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2014 Convocation with Paula Marantz Cohen

Remarks by President John A. Fry

October 7, 2014

Good morning colleagues. Welcome to Convocation. Thank you for taking the time to come together as an academic community. It’s my distinct privilege to be here with you today.

Dr. Herbert, let me take a moment to express my deep appreciation for your service as interim provost. As you noted, even in a time of transition, the job of moving Drexel forward doesn’t stop. I’m delighted to have the provost’s office under your expert direction.

We’ve had quite a memorable start to this academic year, our 123rd. The year began with a magnificent gift from Trustee Stan Silverman and his wife Jackie to endow The Silverman Family Professor of Entrepreneurial Leadership. Dr.  Donna DeCarolis, founding dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship, is the first Silverman Family Professor.

Stan and Jackie’s gift of an endowed professorship was inspired in part by an event held last May to discuss Endowed Chairs and Professorships, and specifically by the passionate comments during the lunch made by Professor Chuck Haas, the Betz Chair in Environmental Engineering, Dr. Eric Zillmer, the Pacifico Professor of Neuropsychology and Faculty Senate Chair Dr. Ludo Scheffer, who organized and hosted the event.

On September 4, I joined Dr. Ken Lacovara and his team to announce they’d discovered a new species of supermassive dinosaur, with the most exceptionally complete skeleton ever found. Lacovara and his colleagues, which included Drexel graduate students, published the detailed description of their discovery, defining the genus and species Dreadnoughtus schrani, in the journal Scientific Reports from the Nature Publishing Group. Even for an audience of reporters, academics and University leaders, dinosaurs still have the power to spark a sense of child-like wonder, and enormous national and international attention.

I am also pleased to announce to the broader Drexel Community that our ongoing research into smart textiles with biomedical sensing applications will receive a three-year, $800,000 NSF grant to continue development. The products of this research include the Belly Band, a maternity garment that also monitors uterine contraction and fetal heart rate in real time. It’s a perfect example of Drexel collaboration, involving Kapil Dandekar, Adam Fontecchio and Timothy Kurzweg of the College of Engineering and Genevieve Dion of Westphal College and the Shima Seiki Laboratory in the ExCITe Center.

Last Tuesday we opened Perelman Plaza, the new crossroads of our campus. Shared public spaces are essential to creating strong communities. Thanks to Ray Perelman, we have now have the most spectacular shared space in Drexel’s history. And Ray has since made another wonderful commitment to name the Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life at Drexel University, to be located on N. 34th Street in the heart of our residential campus.

And as if all of that were not enough, on September 17th I announced a landmark gift that will transform legal education at Drexel for generations to come: a $50 million commitment by Drexel Trustee Tom Kline, one of America’s most respected and influential trial lawyers, and a champion of the elevation of trial advocacy training for law students.

Tom’s vision and generosity will help our law school build the economic foundation needed to navigate today’s challenging legal education climate. To commemorate this, the largest single gift in Drexel’s history, our law school will be named the Thomas R. Kline School of Law. Tom is with us today—let’s thank him together.

So it’s been a really great few weeks for Drexel. And it is fitting that we gather together today to celebrate our academic enterprise. This is the heart of our university, and the wellspring of our success.

First, we celebrate our students, including those who have just arrived at Drexel. Each year our student body becomes more academically talented overall, more creative and entrepreneurial and more committed to serving our neighbors.

We also celebrate the professional staff that supports our academic programs and administrative operations. Their hard work and sincere commitment on a day-to-day basis are the source of much of Drexel’s energy.

And in particular this year, we celebrate the unique talents, the innovative spiri and the true excellence of our faculty. Our professors are the core of our identity as a great research university. Their achievements drive Drexel’s reputation, and help generations of students pursue knowledge and success.

The faculty perspective will be the focus of our keynote address from our colleague Paula Marantz Cohen. Dr. Cohen is an inspired teacher, scholar, leader and ambassador for Drexel. I’ll have the privilege of introducing her in a few minutes.

But first, I want to take a moment to speak to this assembled community n specific terms about my absolute commitment to all of you to keep the academic enterprise at the center of our University. That commitment has driven every decision I’ve made in the past four years. It’s reflected in our strategic plan, and strongly supported by our trustees. And it is borne out by a fundamental analysis of where we dedicate Drexel’s resources. Looking at the most recent numbers, we spent about $38,000 a year on educational expenses per full-time equivalent student at the University. That’s several thousand more than the average of our closest peer group. Our faculty headcount is 43 percent of our full-time employee headcount.

That’s far more than our peers.

And I want to share another notable number, because I don’t think it’s widely known or appreciated: 84 percent of our direct capital expenditure is dedicated to projects that serve academics, as compared to non-academic and residential purposes. That’s 84 cents of every dollar of capital expenditure.

That hasn’t always been the case. Right before the economic downturn in 2008 rocked higher education, like it did every other industry, the three main categories of capital expenditures—academic, nonacademic, and residential projects—essentially converged. Each represented about a third of the total.

Then in 2009, the year of the Great Recession, the proportional spending on academics dropped precipitously to around 20 percent. Revenues were falling. And Drexel’s previous commitments to nonacademic projects ate up an unsustainable percentage of resources.

That history was the backdrop to the many conversations I had with faculty across Drexel when I took office. They could see that recovery would be slow and tenuous. And they said, loud and clear, that for us to continue to fulfill our core promises to students and to society, investment in academic projects had to be our first priority.

They were absolutely right. And in the years since, academic investment has been our number one budgetary priority, any way you look at it. In fiscal year 2014, the University invested $21.4 million dollars of new funding from the operating budget in academic initiatives. That’s in addition to capital spending. Last year, 45 percent of all new strategic investments were academic in nature. And this year, 61 percent of the Presidential Strategic Fund is being invested in academic projects. That’s up from 34 percent last year, and 11 percent when I started.

The statistics might be surprising, because we’ve continued to pursue transformative, high-profile projects outside the traditional academic sphere. The momentum that President Papadakis helped generate, and that put Drexel back on the map, has only accelerated. And everyone is seeing it, and experiencing it.

What changed, though, is the first question we ask when vetting our major projects: Can this be done without shifting our focus from academics?

So we build Perelman Plaza, a public space that Drexel has sorely needed, which will improve the experience of students, faculty and professional staff alike. And we can do it because Ray Perelman shares our vision for community, and fully funded this project based on his passion for community gathering places.

We begin to transform two major commercial arteries on campus, Chestnut Street and Lancaster Avenue, with major residential and retail complexes. And the full investment and risk are assumed by American Campus Communities, a national developer with expertise in these mixed-use projects on university campuses.

We build an infrastructure to help our students, faculty and professional staff serve the community and build partnerships with neighbors from Mantua and Powelton. And benefactors like Dana and David Dornsife and the late Phil Lindy make those projects their own, and fully fund these endeavors based on their commitment to urban revitalization.

We pursue our vision for the Innovation Neighborhood at the gateway to our University City campus, in a long-term project that will change the center of gravity in Philadelphia. And more than a national dozen developers are now competing to be the ones to bring the investment that will make it happen.

All of this activity tells me that we’ve identified a new competitive advantage in being the modern urban university: We have no shortage of partners, both philanthropists and investors, ready to support our shared vision.

Now let me be clear: Each of those projects will have a huge positive impact on our academic enterprise in the long term, from the recruitment effects of a first-class campus environment and safe and vibrant neighborhood, to the academic space and research and co-op opportunities that we’ll build into the Innovation Neighborhood.

But there are no short-term tradeoffs. These projects do not, and will not, impinge on our ability or our commitment to invest in academics.

And we continue to overhaul the way we do Drexel’s administrative work, so we can better target our investments. By now, you know that we’re implementing Responsibility Center Management as the cornerstone of our budgeting process. What that means academically is that our colleges and schools, who earn most of our revenue, will now keep most of that revenue. They decide how to invest it. They pay their own expenses, including to Drexel’s administrative units. And those units, in turn, must operate with more transparency and accountability than ever before. The connection between our academic priorities and our budget will be clearer than ever before under Responsibility Center Management.

Putting academics in the foreground is also the impetus for an announcement I’m making today: The next provost of the University will carry the title of Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

With that change, the Dean of the College of Medicine, Dr. Daniel Schidlow, will now report to the Provost and EVP for academic matters. That’s another major step in our continued pursuit of the “One University” ideal. Medicine is a central element to our vision for Drexel. And the College of Medicine deserves to be treated as part of our core academic enterprise.

The elevation of the provost position means that our national search for the right candidate is a watershed moment for Drexel. Our chief academic officer will have more responsibility, and more impact, than ever before

This is the right moment for me to recognize Dr. Mark Greenberg, Drexel’s provost for the past 6 years. We’ve had a close partnership since the day I’ve got here. And his service as provost and senior vice president was marked with the same qualities that have characterized his decades at Drexel: wisdom, creativity, collegiality and a warm and gracious spirit. He has left our academic enterprise much better than he found it, and we owe Mark our profound thanks for a job well done.

Now Mark has finished his term, and I’m confident that the search committee, led by Professor John Rich, will find candidates who are well matched to the institution Drexel has become. And I urge all of you to take advantage of the many opportunities that will come to provide advice to the committee. It’s one of the best ways for you to make your priorities part of the conversation.

I know that the pace of change at Drexel has not slackened. And it won’t. But it is not only our faculty and deans who keep our academic goals at the center of their plans. I reaffirm to your today that the University administration and the Board of Trustees do the same, and we will continue to do so, for as long as we are privileged to lead this great university.

This is an institution of teaching and discovery.  Everything we do must serve those noble purposes.

Now I’m pleased to turn to our keynote speaker. Paula Marantz Cohen is both a singular figure at the University, and at the same time quintessentially Drexel.

Paula’s been a member of Drexel’s faculty for more than 30 years, rising to the level of Distinguished Professor of English. She’s one of the University’s great teachers. In fact, she received the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award, our most prestigious recognition for excellence in teaching. At the same time, she has stepped up to meet big challenges for Drexel.

Paula developed our original Corporate Communications Program, directed the Literature major, which is now the English major, and co-created the Great Works Symposium, one of our most dynamic intellectual offerings. Now, as the new dean of the Pennoni Honors College, she is charged with ensuring that our very best students are challenged and fulfilled in their pursuits.

Paula’s also been one of Drexel’s great ambassadors. She’s the author of four scholarly books and many important essays, and co-editor of the Journal of Modern Literature. She’s a celebrated and popular novelist and commentator, recognized by reviewers from the Literary Guild to the Wall Street Journal.

And for a decade, she’s hosted The Drexel Interview for public television outlets nationwide. I’ve sat in the interview chair opposite Paula. Believe me, it’s challenging, but also a lot of fun, and a great credit to the University.

Please join me in welcoming a friend and an outstanding colleague, Dr. Paula Marantz Cohen.