Assanis was unanimous choice of UD board

NEWARK — The University of Delaware chose Stony Brook University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dennis Assanis as its next president Wednesday. Dr. Assanis was unanimously selected by the search committee and board of trustees to serve as the university’s 28th president.

Dr. Assanis comes to UD after a career spent entirely in academia: four years at Stony Brook in New York, 17 years at the University of Michigan and nine years at the University of Illinois. He has a background in engineering, with four graduate degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He replaces Patrick Harker, who served as president for eight years before resigning in June to become the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Nancy Targett, the dean of the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, has served as acting president in the interim.

Dr. Assanis will begin his tenure on July 1.

The selection was announced in a special meeting of the board of trustees, with hundreds of students, faculty and others in the audience.

Dennis AssanisDr. Assanis was selected out of more than 100 applicants or nominees by a 15-member search committee consisting primarily of trustees and faculty.

Wednesday, with 19 of the 32 trustees gathered, the board formally approved the committee’s recommendation with a unanimous vote. Dr. Assanis spoke briefly before the audience and then spent much of the afternoon being hurried around to meet with various groups.

In his speech before the board and listeners, Dr. Assanis touted the university’s focus on in-state students, pledged to keep college affordable and assured the audience he would promote diversity.

“I’ve admired the University of Delaware ever since I was a high school student in Greece and I was contemplating studying chemical engineering. … I went to Newcastle upon Tyne, in England, to study marine engineering,” he said. “Who would have guessed that I would have come back full circle to New Castle County, Delaware?”

The university will continue to be a leader in research, he said, calling its STAR Campus a “dream place.”

In a news conference afterward, he vowed to promote a free exchange of ideas and said he would gain the respect of the faculty by listening to them and confronting problems head-on.

“I believe that our society is as strong as its weakest link,” he said. “Education is crucial to bridge the socio-economic divides and the racial tensions. Together, we will go very far, and if we aspire to go far, we must go together.”

Dr. Harker drew criticism from some faculty members on occasion for what they saw as running the university like a business.

The search process

Some faculty members and students also have spoken out against the presidential search as being secretive, a notion trustee and search committee co-chair Don Puglisi objected to.

“We met with people literally up and down the state and in the region,” he said.

The university retained the global search firm Russell Reynolds Associates to help identify candidates. From the 100-plus who applied or were nominated by search committee members, more than 50 expressed interest and submitted their information. Most of the applicants were from academia.

The committee interviewed 11 candidates in person and narrowed the pool down to three. The names of the finalists, as well as other applicants, were not released.

The task force held six open forums with students, faculty and staff, and 13 meetings with carefully selected focus groups.

While the panel was tasked with holding an open search, members concluded that was not the best option and received clearance from the board of trustees to change the procedure.

The panel searched for someone who was not only ready to ascend to the presidency but also would be a fit in Delaware.

“We’re looking for a visionary; a strategic thinker; a scholar; a team builder and leader; someone who can do fundraising and development; very importantly, someone who is student-focused; someone who’s committed to creating a diverse and inclusive campus in the broadest sense in the meaning of those words; someone who understands student-athletes and athletics; someone with a proven track record of supporting the arts, the humanities and the STEM disciplines; that is, someone who values the mentality of the university; and someone who’s visible, approachable, articulate and ethical, who will actively participate in the university community and the broader Delaware community,” Mr. Puglisi said.

While both Dr. Assanis and Dr. Harker have engineering backgrounds, Mr. Puglisi said that is simply coincidence.

Stony Brook was ranked just a few spots behind Delaware in U.S. News & World Report listing, and it has a student body similar in size.

Delaware officials and colleagues of Dr. Assanis issued statements after the selection, congratulating him and praising the university.

“Congratulations to Dr. Assanis on becoming the next president of the University of Delaware,” Gov. Jack Markell said.

“Dr. Assanis understands UD’s vital role in delivering a world-class education that’s accessible and affordable, especially for Delawareans. His outstanding work at Stony Brook University and the University of Michigan demonstrates his commitment to research, innovation and economic development. The board of trustees has made an excellent choice for UD and the state.”

Dr. Assanis told reporters the university is facing many of the same issues confronting other colleges across the nation, such as questions of affordability and diversity. He spoke of supporting entrepreneurship and giving students what they need to be successful.

“The university can be the engine for innovation and economic development for the state,” he said.

Dr. Harker was paid about $851,000 from the university in federal fiscal year 2013, according to tax forms filed with GuideStar USA Inc.

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