Editorial: Delaware First means undergraduates second
The university is once again expecting the welfare of the student population to take a backseat to its national reputation.
The rejuvenated approach to marketing our university to the wider world, called Delaware First, appears to reshape our university’s educational philosophy to fit the mold of a traditional research university. This, however, does not fit with our current model, which focuses on a quality undergraduate education.
Instead of embracing our unique disposition, which allows for the pursuit of impactful research while also allowing for small classes taught by professors with decades of experience in their fields, we are shifting to a new model that closer aligns with the mission of larger research institutions.
Outwardly, this may not sound like a bad decision until realizing that these research-centered expansions will come, inevitably, with consequence. As class sizes grow and teaching assistants begin to take on larger educational roles, it will cost our undergraduate students the unique type of educational experience they can experience here.
This should not be all too surprising. Ever since taking office, President Dennis Assanis, who holds multiple doctorates with a background in engineering, has made a big deal about multiplying the number of graduate students at the university. This administration does not seem to care about the quality of the undergraduate experience, which has, up until now, been our flagship quality.
Of course we cannot tell what the exact effects of this new approach will be. That would require access to the finances of the university in order to follow the money. This is an access the university repeatedly refuses to provide to the public, hiding behind the mirage of a public-private charter, even stonewalling journalists who simply want to inform students about where their tuition money is going.
The Delaware First campaign is not about bettering our educational experience. It is all about improving our national ranking, athletically. Not about proving our national ranking, academically.
Financially, we already prop up our athletics program. For example, the University of Maryland uses its general budget to create 16 percent of its athletics revenue. The rest comes from items such as ticket sales and merchandise. In comparison, the University of Delaware is forced to forge 81.77 percent of its athletic revenue from the general budget. In other words students’ tuition dollars are being used to sustain an unsustainable business model: athletics at the university. Our athletics program brings in almost no independent revenue.
Yet now we are pouring tens of millions of dollars into the athletics program for football stadium renovations and to provide more resources for student athletes. Unfortunately, we seem to be ignoring the “student” half of student athletes. Professors also seem to be indignant about the extravagant sinking of academic funds into athletics.
“Re-evaluate the football program, which drains resources and distracts student attention” said Stuart Kaufman, a political science professor at the university.
We are having an identity crisis about how we measure progress as an educational institution. Traditionally we have been ranked as one of the top public research universities in the country, even being called a public Ivy university, while still covering the fundamentals of classroom instruction. Under Assanis that is no longer enough. Now we must spend time worrying about our national rankings.
Perhaps most telling is the slashed morale of faculty since Assanis took the wheel. More than 50 percent of faculty are dissatisfied with the direction of the university.
It is time for us to decide if we as a community want to change our identity as a beacon of undergraduate education or not. We need to decide whether this is the path we want to be on.
Editorials are developed by The Review’s Editorial Board, led this week by Investigative Editor Jacob Orledge. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.