Dear Students and Colleagues,

Following last week’s meetings with our Board of Trustees, I would like to take the opportunity to update you on some of the many ways our University is seizing upon shifting landscapes in higher education and society as opportunities to “spring forward” — with tailwinds or through headwinds.

Prior to the start of this academic year, I reported that the University Advisory Committee on Academic Structure (UAC) had 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 collaborative community that performs at peak levels of creativity, innovation, and impact.

The UAC developed these five recommendations:

  • 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.

Working groups comprised of a representative cross section of Drexel faculty and professional staff have since examined the recommendations to assess their feasibility and likely impact.

Those working groups recently completed these feasibility studies and have just delivered their findings and recommendations to Provost Jensen and me. Once we have reviewed the reports, I will announce the recommendations that we endorse, along with key actions, next steps, and timelines for putting them into effect. We will also convene a series of town hall discussions around these recommendations. I am confident that making these changes will better position Drexel for academic and student success, global leadership in experiential education, and institutional effectiveness.

The ongoing work to promote academic freedom, inclusion, and well-being

In the midst of this important work, Drexel has sought to remain sensitive and responsive to the needs of the community while recognizing deeply held positions of our community members, even when those positions are at odds with one another. In the context of issues related to non-discrimination, as well as other areas, colleges and universities continue to grapple with principles related to free speech and campus activism, including understanding the distinction between protected speech and speech or conduct that violates our non-discrimination policies. Similarly, reported incidents of plagiarism and research misconduct threaten to undermine public confidence in higher education.

To ensure that Drexel continues to promote excellence in all that we do, we have chosen proactively to launch a rigorous external review in these areas. One part of the review will focus on our institutional response to issues related to discrimination and harassment. Our objective here is to ensure that our efforts to foster a welcoming and inclusive community are appropriately supported by our non-discrimination policies, procedures and practices in response to reports of discrimination and harassment under Title VI. A second part of the review will focus on our free-speech policies – and their intersection with our non-discrimination policies – with the goal to protect academic freedom while ensuring the safety and well-being of all students, faculty, and professional staff. The final part of the review will focus on policies and procedures for ensuring the integrity of all University-based research publications and conduct, and for adjudicating alleged findings of all forms of academic misconduct, including plagiarism.

These external reviews will examine Drexel’s legal and regulatory compliance, assess its adherence to effective practices, and recommend steps that we can take to become stronger and more effective in support of our mission and values. The review will include opportunities for community engagement, and we look forward to inviting each of you to participate to share your insights, perspectives, and experiences.

The tragic backdrop of the war in Gaza

The war between Israel and Hamas remains a focal point of debate, tensions, and anguish throughout our community.

I unequivocally condemn Hamas’ horrific attack against Israel, its ongoing atrocities against Israeli hostages whom it continues to hold captive, and its actions against its own people by deliberately using hospitals, schools, and residences as human shields.

I also despair in equal measure over the plight of innocent Palestinians who have borne the full brunt of Israel’s military siege of Gaza, which has brought on one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent memory. As Ramadan begins amidst the ruins of leveled mosques, we recognize that the vast majority of 2.2 million Palestinians across Gaza have been displaced. The death toll among Palestinian civilians, the majority of whom are women and children, is staggering. Tens of thousands more have been seriously wounded.

I extend my heartfelt sympathies to all members of our community with loved ones in Israel and Gaza who have been killed, injured, displaced, or traumatized. I also want to reaffirm my commitment to uphold academic freedom while ensuring that every member of our community feels seen, heard, safe, welcome, and free from bias, intimidation, harassment, and hate.

In that regard, I am tremendously heartened by reports that face-to-face discussions on campus about the war and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict have remained civil, and that on-campus teach-ins and demonstrations have been peaceful, with participants and passersby being considerate and respectful of one another. We should all strive to maintain and emulate this standard for discourse.

I remain, however, deeply concerned both by reports of sporadic expressions of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and intimidation across our campus. It is one thing to express opinions through peaceful protest, petitions, and vigorous debate. It is another to plaster hateful slogans on bathroom walls, to vandalize buildings that represent Jewish student organizations, or to subject individual Muslim or Jewish students to discrimination, harassment, or intimidation.

Let me be clear: Antisemitism, Islamophobia, all forms of racism and all expressions of bias and hate are vile and destructive. They do nothing to deepen our knowledge and understanding. They have no place at our University and will not be tolerated. 

Like many longstanding conflicts throughout the world, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presents difficult and complex challenges. But we can contribute to a more peaceful and just world by reflecting on our power and responsibility to listen to one another mindfully, to seek to understand the perspectives of others, to build bridges across divides, and to see these complex issues — and one another — more clearly.

Commemorating Drexel’s first bite of the Apple Macintosh

History can inspire us to be creative, innovative, and bold.

Last week, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of a signature moment in Drexel ambitious Microcomputing Project when our goal to become the first university in the United States to require every student to use a PC became a reality with the distribution of first Apple Macintosh personal computers to our first-year students. By going all in to embrace and drive the microcomputing revolution when the vast majority of our peers held back, Drexel earned a national reputation for leading the way in preparing highly skilled leaders for the new tech age.

The AI revolution places Drexel at a similar inflection point today. We already can discern AI’s impact on every profession and industry, its potential for promoting student learning, and the premium it will place on equipping today’s students with skills in machine learning. We also recognize the role AI can play in developing innovative solutions to universal challenges, from threats to cybersecurity and power grids to climate change. 

In health care alone, AI has the potential to save more lives by improving diagnostics, accelerating the development of new drugs and treatments, performing robotic surgery with greater precision, and enhancing the patient experience.

Fortunately, Drexel has many talented faculty who have been working on ways to realize AI’s potential benefits while remaining mindfully vigilant about its risks. Already, many of our colleges and programs, especially in the College of Computing & Informatics, the College of Engineering, the LeBow College of Business, and the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, have successfully integrated AI into many aspects of their curricula.

Since last spring, three separate groups led by Vice Provost for Undergraduate Curriculum and Education Steve Weber together have developed recommendations both for the integration of AI (and its real-world applications) into the curriculum and policies for its successful use in the classroom. 

As was the case during the early phases of the Microcomputing Project, Drexel has significant challenges to meet and hurdles to clear. We need all our students, faculty and professional staff to acquire literacy, familiarity and comfort with a new technology that frightens some and bewilders many. We need to develop and implement the best pedagogical practices for ensuring thoughtful use of AI in the classroom instruction. And we need to prevail upon our students to embrace AI as a platform to enhance learning and discovery without succumbing to the temptation to submit AI-generated work as their own.

The AI revolution can represent a new beginning for Drexel and an opportunity to become a leader in shaping AI for the benefit of our students and the betterment of the world – just as we began to do 40 years ago, when our co-op students and graduates had already acquired advanced digital competencies while most of their peers were still stuck in the analog world.

By embracing this new technology now, we will ensure that every Drexel co-op student and every Drexel graduate will bring strong AI competencies, if not advanced AI expertise, to their employers and chosen professions.

Spectacular new green space

Finally, I am happy to report that we are on schedule to have the beautiful, multipurpose green space and quadrangle at the former Myers Hall site completed and operational in time for the start of the new academic year this September. Featuring more than 100 new native canopy and understory trees along with native and adapted plant species, this space will be a campus (and urban) oasis, a biodiversity haven, and simply a stunning place for our students to socialize, play, and reflect.

In the meantime, I wish our students good luck on their finals, and everyone a successful end to our winter quarter.


John Fry

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