Dear Drexel Colleagues,

Over the past several years, we have proactively responded to recent disruptions in the higher education sector by intensifying our efforts to strengthen Drexel's ability to attract and retain top students and to secure its future as a leading student-centered, experience-driven, research university.

In doing so, we have been mindful that, like most universities nationwide, Drexel faces several daunting challenges, including unfavorable demographic trends, rising costs, growing public skepticism, and heightened government scrutiny. We also know that we must significantly change the way that we run our academic and operational enterprise if we are going to meet the moment, adapt to upheaval in higher education and the world, and transform our University into an even more agile, innovative, financially sustainable and consequential version of itself.

The University Advisory Committee on Academic Structure (UAC) embraced the need for bold changes as an opportunity for Drexel to grow from a comprehensive R-1 institution into a more focused and comprehensively integrated university. The UAC issued five 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 collaborative community that performs at high levels of creativity, innovation and impact.

Reflecting input from hundreds of internal and external Drexel stakeholders across multiple phases of work, those five recommendations were:

  • Establish consistency in structure and policies to create organizational alignment and to facilitate ease of doing business;
  • 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;
  • Transition to a semester-based calendar for all academic programs to support student success and align with external partners and institution.
  • Strategically and operationally affiliate similar academic disciplines and programs to better support faculty collaboration and enable student success; and
  • Utilize community spaces to support academic activities, enhance faculty and professional staff collaboration, and improve the overall student experience.

As I reported in my March 12 message to the community, working groups comprising dozens of Drexel faculty and professional staff spent the past four months assessing the feasibility of the first four recommendations, and submitted their findings to Provost Jensen and me.

Over the past month, I have reviewed and discussed the reports with team chairs and members, to whom I am tremendously grateful for their thoughtful work. I am now pleased to announce that I embrace their recommendations, with some refinements. I strongly believe that implementing these recommendations in an integrated and methodical way will create the optimal conditions for strengthening our competitive position as leader in experiential education, use-inspired research, and partnership in an urban and global context.

Let me turn to the recommendations themselves.

Accountability, Consistency and Effectiveness

First, I embrace the UAC's recommendations and agree with the findings of the Accountability, Consistency and Effectiveness feasibility team that establishing consistency in policies, structures, and practices is important and serves Drexel’s best interest.

I charged the feasibility team with identifying three of its top 10 recommendations around "Academic Enablers," "Faculty Research and Instructional Opportunities” and “Student Learning and Services" that could be implemented over the next six months. I placed special emphasis on improving the student experience. The first three sets of new policies and practices to implement will focus on:

  • Changing major: One of the top barriers to flexibility in the student experience is the enormous challenge for students to change majors. Often it is easier for Drexel students to transfer to another university than to change majors. To rectify this, we will analyze policies and practices and recommend changes that make this more feasible. We understand this effort is tied to other UAC recommendations; however this work can begin now.
  • Workload policy: The misalignment of rewards and incentives not only hinders collaboration across units, but also is bad for productivity and morale. To fix this problem, we will first create consistent and equitable workload definitions. Then we will develop and activate policies, incentives, and a transparent system for crediting cross-unit collaboration, particularly for interdisciplinary research and teaching across units.
  • Contracting: We will need to fundamentally change our businesses practices and processes, which have become costly and chronically inefficient. To do this, we will incorporate AI and other technology tools into our contract procurement process, which will facilitate greater transparency and mitigate unnecessary risk that arises from an email-driven process generating multiple versions of redlined contracts. We also will ensure that designated professional staff across all academic and administrative units are properly trained to use these new tools.

Core Competencies

Second, the feasibility team identified four areas for developing core competenciesthat align with Drexel's strategic differentiators and distinct, longstanding strengths, or what the team calls "Drexel's big things." Fully integrating competencies that are informed by these differentiators across all curricula will give every Drexel student a shared experience and the preparation to thrive in any professional setting. The areas for these core competencies are: research and innovation; partnerships with organizations and businesses; civic and urban engagement; and global engagement. The team also proposed establishing other essential competencies that are vitally important both for maintaining accreditation and ensuring that our graduates are proficient in critical career skills and capacities, such as AI and entrepreneurship.

Fortunately, we have tremendous faculty expertise and talent for bringing these competencies to life across our University.

While we envision three distinct levels of competency — introductory (or fundamental), intermediate, and advanced — and multiple approaches to fulfilling requirements, we want every student to demonstrate fundamental competency in each of the four areas, and for every student to acquire advanced competency in at least one of those areas.

I concur with these recommendations. There will be many details to work out. We will need to cross-reference existing courses and other academic experiences and co-ops that help students develop their four core area competencies. We will also need to ensure that required university-wide courses do not conflict with accreditation constraints. Nonetheless, I am confident that we will be able to adopt and begin implementing these core area competencies within the next three years.

Academic Calendar

Third, the academic calendar feasibility team reaffirmed the benefits of moving to semesters, but with additional considerations, including the incorporation of core competencies.

We are now mapping out a path that would feature semesters and maintain the six-month co-op while providing students with greater flexibility and more choices to design their own paths based on desired learning objectives and outcomes. Those choices would include:

  • The six-month co-op, with up to a total of three co-ops;  
  • Significantly more study abroad opportunities; 
  • Shorter internships; and
  • Undergraduate research experiences

Based on the analysis of the feasibility team, shifting to semesters will enable Drexel to be more adaptable and responsive to the needs of the broadest cross section of students we want to enroll. Furthermore, based on the experience of peer institutions such as Northeastern and Rochester Institute of Technology that have transitioned successfully from quarters to semesters, I am reassured that moving to semesters can significantly improve recruiting, retention and the student experience at Drexel.

At the same time, in going forward, I want to make sure that we will retain the full support and participation of our co-op partners. Drexel's co-op is a signature asset and differentiator, and we have spent decades building relationships with our co-op employers who rely on Drexel to provide a steady stream of student talent. I also want to ensure that the benefits of moving to semesters will far outweigh the financial and qualitative costs. If these concerns are satisfactorily addressed, I will support this recommendation, and I anticipate that we will complete this shift in three years.

Affiliating Colleges, Schools and Disciplines

Fourth, the need to make Drexel more collaborative and navigable for students and all other stakeholders has driven the UAC's recommendation to achieve greater synergies and efficiencies through reorganization of our schools and colleges. The team studying the feasibility of the pilot grouping of the College of Arts and Sciences (CoAS), the School of Education (SoE) and the Goodwin College of Professional Studies endorsed making the integration of CoAS and SoE permanent, along with the First-Year Exploratory Program of the Goodwin College. However, it recommended leaving the Goodwin College outside of the pilot grouping, maintaining its connection with the LeBow College of Business for the time being, which in turn will afford us the time to develop a new strategy that better positions Goodwin to compete in the continuing and adult education markets. I concur with this recommendation.

In addition, to better support our clinical practice and instruction, Drexel will begin to bring together our clinical sites at the College of Medicine, College of Nursing and Health Professions and Colleges of Arts and Sciences under a new clinical structure: Drexel Health. This structure will also incorporate the clinics at Salus University after the merger of our two institutions is completed. Not only will the establishment of Drexel Health strengthen compliance and improve administrative efficiency, it will also promote greater collaboration among all our students and faculty in the health professions — creating more research opportunities and, importantly, better patient outcomes.

The concept of affiliating more colleges and schools together is powerful. Moreover, the feasibility team has endorsed the UAC's recommendation for grouping more colleges and schools where such alignments can better support our enrollment and research goals and better serve our partners and the communities we serve. I have asked the Provost to explore further the costs and benefits of further affiliations and will base my final decision on his recommendations.

Community Spaces

As you will recall, the UAC's report also called for physical spaces that enrich the student experience, foster programmatic coordination and integration, and encourage fruitful collaboration across the University. This recommendation, which reinforces the importance of affiliating our schools and colleges closely together, is already being implemented through the execution of our Campus Master Plan to produce a more vibrant physical environment at Drexel. That vision is reflected in these exciting projects: renovated and expanded Bentley and Kelly residence halls; the new Life Sciences Laboratory and Research building being developed at 32nd and Cuthbert Streets, which will provide welcome and much needed space for the College of Engineering and School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems; the construction of a mid-block crossing in the 3200 block of Chestnut to improve pedestrian safety; and the opening of the Myers Quad this fall.

Closing Thoughts

As we move forward to implement the UAC's recommendations in accordance with the findings of the feasibility teams, we need to treat the work of academic structuring as a single, integrated effort of vitally needed reforms and changes, and to treat change itself as something worth embracing. We also need to make governance and decision-making more streamlined and action-oriented in order to maintain our institutional focus and to stay on task. And we need to continue aligning our work around both our Areas of Excellence and Opportunity and the imperatives of our 2030 Strategic Plan.

As we have done through each phase of this process, we will enlist the expertise of our faculty  and professional staff. An invitation to a University gathering on May 8 to discuss this critical work and next steps will be forthcoming.

I want to reiterate how grateful I am to Provost Jensen, Faculty Senate Chair Owens, the members of the UAC, the feasibility committee teams, and everyone who has offered their time and insights. As I said at Convocation this past September, this work enables us to focus on what Drexel is good at and good for, and it empowers us to keep getting better at what we do. Let’s keep working together to move in that direction.


John Fry

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