The University of Delaware was accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education last month and is currently preparing for the beginning of another school year. Tom Apple, the university Provost talks about the accreditation and how the university plans to continue along its improvements detailed in the Path to Prominence.
Could you talk a little bit about the university’s Middle States Accreditation and why it is so important for the university?
Each university in the united states is accredited every ten years, it’s called our decennial review. The Middle States commission on Higher Education is one of seven body across the country that accredit universities. Being accredited by one of these crediting agencies allows a university to accept federal funds—in particular title 4 education funds.
It’s a process that we go through every ten years and every five years we do a periodic review that’s not as extensive. The ten year review requires a site review, which is much more intensive.
The team that came through to review the university was Jared Cohen, who is the president of Carnegie Mellon University. It also included the provost from Syracuse University and William and Mary, a dean from University of Virginia and a director from Villanova—it’s a very prestigious panel that came in and monitored us.
Accreditation under middle states requires the university to be in compliance with 14 standards, which are called Characteristics of Excellence. We passed all 14 of those with flying colors and we received a very good accreditation report.
In particular in this accreditation, we asked that they focus on our path to prominence and in particular our goal of becoming a great research university, having very strong graduate and professional programs and having a stimulating undergraduate experience.
In each of those cases, they looked at our self study, the examination that we do of our own performance and they examined that and found that we’re doing a great job. If you look at the report, they did mention that the university has made tremendous strides—breathtaking is one of the terms they used—so we’ve clearly done an incredible job in the past few years in moving the university forward.
However, they did cite one area that we really must improve on and that’s diversity. This cuts across the all aspects of the university: students, faculty and staff. We need to diversify our staff, our student body and we need to make sure that we retain faculty and students of color and that they’re successful here.
There’s room for improvement in those areas and we need to diversify our curriculum too.
How does the university plan to enact the suggestions from the accreditation report?
In terms of diversity, we’re really starting a process of all hands on deck. Each dean and all of the administration have put into their goals for the coming year the improving the diversity of their units.
We also have a diversity and equity commission that has issued eight recommendations that we are looking now to implement. They’re good recommendations and we believe we can implement them in the coming year.
It’s really a university-wide, very unified approach to making sure improve the recruitment and retention and success of staff here at the university.
In what ways will the university begin to enact the Path to Prominence, particularly in research and interdisciplinary studies?
I’ll start with the area of research. Great research comes about first and foremost by having great faculty, so we continue to recruit and retain great faculty that establish really quality research programs that allows students to have great research experiences here, which I think is really critical.
Another important part of great research programs is making sure they’re interdisciplinary and that they involve partners. We’re working very hard to align our research programs with many of our partners, such as Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Pacific Northwest National Labs, Fraunhoffer and J.P. Morgan Chase.
These are entities where we have mutual interests in various research and we’re trying to strengthen the collaboration agreements we have with each of them.
Interdisciplinary work is important in particular, for pushing back the frontier in the most important areas of research.
We really have one of the strongest alternate energy programs in the world here, and we have a university of De energy institute headed by Mike Klein. We make the best solar cells in the here, the most efficient solar cells at our institute for energy conversion, it’s been a DoE center of excellence for years.
But what good does it do, to make really efficient solar cells if they’re not on the rooftops. When you think about how one would achieve that, what you need is not just the expertise that we have in engineering and the hard sciences to make the solar cells. You need to have people who understand policy, who understand economics, who understand organizational behaviors and personal psychology, people who understand aesthetics.
In order to get those solar cells made economically and up on the rooftops where they’re beautiful and accepted in the neighborhoods or whether the company will put them on their roof, it requires all these other areas, the social sciences, the arts and the humanities.
What we often do is call that is translational research, which is taking these developments from the bench and getting them out into society. It really requires team efforts and interdisciplinary research.
I think those are the frontiers, bringing the social sciences and the hard sciences and the engineers together with the arts and the humanities to have them look at the common problems in health sciences, energy and the environment and working with our partners.
We’re greatly strengthened by working with local companies and large multinational companies.
In what ways do you want to see the university improve the educational experience for students, whether that is through research or other means?
Research for me personally, was a transformative experience. When I started doing research, I really became passionate about something and I think a lot of our students find that as well.
For some it’s research, but for others it might be a great service learning project or even just a great class that gets them excited.
I’ve often made it my goal to provide transformational experiences and those come about when there is strong student-faculty interaction and the students are doing something that they find that they love.
For me it was research, but for others it could be found in study abroad or a service learning project.