At the Table: Patrick Harker Wants You

UD’s Fightin’ New Hen is counting on the school’s alumni.

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“I do think the alumni are crucial,” says Harker, who will take the reins at UD in July. “They’re absolutely passionate about the place. So we need to tap into that energy because they are the best ambassadors of the university.”

Photograph by Tom Nutter



Dr. Patrick T. Harker will become the University of Delaware’s 26th president on July 1. At 48 years old, Harker is a young university president. Then again, 32 is young to become a full professor.

Harker, more commonly known as Pat, is dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the world’s foremost business institutions. He joined DT for lunch in mid-February at Penne Restaurant and Wine Bar, part of the university-owned Inn at Penn.

Harker has a tough act to follow in UD president David Roselle, who will retire this month after 17 years. Roselle oversaw the university’s first capital fundraising campaign, which raised more than $431 million. Under his direction, the school’s endowment increased from $326 million in 1990 to more than $1.2 billion. The university also built at least two dozen significant buildings during Roselle’s tenure, including “The Bob,” Gore Hall, the Trabant University Center, three parking garages and, most recently, the Center for the Arts.

Harker is also no lightweight when it comes to improving the reputation of an already well-respected institution. He is credited with expanding Wharton’s reach around the world and for helping to raise a school record of $450 million during a five-year capital campaign.

Harker, who playedas a defensive lineman at Penn until he suffered a career-ending injury, cuts an impressive figure as he strides across Walnut Street in Philadelphia. Wearing a long, black winter coat, a dark blue suit, a pink dress shirt and pink tie, he asks for a table near the window—perhaps eager to take his place in the sun.

DT: You became a full professor at 32, which they say is unprecedented. Then you quickly got into the administrative side of things. How did all of that come about?

PH: People outside of higher education have this view, which is a quite understandable view, that people, when they were young children, dreamed of being a department chair or dean or president of a university. My dreams were more along the NFL lines than being a university president. Like many in higher education administration, you—even when you’re a professor—you don’t dream of being an administrator. The best job at a university is being on faculty. There’s no question about that. You’re with the students. You’re creating new knowledge. That is the guts of the university. That is the most important thing that we do. And as an administrator, you are there to support that and guide the institution in such a way that you continue to enhance what the faculty do day in and day out.

And so like many, I was a reluctant administrator. I came back from Washington, D.C., where I served in the Bush One White House, and the dean of engineering at the time, Greg Farrington, approached me about helping out with the department. So I went down for a period of time to be department chair. After that I came back to the Wharton faculty, just to settle in to be a faculty member again. I figured I did my time and now I’m back being a faculty member.

But then I was made chair here in a department of Wharton. After that, then-Dean Tom Garrity said he was stepping down. And the deputy dean was stepping down. We have a model here that is similar to president-provost at the university; we have dean-deputy dean. It’s really analogous to president-provost, where you have the dean being the head and then the deputy dean heading up all the academic affairs. So he asked me to be the deputy dean through the interim period, which I was. I was on the search committee for the new dean. So I had no intention of ever being dean. I was going to do my time, service to the institution. The search went on, and I was asked by my colleagues and by the board members to step off the search committee to be a candidate, which at some point I did. That was eight years ago now.

So I wouldn’t say I had a purposeful plan and a very clear direction that I was moving into administration. And I think that’s actually healthy, when I think back. Of course, we all think that decisions we made are good—though not all of them. The analogy for higher education administration that I use is not so much being the CEO as being the managing partner. So think less of a DuPont and more of a large law firm or consulting firm. What I mean by that is, to be a successful administrator in academia, you have to have demonstrated that you can do the most important task at the university, which is be a faculty member. And you manage this group of faculty, senior faculty, full professors, people who are moving up the ranks and so forth. Many people you find in academic administration who are very successful, they were reluctant administrators. They were people who did it for the good of the institution. And also for themselves. I mean, they’re not completely altruistic.

DT: Please touch on some of your major accomplishments here at Penn and how they might translate into your next job as UD president.

PH: Well, there are a lot of things, when you look around the campus here. Just look right down the street, that large building, Huntsman Hall, which is really an amazing business school facility. It’s designed around the kind of business school that we are. It really transformed the physical aspect of the school.

But that’s not the proudest thing I’ve done, although it’s nice. It’s really three things. One is the continued growth and development of this faculty. When I started off, we had 195 faculty. We’ll finish the year at 215. That’s not just a net of 20, but a lot of new hiring of young, very diverse faculty—both ethnically diverse and racially diverse. There are a lot more women on the faculty than when we started. And the quality has never been higher. And that really is the guts of the institution, the faculty hiring.

So the thing I’m most proud of and what’s hardest to leave is this faculty, a group that I’ve been part of for 23 years that is really at the top of their game. It is not bragging to say that it is the best business school faculty in the world. And others have said that, but it is true. They are just a great, great group of individuals, and as a team they work very well together. That’s what I’m proudest of, because it will have the longest impact on the institution.

The second is to increase the international footprint of the school and the brand of the school. The world is becoming a very, very small place. And all of our students need to interact and understand the world in a way that I didn’t, you didn’t. Today, you’re a young entrepreneur graduating, you’re going to work with a guy in Bangladesh. Not when you’re a senior executive. Day one, you’re going to be working and interacting with people all around the world. And that’s true of all professions. So the students, while they’re here, need to be exposed internationally.

Our faculty need to broaden their perspectives internationally. We’ve done a lot in that respect at the school, not to enhance our reputation around the world, but substantively to create opportunities for our students and our faculty to learn to navigate the world more aggressively. Again, that will have a long and lasting impact.

The third thing is the alumni community. We have a very large group of alumni: 82,000 living alumni in about 130 countries around the world. It’s a very large, diverse alumni community. And they weren’t fully engaged in the life of the institution. I spent a lot of time as dean bringing them into the institution. Some of that is fundraising, because we are a private institution and tuition covers less than half the cost of running the school. So the gifts from the generations that came before make it possible for this generation to have their education here. And that’s true, by the way, of all universities in America, public or private. Alumni support is so crucial to their success. It’s more than just money. It’s getting involved with recruiting our students, getting involved with mentoring our students.

We put a very active alumni student mentoring program together. We bring alumni in, and they teach a class. These are non-credit classes, but they’re classes like how to dress for success. Stuff that they don’t learn in the classroom, we’ve gotten the alumni to work with the students on. That energy of the alumni will have a tremendously long-term impact on the school.

DT: How might these accomplishments translate to your next position at Delaware?

PH: Every institution is unique. So even every school within the University of Pennsylvania has its own unique characteristics. There’s no one-size-fits-all. I don’t come into this job with a clear agenda, saying, “Well this worked before. It’ll work again.” That’s just not going to be the case. That’s what I’m doing right now, is spending a lot of time, as much time as I can while I still have my job here, interacting with people at UD, just to try to understand the university. But I do think there are some general trends that will translate, which have nothing to do with Wharton or UD, but they’re just general trends.

I think one trend is clearly that students need to interact while they’re students and learn to work together with a much more diverse student body than you used to have. That just involves having a good representation of students from throughout the U.S. and from outside the U.S. Because having a kid from India or China in your hallway, you will learn things that you’re not going to learn just from a classroom. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that the university needs to be dominated by people from outside. But having a broader geographic representation and ethnic representation, racial representation, is clearly an important aspect of any university because this world is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. And the sooner you learn to interact with everybody and to get along…and I mean this not just as rhetoric.

For example, here, we put our first-year MBA students and first-year undergraduates into teams. We select the teams. They don’t get to self-select. All the teams don’t like each other all the time. All the teams don’t always work together well all the time. Part of what we’re trying to teach them from day one is, Look, you have a set of things that you need to accomplish. This group that you’re with, they may not be your best friends, so you’re going to need to learn how to accomplish these goals with this team. And we’re not changing the teams. We have a whole process in place that says, You’re going to get along, because this is one of the great lessons in life.

It’s not just having people in your hallway that you can have fun with, but putting structure in place where people have to work together to accomplish things. So that’s where getting the message out about the university also entails people who are not coming from the state. Our primary responsibility is still serving the educational needs of residents of the state, but for those who are coming from outside, it’s to bring a more diverse group that enhances education for everybody, the in-state students and the out-of-state students, because they just have a larger base of experience to learn from. That’s number one.

Second, I do think the alumni are crucial. One of the best parts of this announcement, for me, was finding out so many of my friends and classmates from high school and so forth all went to Delaware and I didn’t know it. They’re absolutely passionate about the place. So we need to tap into that energy because they are the best ambassadors of the university. There’s only so much of a president or a dean to go around. If you can get the alumni energized, committed and to really start telling the story of the university, what a great asset.

I think the third trend, on the research front, which is not talked about much, is the sense of making sure that the research enterprise is impactful. The key word is impact— that whatever you’re doing, it’s really making a difference. Some of that difference may be this year or that year. Some may not show up for 10 years. And that’s why I was really attracted to Delaware. The people there do have this real commitment to having an impact in the state. And you see that in meeting with people like the dean of marine and earth studies or the dean of agriculture and natural resources. They’re very committed to the state. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I mention those two because they’re top of mind. I just met them last week. They’re really just accelerating that impact within the state and across the country and using the university as a vehicle for attracting more and more people to the state.

If you look at the numbers—where you go to college as opposed to where you live—many people settle around where they went to college. So the more we can bring people from elsewhere, from a broad geographic reach to the University of Delaware, and mix them up with the in-state students, you’re selling the state. So the impact is not just on the research or the patents to come out of the university. It’s also on the attractiveness of the entire state because of the university.

DT: How much time have you been able to spend at UD so far?

PH: About a day a week.

DT: Are you mired in meetings for 12 straight hours, or just meeting a bunch of people?

PH: That’s exactly what you need to do. You need to drink from a fire hose. Meet a lot of people. Get a lot of information at a fairly high level, not a lot of details yet. Then you listen to people and start to form opinions. The most important thing is just to listen to people, listen to what they think about where the university is now and their aspirations for it.

DT: So who are these folks you’re meeting with? Are you going to lunch with the full board of trustees, Roselle, faculty, students?

PH: I’m going to see the governor Wednesday. I’m meeting all the stakeholders in the school, starting off, obviously, with the direct reports—the provost, the deans, the vice presidents—then expanding that out to some student groups eventually, community leaders, the legislators, the board members. But not in large groups. I don’t want to have a meeting with all the trustees all at once because you can’t have a conversation. This is really about having a conversation and listening. You can’t do that in large groups.

PH: So how’s the soup?

DT: It’s good. Sweet potato. Not too sweet. It’s good. If I said it was bad, would you fire the chef?

PH: (He laughs.) Well, he doesn’t report to me, so…

DT: Do you still go by “Professor Pat”?

PH: No, just Pat. Students call me Dean Harker.

DT: So you’re not going to go by “Professor Pat” at Delaware?

PH: (He laughs.) Yeah, if they want to call me that. I’m not so hung up on what people call me.

DT: What’s your feeling on how you’ll be accepted at UD? Do you think folks are excited, anxious? Are there people ready to beat up on you? Do you have a feeling yet?

PH: It’s a large, diverse university. All of those are probably true. You have to know that about any organization you go into. I think, generally speaking, people are excited. They’re excited for two reasons: One, they know that they’ve accomplished a tremendous amount under Roselle’s administration—just a tremendous amount in terms of the reputation of the university, new programs, the new faculty that they’ve hired. And they’re very proud of that. And they want the world to know about it. At the same time, there’s an excitement about what’s next—and some uncertainty and anxiety about that, too.

So my job, initially, is two-fold. One, get the story about the University of Delaware out more strongly, because there’s a great story to tell. They’ve done a good job of that to date, but I want to continue to promote the university in a very aggressive way and to build the reputation of the university. The second is to continue that momentum with new ideas. Exactly which ones those are, I can’t say yet.

DT: Do you have a gauge for how long it might take for you to get settled in?

PH: About a year. The first year is, a lot of times, spent on campus, in Dover, around the state, again, listening to how people view the university and what their aspirations are for the university, how they see the university serving the needs of the community. And really building the state by being part of the development, not the economic development, although that’s clearly part of it, but the overall development of the state—culturally, economically, in all dimensions.

One often just tends to focus on the economic development, and that’s important, but universities are also the major attractor of people to live in certain places because of the cultural and artistic aspects. That’s particularly true, for example, with retirees. One of the trends you see is retirees moving around universities. Newark is very well positioned for continued growth with the Center for Performing Arts and all the investments the university has made over the years.

DT: Has there been a common theme as far as what people would like to see you do?

PH: Not really. It’s too soon. One of the first things is absolutely getting the word out about what the university has done even more aggressively. That one’s a no-brainer. There’s a tremendous story to tell. We just need to keep telling it. Like I said, the first year is spending time in the community. But community also involves the alumni. So I want to get out on the road and meet with the pockets of alumni, who are not just in Delaware, but all around.

And then the second year is to start putting down on paper this plan and implementation of new initiatives. Then year three is really funding those and implementing those. That doesn’t mean everything just stops for three years. There’s a lot happening already. That’s the beauty of the current situation. There’s tremendous momentum, so you have a period of time here when you can take a step back to assess where the university needs to go next and you won’t miss a beat.

DT: Have you been able to learn much from Dr. Roselle?

PH: Oh yeah. A tremendous amount. He’s been terrific. Not all transitions go well. One of the hallmarks of David’s leadership is not what he accomplished in his 17 years there, but he is so passionate about the university, he wants to make sure the transition goes flawlessly. And he’s working incredibly hard at it. Not everybody does that. It really is a testament to his passion and commitment to the university.

DT: You mentioned what attracted you to the University of Delaware. They came looking for you, right?

PH: Howard Cosgrove, the chairman of the board, came up in the summer and said, “Just go down and take a look.” So on Labor Day we drove down there. No one was around. We thought that would be a good time to go—stealth. I was amazed. I hadn’t been at the Univ

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