The V word comes up quickly whenever there’s a change at the top, especially when the track record has been one of success. Is the new boss a mere caretaker? Does he have a penchant for fixing what’s not broken? Or does he have a sense of the possible and the talent to get there.
What, in short, is his vision?
In the 22 months since he took the helm at the University of Delaware, Pat Harker has shown himself to be a man of vision. He has helped create an atmosphere of ambition, engaging the entire university in the process. He has fostered teamwork, flexibility and the unmistakable thrust of forward motion. He hopes to position UD as a school for the 21st century, a participant in education and evolving economies from China to Newark, Delaware.
“He’s exceeded what I would have expected,” says Howard Cosgrove, who chairs the University of Delaware Board of Trustees. “[Previous president David P.] Roselle had substantially strengthened the university, and we needed someone with the skills to continue that trajectory and take us to the next level.”
Roselle, who held the post for 17 years before retiring in July 2007, is a tough act to follow. He tripled the endowment, modernized the campus, and wired every classroom and dorm for computer use. On that foundation, Harker wants to build a skyscraper.
Expectations of “international prominence” and assertions such as “every student should have the opportunity for a global experience” are not uncommon in the Path to Prominence, the school’s strategic plan, completed one year ago after nine months of outreach to faculty, students, staff and other groups with a stake in the university’s future. The plan, though, is not an edict but a starting point.
“It’s a road map,” Cosgrove says. “Some will open, some will have potholes, some may turn into dead ends. He (Harker) has a firm grasp of that.”
Harker’s plan emphasizes energy, the environment (both physical and global), entrepreneurship, and a collegial approach to growth and problem solving. He is counting on alumni to spread the word and ante up needed dollars. He wants a more diversified student body, yet pledges a commitment to Delawareans. He believes in the art and impact of partnership—with other universities, government and industry. He has cast an eye toward the former Daimler Chrysler plant on South College Avenue. He suggests that there could be a law school in UD’s future.
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“It’s clear that universities will have to have a greater impact on the fortunes of their communities and the nation,” says David Weir, director of UD’s Office of Economic Innovation & Partnerships. “There’s the concern that, otherwise, innovation and entrepreneurship could falter.”
OEIP, which began last summer, is emblematic of Harker’s bid to extend the university’s influence. Dubbed “Delaware Gateway,” the office serves as a kind of incubator to assess and secure university-based and outside inventions, and to convert them into marketable enterprises. Most projects, usually quite technical in nature (high-efficiency solar cells, biomarkers to detect cancer), are funded by federal research grants. University partners range from start-up companies to leading corporations to the federal government.
“It adds to the reputation of the institution and can be a source of revenue,” says Weir, a former top manager at DuPont who holds a doctorate in chemical physics.
Weir had been director of Delaware Biotechnology Institute, which he launched in 2001 and grew into a force for research and economic development. Joining government, industry and academia, it is located, aptly, on Innovation Way in Delaware Technology Park on the edge of campus, a neighbor to one of three UD Small Business Development Centers. (The others are in Wilmington and Georgetown.) Since the SBDC helps OEIP in spurring start-ups, the nexus is clear—and potentially powerful.
“The office will strengthen our participation as a partner in the economic development of the state and region,” Harker said when he introduced OEIP in March 2008. “A chief goal is to enhance economic prosperity and quality of life.”
The quality of life on campus is very much on the president’s mind. An ex-football player from the University of Pennsylvania, he endorses an athletics plan that calls for expanded intramurals and recreation, “highly competitive” varsity sports, a balanced perspective for the student-athlete, and equal opportunity on the playing field for men and women.
Athletes or not, UD students have become increasingly less parochial. In an effort to further diversify the student body, the admissions staff has hit the road west—additional overseas student exchange programs are on the drawing board.
Increased diversity, however, will not affect the privately chartered, state-assisted university’s commitment to Delawareans. In-state applicants who fail to meet standards for either the school’s four-year or two-year program (typically 10 percent) often reapply and transfer after spending two years at Delaware Tech. The 90 percent accepted the first time around are benefiting from enhanced financial support, despite a shrinking endowment and reduced state aid. (Thank you, Wall Street.)
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“At a time when there is economic hardship, we attach the highest priority to ensuring that a UD education is affordable to students,” says Harker. “If necessary, we will reallocate funds from other purposes to make sure this happens.”
As it shores up its local constituency, the university is courting additional global partners and broadcasting a message that this small-state school has assets equal to anyone’s. The argument is simple: UD’s past performance justifies greater prestige, which should lead to more opportunity. “We’re much better than our press clippings,” says Harker.
The Path to Prominence intends to create a formidable legacy. Cosgrove and the trustees want to see UD’s reputation comparable to, say, the University of Virginia’s, maybe even to that of much larger Michigan State and Ohio State.
The mission is for the university “to be recognized around the world as one of the great public institutions of higher education in America.”
Playing for the Fighting Rams of Gloucester Catholic at home in New Jersey and the Quakers of the University of Pennsylvania, Patrick Timothy Harker was considering pro football before injuries ended the dreams of a defensive tackle. His second passion was engineering. He was first-generation college and had “no intention of being an academic.” His father was a pipe fitter.
Nonetheless, academics were in Harker’s future. He worked as a consulting engineer and earned a doctorate in engineering and a master’s in economics before joining the faculty of Penn’s Wharton School of Business in 1984. Seven years later, at age 32, he became the youngest ever awarded an endowed professorship at Wharton. That same year, he was named a White House Fellow, placing him squarely in the middle of discussions among national leaders. He calls the experience “life changing.”
“I had been happy as a faculty member doing research,” Harker says. “Now I learned I had these skills.”
Namely leadership skills. Post-White House, Harker’s professional profile began to change. Back at Penn, he chaired a department in the School of Engineering, then Wharton’s information management department. When both the dean and deputy dean of Wharton announced they were stepping down, Harker helped mount a search for replacements. Soon enough, he became a replacement.
During Harker’s seven years as Wharton’s dean, the faculty grew and meshed, arguably, into the best in the business. Rejuvenated alumni stimulated fundraising and recruitment, and they mentored students. Capital campaigns netted $445 million, funding new facilities and endowing chairs and scholarships.
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In the summer of 2006, the UD board began a hands-on search for Roselle’s successor. Cosgrove invited Harker to Newark. “He (Harker) said, ‘The last time I was here was 30 years ago, when [legendary coach] Tubby Raymond tried to recruit me to play football,’” says Cosgrove. “We knew what he had accomplished at Wharton, and that he was the type of leader we needed.”
Where Raymond failed, Cosgrove and company succeeded. In addition to running the show, Harker is an appointed professor in business and engineering at UD. He plans to resume teaching later this year. With his wife a schoolteacher in New Jersey and their three kids in college, education is as natural as breathing to the president. So is his eagerness to tap potential.
We want to unleash the creativity of people around here,” says Harker, who fills a room and speaks with smooth assuredness. He explains that a vibrant organization is one in which “people move easily across departmental boundaries.”
That spirit is fundamental to the Path to Prominence and to Harker’s thinking. But to meet the university’s lofty goals, it will take more than motivation and enlightened planning. A new capital campaign is on the horizon. The “quiet” phase gets underway this summer, says Monica Taylor, vice president for development and alumni relations. That’s the period, two to three years, during which private gifts are gathered in advance of the public phase. UD hopes that quiet time induces donors to make some noise.
“We’ll be testing how our messages resonate with alumni and the community,” says Taylor, who followed Harker to UD from Wharton, where she headed development. “By the time we get to the public phase, we’ll know our priorities. We’ll have the [needed dollar] figures.”
Taylor expects “some core needs will bubble to the top,” such as scholarships and endowed chairs. Candidates for construction include a new undergraduate science lab, which she calls a top priority, and expansion of the athletic complex for both training and counseling.
Alumni, a population that Taylor and Harker cultivated at Wharton, will be central to the UD fundraising effort. Next month, the school will hold its inaugural Alumni Weekend to kick off a new era of relations.
“We will reach out in a much more aggressive way to alumni. The giving will follow the connecting,” promises the president, who sees the relationship as two-way. “Alumni can build connections for themselves as well as our students.”
The UD wish list runs deeper still. Now that automotive operations have ceased at the Daimler Chrysler plant, UD is eyeing the 270-acre property, which could reshape the university’s southern gateway and provide space currently unavailable to some business-research partners. An expanded presence in southern Delaware is the focus of a task force and a special committee of the UD board. And the road to a law school has a few early markers. Faculty from across the university are evaluating the need and desire to bolster legal education and research.
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Given the state of Delaware’s unique standing in the corporate world, business and law studies at UD would seem to go hand in hand.
“A law school with a specialty in corporate law would be extraordinarily successful, not just in training lawyers, but in developing legal research and scholarship,” says law professor Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance. “It would solidify the brand. The president is absolutely on-target with this.”
Harker seeks to build faculty strength under “an umbrella” of business law: corporate, intellectual property, environmental, even sports management. “We can be intellectual partners with the [chancery] court system, which is a great franchise for the state,” he says.
A UD law school is far from a done deal, but in the coming years, the university may be making a strong case.
Today UD students are studying in 40 countries on seven continents, and nearly half of them have had at least one study experience abroad.
The school’s theme of diversity extends overseas. The London Centre is in a Georgian town house that breathes Dickens and Churchill. The Paris semester revolves around a storied building with a flowering courtyard. “In Africa, they’re living in tents,” says Lesa Griffiths, director of UD’s Center for International Studies, which will be expanded into the Institute for Global Studies, with an increased push for partnerships with other schools and countries.
“President Harker’s focus is on strategic partnerships, showing how they can benefit both institutions,” Griffiths says. “Right now there’s a greater emphasis on China.”
All of which is consistent with the reality of a growing, though currently wounded, global economy—and which has implications beyond international commerce.
Less than six months into his presidency, Harker said, “In the decades ahead, the University of Delaware must become even more engaged as a public university that educates global citizens and scholars, that applies knowledge to the critical needs of the state, the nation and the world.”
Close to home, the university is advancing on several fronts. New faculty chairs in energy, the environment and health sciences have been funded by a grant from Wilmington-based Unidel Foundation. New vice provost posts in Graduate and Professional Education, and Research and Strategic Initiatives, have been filled. The Lerner College of Business opened a Venture Development Center, a training ground for student entrepreneurs, last November. An energy institute started last September and Environmental Research was set to debut this spring.
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Last October, UD, Christiana Care Health System, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and Thomas Jefferson University established the Delaware Valley Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, an effort aimed at developing new therapies and translating scientific discoveries into more effective health care. Harker says the consortium may do no less than “change the practice of medicine.”
A month earlier, UD and Jefferson had formed a partnership to explore medical research projects and additional combined academic programs in a range of health services. Earlier in ’08, the schools created a combined degree program, speeding the way to a doctorate in pharmacy for UD students.
Not all UD partnerships are about academics. The university and the city of Newark have been examining traffic safety issues around the core of the campus and posing solutions to DelDOT.
Collaboration clearly is a hallmark of the Harker style. So is his willingness to seek recognition for others. Harker says that his faculty is “hungry for increased visibility.” If so, their table manners are impeccable.
And given their level of achievement, many of the profs could be excused for expecting a higher profile. Engineering professor John Gillespie, for example, boasts a list of patents, papers and books longer than the arm of an NBA center. A professional survey recently ranked his Center for Composite Materials as the top research site of its kind in the nation. The low-key Gillespie likes the course his president has set.
“He wants institution-based partnerships to stimulate economic activity,” Gillespie says. “It makes us more visible in terms of how the rest of the world views us. He’s bringing that perspective to the university—high impact.”
The environment will be another important piece of the Harker plan. John Byrne, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, is determining the university’s “carbon footprint” per a study funded by the class of 2008. Once the baseline is established, the school will know how it needs to adjust to stay on the right side of global warming.
“President Harker made the commitment to sustainable levels [of greenhouse gas emissions],” says Byrne, who shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in climate change. “His leadership builds upon university assets and gives us more clout to attract funding.”
While thinking green prevails, greenery graces the Newark campus in springtime. The physical legacy of the Roselle years commands the view: the Roselle Center for the Arts, the blend of Georgian and modern architecture that marks Lerner and Gore halls, 500-bed George Read Hall, the Bob Carpenter Center, and others.
At stately Hullihen Hall, the relative quiet belies the imperative of planning and acting. In the president’s office, Pat Harker is busy wiring the school for a changing world. The pipe fitter’s son is making sure all the pieces fit.