Tuesday’s meeting of the University of Delaware Board of Trustees marked the last such occasion for president Patrick Harker and board chair A. Gilchrist Sparks III.
The long, tribute-filled session included repeated references to Harker’s signature accomplishments. They include building the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory, converting an abandoned Chrysler plant into the new STAR technology campus, and effectively shepherding the school’s finances across rocky economic terrain.
Harker, who will leave the university this summer to lead the Federal Reserve of Bank of Philadelphia, also had a number of notable setbacks. His attempt to build a data center and corresponding power plant crumbled under community pressure. He also earned the ire of faculty for what some perceived as a corporatized approach to higher education.
In February, Harker earned an official rebuke from the university’s faculty union after penning a op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer that said higher-ed should become more “learner-centric” and reconsider faculty’s role in driving curriculum.
Harker said Tuesday that “squabbling is inevitable in every family,” but that he will leave the university with fond memories. He also challenged the university to continue diversifying its student body. The state’s flagship university has often been seen as unwelcoming to minorities. Poignantly, Harker’s final board of trustees meeting featured a lengthy presentation from Dr. James Jones, director of the university’s Center for the Study of Diversity.
Sparks, the board chairman for most of Harker’s tenure, spoke at greater length about the challenges facing the next university president. He focused closely on the rising cost of higher education and the accelerating pace of technological change.
Sparks said the University of Delaware, “like many universities,” has “only begun to face up to the changes brought on by the digital age.” He called for the university to rethink how it teaches students and urged cooperation as higher education evolves.
“It’s my hope that administration and faculty will work together in a nimble way that allows us to be leaders and not followers,” Sparks said.
Sparks has been board chair for six years. Harker took over as president eight years ago.
“Only a once-in-a-lifetime offer could have pulled me away from this,” the departing president said.