Running Toward the Future
New DSU president Harry Lee Williams has never stopped moving forward.
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That attitude is echoed by faculty union president Steve Newton, a professor of history and political science. “To be perfectly honest, we have a group of folks on the faculty for whom the jury is still out,” says Newton. “From the faculty’s perspective, the previous experience with Dr. Sessoms was fairly volatile, and they’ve heard people make promises before and tell us about the bright new future, so they’re going to go with [Williams] step by step. But they’re going to be kind of like Ronald Reagan: trust and verify.”
Overall, says Newton, “I’m impressed with the man. He has the moral backbone that if he’s going to tell you no about something, he doesn’t delegate that. He’ll tell you to your face. I think he’s a breath of fresh air both in terms of imagination and integrity that we haven’t had in that position in a long time.”
Newton acknowledges the high value Williams places on academics, but he also says the new president understands the politics. “He realizes that you can’t just show up at the Joint Finance Committee hearings and ask for money without engaging in the political process all year long.”
In February, Williams appeared before the JFC to defend DSU’s proposed zero-growth 2011 operating budget of about $100 million and to request about $37 million from the state. Governor Jack Markell proposed allocating $33.7 million to the school.
Newton says “there is a feeling on campus” that the General Assembly does not view DSU as essential to the state as the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical and Community College, and Williams seems committed to changing that attitude.
The new president has an ally in one new legislator, Senator Brian Bushweller. The Dover Democrat perceives discrimination against DSU compared to UD and DelTech in at least one area: the SEED scholarship program (Student Excellence Equals Degree), which provides tuition for full-time students from Delaware who maintain a 2.5 grade point average while enrolled in an associate’s degree program at DelTech or the associate of arts program at UD. DSU—the state’s only true state university—is conspicuously excluded from this largesse. Some observers think this is because UD and DelTech—both of which have a statewide presence—are based in New Castle County, where the bulk of the population and political power resides.
Bushweller says the SEED legislation, enacted five years ago, has contributed to the decline in the number of in-state students at DSU, which results in a big financial hit for the university. He hopes to get the Dover-based school included in the SEED program by next year. He says he and other newly elected members of the General Assembly from Kent County will be advocates for DSU.
Bushweller calls Williams “a consensus builder.” Perhaps the prime example of this trait is the Blue Ribbon Commission Williams appointed less than a month after taking office. With 14 members who bring diverse experience from the academic, political, scientific and economic worlds, the commission demonstrates Williams’ understanding that he must reach out to many areas of influence to help achieve his goals for DSU.
The commission is charged with creating a new vision statement for the 119-year-old institution. In a press release announcing the commission, Williams said the vision statement should be accompanied by “a recommended set of values as well as recommended ways to integrate the vision with both internal and external constituents.”
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