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Preparing for Feasibility Studies on UAC Recommendations on Academic Structure

August 23, 2023

Dear Colleagues,

As I shared in my June 20 message, the University Advisory Committee on Academic Structure (UAC) developed a series of recommendations for maximizing student success and well-being; aligning our academic programs to promote flexibility, collaboration and greater effectiveness; and bringing all of us —students, faculty and professional staff – closer together as a community that performs at the highest levels of creativity, innovation, and impact.

The UAC’s primary recommendations were:

  • Cluster academic disciplines and structures to support interdisciplinary collaboration on research, program development, partnership creation and resource allocation;
  • Establish consistency in structure and policies to create organizational alignment and to facilitate collaboration;
  • Transition to a semester-based calendar for all academic programs to support student success and align with external partners and institutions;
  • Institute core competency requirements for all undergraduate students to support greater curricular alignment and flexibility and to provide differentiating skills that define a Drexel education; and
  • Utilize community spaces to support academic activities, enhance faculty and professional staff collaboration, and improve the overall student experience.

Over the past two months, intensive internal consultation and review of these recommendations have continued through open, deliberative discussions and a feedback period jointly led by Provost Paul Jensen and Faculty Senate Chair Kevin Owens, and through a comment period extended through the first week of August.

I am grateful to all of you who participated in these discussions and surveys. Your feedback helped to prioritize specific recommendations for testing and will continue to inform the process as we move into the feasibility phase.

In the coming weeks, we will announce the formation of feasibility study working groups and their respective charges. While we will invite our academic and administrative leaders to nominate members for these groups, we encourage anyone from the faculty and professional staff to nominate themselves to serve. More details will be shared soon.

Based on the UAC’s report, I want to summarize how we will move forward with each of the recommendations.

I will address the calendar recommendation first. The feasibility of transitioning to a semester-based system will be thoroughly tested. Final decisions will be based on an analysis of all relevant data and a determination of which academic schedule best supports our students and faculty. In particular, I am determined to enhance Drexel’s competitive advantage in experiential learning by strengthening our Co-op program and maintaining our excellent relationships with major Co-op employers. We therefore need to fully understand how organizing our academic calendar by semesters would affect our Co-op program – and how our employers would experience this transition. Including these employers as active participants in the feasibility study will help us make the right decision.

Second, core competency requirements. I strongly agree with the UAC that every undergraduate we enroll should have a shared Drexel experience and acquire differentiating skills that highlight the unique qualities of a Drexel education. Greater curricular alignment can also support enhanced flexibility for students to move across programs. Feasibility testing will be focused on the viability, timeline and resources needed to establish core competencies and the strategy for defining the competencies themselves.

Third, clustering academic disciplines and structures. I agree with the UAC that it should be easier for students to navigate Drexel, to find programs that are right for them, and to experience more of what a comprehensive teaching and research university offers. We all understand that more opportunities to collaborate across our respective units translates into innovation, greater capacity for external partnerships, and successful research activity. In many cases the current configuration of our schools, colleges, and programs significantly hinders our ability to achieve these objectives.

The change proposed by the UAC to organize all our colleges and schools into five academic clusters is at an order of magnitude beyond the University’s capacity at this time, and would entail significant uncertainty and risk. A more measured approach therefore should be taken. As a result I propose a pilot to build an academic grouping among the College of Arts and Sciences, the Richard C. Goodwin College of Professional Studies, and the School of Education, and hope to develop an effective “playbook” based on the pilot that we can learn from and apply to future opportunities. For now, this will be the only academic cluster that we will undertake.

Fourth, consistency of policies and practices. I agree with the UAC that enhanced consistency across Drexel policies and practices holds great potential for improving both the student, faculty and professional staff experience and the overall efficiency of the University. But I would go a step further: No other UAC recommendation bears more directly on Drexel’s future than putting an end to the bureaucratic policies, processes, and business practices that thwart collaboration, waste precious time, energy, and money, and hold our University back. Whether the issues involve teaching loads, course credit requirements, grant proposal development, contract management, budgeting for interdisciplinary programming, or procurement, we need to make work at Drexel less frustrating and opaque, and more accessible, productive, and successful for everyone. As is the case with all the other recommendations, a feasibility study team will develop an actionable plan for making not just consistency, but also coherence, cohesion, and collaboration the order of the day at Drexel.

And finally, community spaces. The UAC’s report calls for physical spaces that enrich the student experience, foster programmatic coordination and integration, and encourage collaboration across the University so everyone can do their best work. Happily, this recommendation is confluent with the work we have been doing over the past decade guided by our Campus Master Plan to produce a more vibrant live-work-play environment at Drexel. Led by Vice President for Real Estate & Facilities Alan Greenberger, this effort will move forward under an updated campus master plan that will align with the UAC’s vision for community spaces. That vision is reflected in these exciting projects:

  • The new addition to recently renovated Kelly Hall, opening next month, which will transform the building into an appealing destination for study and social activity;
  • The completion during the summer of 2024 of Myers Hall Recreational Field, which will feature something Drexel has never had before: a massive new green space in the heart of the residential area of campus. When completed, this beautiful quad will, I believe, become the beating heart for our students living on campus; and
  • Cuthbert Mews: The new Life Sciences Laboratory and Research building under construction at 32nd and Cuthbert Streets will provide welcome and much needed space for the College of Engineering and School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, and has attracted much positive media coverage. But we can be equally proud and excited that this project will also transform Cuthbert Street from an ordinary back alley into an active and landscaped pedestrian passageway that will link Schuylkill Yards and the 30th Street Station District with the heart of campus at Lancaster Walk.

Going forward, I will continue to keep the community updated and informed as these feasibility studies proceed. Provost Jensen will follow up with more detail in the coming weeks after we finalize the charges and teams that will guide this work.

I want to reassure all of you that the decisions regarding the UAC recommendations will be based on rigorous analysis and the best available evidence of what serves the needs and interests of our students; what advances our goals and affirms our Shared Values under our Strategic Plan; and what promotes the greater good of the University.

I want to thank the Provost Jensen, Faculty Senate Chair Owens, the members of the UAC, and everyone who has offered their time and insights. It is heartening to see our community join together in dialogue and problem solving, and I especially appreciate the willingness and desire to put the needs and interests of our students first. I have no doubt we will emerge a stronger, more innovative, and more collaborative University that all of us are proud to serve.


John Fry