, which he said is an important role because he wants to strengthen the department.
Harker encouraged faculty to submit ideas to the committee and ideas for candidates. Physics and astronomy professor John Morgan asked why there were not on-campus interviews for the provost position, which was standard in the past.
Candidates are reluctant to apply if the process is open because it could put their colleagues at risk, Harker said.
“There are very good candidates who will not subject themselves to an open search process because of that reason,” he said.