Delaware Will Shine lays groundwork for future of the university
BY MANAGING NEWS EDITOR
AND , SENIOR REPORTER
Rounding out a season of talks on the future of higher education—demonstrated in one case by President Patrick T. Harker rousing faculty with a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed on the topic—the university is moving forward with a new strategic plan that will roll out after Harker’s departure.
The plan, Delaware Will Shine, was open for public comment through yesterday. Delaware Will Shine is the university’s community-wide effort to decide how the institution should move into the future, Provost Domenico Grasso said. A community-led strategic plan will ensure long term success, he said.
“The takeaway message is that this university is committed to excellence and consequentiality in everything we do,” Grasso said. “We won’t do anything halfway. Everything we do we are going to do with the view of being excellent in it.”
Diversity—an issue that has come up several times at the university and on a national level—is a key feature of the draft. In the fall, attention turned to racism on campus after racist comments were posted on anonymous social media. The issue came to light again in the spring when the NAACP sent a letter to Harker criticizing the lack of diversity on campus. The letter specifically criticized that five percent of university students and two percent of university faculty are black, numbers that some legislators in Dover called discouraging.
Grasso said the university could not be excellent without first being diverse. Similar sentiments are expressed in the draft plan itself.
“Going forward, the University of Delaware will put diversity efforts at the forefront of every undertaking,” the draft plan said.
The diversity mentioned in the plan is not limited just to ethnic diversity, Grasso said, but also includes socioeconomic, sexual orientation and geographical diversity.
Reaching the goal of being a diverse university has challenges. Programs and efforts to increase diversity cost the university money. Grasso said it’s likely such a goal would have to be achieved incrementally over time as opposed to all at once. Becoming diverse also means amending a cultural mindset. Grasso said making students and faculty feel like a part of the push for diversity will help lead to a more welcoming community.
“We want to make sure we welcome each other and that people don’t feel isolated or marginalized on campus even if they are part of a subgroup,” Grasso said. “So that’s the part I’m struggling with. It’s how do we take the next step.”
Engagement and transparency
Another takeaway is the idea of becoming a learner-centric institution, said Vice Provost for Research Charles Riordan. This term doesn’t just apply to the students, but also to fostering an entire community focused on excellence and the impact of their work, Riordan said. These were comments central to Harker’s Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed, which emphasized becoming learner-centric.
“It’s not just preparing them for their first job out of college,” Riordan said. “It’s more important you are better prepared for what will ultimately be, you know, likely a number of different jobs, if not a number of different career paths.”
The plan also calls for the addition of an Office of Sustainability and an Institute for Public Scholarship. The Institute for Public Scholarship will reach out to the community to provide education and partnerships. An expanded Institute for Global Studies is also slated to work on building more international partnerships.
In order to measure progress in community engagement, the university will survey the university community to measure the success and participation of community engagement programs.
The plan calls for a spirit of unity and highly transparent decision making, something Grasso said his office already does through town halls and meetingst with members of the community. The sentiments in the draft come several weeks after students and faculty expressed mistrust of administration in an open forum on sexual assault.
Bahira Trask, chairperson of the Sustaining and Accelerating the Advance working group, said involving the whole community, specifically students, in the plan made it a more enriching experience. Undergraduate students bring a lot of ideas for how to incorporate issues like diversity into the plan at a grassroots level, Trask said.
“I think those are the voices we don’t always hear,” Trask said. “You know, we hear faculty voices, we hear administrator voices, also to certain extents alumni, but we don’t hear as much specifically from undergraduates and staff.”
One undergraduate, senior Danielle Imhoff, was on the Delaware Will Shine planning committee.
The plan succeeds the Path to Prominence, which was written when Harker joined the university. Grasso said Path to Prominence was written at a different time in both the history of the university and the nation.
Delaware Will Shine starts at a different point in the higher education scene, where a different amount of resources will be available. The economy in 2007 was stronger and state allocations were significantly larger. However, Grasso said there are similarities to the previous strategic plan because it did achieve many things and so a main part of the discussion was how to propagate aspects of Path to Prominence forward.
“There are things that are going to be unpredictable, there’s no question about that,” Grasso said. “But, to the extent possible, we want to be at the cutting edge of what’s happening, so we are controlling our own destiny instead of it controlling us.”
Grasso said one of his goals is to get the entire community on board with the new strategic plan. He said while it is impossible to get an entire university to agree completely, he wants people to be comfortable expressing their thoughts on the plan.
“This is supposed to be a plan for the entire university,” Grasso said. “We hope that everyone sees themselves in the plan, and we want to celebrate excellence wherever we can find it.”