University of Delaware honors former president

 Former UD President Patrick Harker speaks Tuesday at a dedication ceremony.(Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYY)

Former UD President Patrick Harker speaks Tuesday at a dedication ceremony.(Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYY)

The University of Delaware has renamed its Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (ISE) Lab after former President Patrick Harker, under whom the building was conceived and opened.

The move, which was formally announced Tuesday, forever connects Harker to one of his signature accomplishments.

When it opened in the fall of 2013, the ISE lab, now officially the Patrick T. Harker Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory, was the first new lab built at UD in 20 years. The 194,000-square-foot facility has two wings, one dedicated to classroom teaching and the other to research, and is designed to facilitate real-world learning.

Many at Tuesday’s dedication ceremony saw the building as a physical manifestation of Harker’s approach to higher-ed and his legacy at the university, which he left this summer to head up the Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve.

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“This kind of commitment to the future is a testament to Pat Harker’s presidency,” said John Cochran, chair of UD’s Board of Trustees.

Under Harker’s leadership, the university also converted a shuttered Chrysler plant into a new campus designed to bridge academia and industry in the science and technology fields. During his eight-year tenure at the university, Harker often focused on STEM education and the importance of universities as local economic stimulators.

“Economies ultimately grow and prosper or fail when local communities do the right or the wrong thing,” Harker said Tuesday at the renaming ceremony. “These kinds of facilities around the country are critical to securing our nation’s economic future.”

Governor Jack Markell, who was also on hand for the ceremony, said Harker “understood probably better than any university president in the country” the role universities can play in driving prosperity.

But Harker’s approach wasn’t without critics. Some saw his style as too top-down, and he often clashed with faculty. Others criticized his inability to diversify the university, which has long had disproportionately low numbers of black students.

Harker was succeeded by interim president Nancy Targett in July. The university announced late last month that Stony Brook University provost Dennis Assanis will become UD’s next permanent president. Assanis is expected to take over for Targett next summer.

The university also unveiled Harker’s official portrait Tuesday.

At the ceremony, Harker called the ISE lab a “professional milestone,” one he managed to raise money for despite unveiling plans to build it in late 2009 during the heart of the economic recession. Ultimately, university officials said, more than 140 donors contributed to help build the $130-million facility.

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