Dr. DeLauder’s Academic Philosophy
An Academic Philosophy for Delaware State University’s “New Normal”
Although I have been at Delaware State University since 2013 and served in several capacities, President Allen challenged me, as we discussed my appointment as your permanent Provost and Chief Academic Officer, to “look at the Division’s central role in meeting the University’s mission with new eyes, taking into account not only our aspirations, but also the ‘new normal’ that will unfold over this Summer and Fall.”
He also suggested that I frame this philosophy to align with his often-stated objective for Delaware State University to become “the most diverse, contemporary HBCU in America.” As noted during my interview, Academic Affairs is core in meeting this objective as we are responsible for providing excellent curricular and co-curricular experiences for our students.
As I served as your Interim Provost over the past few months, I began thinking about these issues as our community navigated the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it doesn’t appear that COVID-19 is done with us, it is now time that I lay out my personal vision for the future.
In that light, I developed four key themes that resonate for me, and which I hope will also be meaningful to the entire University community:
We must build upon our many existing strengths
Delaware State University is blessed with an outstanding faculty, whose capacity to adapt and deliver a world-class education can be matched against those of any other institution nationwide. Our deans, chairpersons, and faculty members transitioned 1,447 traditional, face-to-face courses to an online format in just five days, and managed to support 711 seniors and graduate students through to the completion of their degrees under some of the most trying conditions imaginable.
We must continue to support initiatives that unleash the creativity of the faculty and the academic support staff to prepare for the “new normal” in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have to foster an atmosphere where innovation can rise from our classrooms rather than being mandated from above. We must refuse to accept common mantras “it’s always been done that way” or “that hasn’t been the policy” as acceptable barriers to change.
Over the past several years the University has organized several of its units with a focus on student success and degree completion. The Office of Student Success has implemented a professional advising model along with wrap around services for all of our students. The School of Graduate, Adult and Extended Studies provides enrollment growth opportunities with a focus on adult learners and near-completers. The Office of Institutional Effectiveness provides professional development for our faculty and staff in the latest instructional pedagogies along with support for program assessment. In addition, this office has developed a significant capacity for data analytics and thus provides the reporting needed to measure our progress in meeting institutional outcomes. These areas must be extended and deployed in creative ways to drive innovation. That not everything will always work is no excuse for not trying a new idea that has potential.
We must increase our commitment to being student-centered
The heart of our Digital Learning Initiative is a conceptual change from focusing on “the way we teach” to “the way our students learn.” To be successful, which means retaining our students and moving them toward graduation and career placement, every decision needs to keep this question in mind:
“How will this benefit our students?”
Student accountability and academic standards are critical to success and as educators we must continuously find new strategies to motivate, coach, guide, and assess our students in ways that are equitable, transparent, and meaningful for them. As a student, I found that I was most successful when my instructors, mentors, and advisors facilitated my learning by assisting me in understanding my strengths and abilities as well as my weaknesses. There is a certain confidence that I gained when as a student I was able to explain concepts to my classmates, read and understand research articles, and perform aspects of my research project independently and I strived to instill this confidence in my students as well. I firmly believe that a student centered classroom utilizing proven, high-impact practices, provides the student with the greatest opportunity for success as it provides them with the opportunity to accept the primary responsibility for their learning and to develop the skills necessary to become life-long learners.
Also, Academic Affairs and other divisions of the University must interact more seamlessly on behalf of our students. As President Allen continues to remind us, students and parents do not see “Academic Affairs,” “Residential Life,” or “Financial Aid”; they see “Delaware State University.” It is therefore encumbered upon all of us to find ways to collaborate to their benefit.
We must expand our research base and innovative outreach
One of the accomplishments of which I am most proud over the past several months is that our researchers found ways to keep critical research moving forward through enhanced safety protocols. Many other universities found themselves forced to shut down during a period of at least two months in which Delaware State University managed to land over $5 million in competitive grants.
Research, along with our newly established, outreach-based centers are key to greater institutional impact and generation to a better revenue stream to support all of our academic operations. Yet these also come with their own particular challenges, including the necessity of focusing this year on a better model for indirect costs and more flexible approaches to blending research and outreach with classroom instruction while simultaneously increasing the number of students (both undergraduate and graduate) involved in research and other experiential activities.
We must fight for the resources to invest in game-changing programs
I have been in Academic Affairs too long for everyone not to know I am a “bottom line” type of administrator. Everything I have mentioned above is critical, but we must always be aware of the necessity to live within our means. Sometimes that requires choosing between two promising alternatives because we can only fund one. In other cases, this will mean making the tough decision to stop doing something; or to not approve new initiatives when the returns have not or cannot justify the investment.
But it also means that our over-arching objective has to be to increase the resources available so that when real game-changing ideas are proposed we can invest in them. This has two elements: keeping operational costs low and constantly seeking new revenue streams. This cannot be done by a single person; it has to be a team effort. It will take all of us.