agday-2015Well, we did it again. The 40th annual Ag Day was held Saturday, April 25th. Yep, forty years ago Dave Frey and Paul Sammelwitz decided to have an event on the “mall” (now termed The Green) to promote the College to a broader audience. Four decades later, and Ag Day has grown to encompass several acres, dozens of displays/events and hosts about 6,000 people annually. Ag Day is dedicated to educating our community about all the great things that happen in the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources. Many are surprised to learn that we’ve got a “350-acre classroom” right in the heart of our campus that offers a working dairy, creamery, as well as woodlands, wetlands, streams, grasslands, botanical gardens, crop land, equine and large animal facilities. I probably walked three miles on Ag Day, greeting visitors and checking on events and displays, and from toddlers to retirees, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Despite a cold start to the day, the sun finally came out in the afternoon, precipitating a rush of folks to the Creamery or the Moo Mobile to get some of our ice cream. We set a record with over $10,000 of sales in one day, and the AGR guys sold almost 700 lbs. of chicken from their food stand. Most importantly, the visitors learned some things about where their food comes from and how they can protect their environment, which, amidst the fun, is what it is all about.

Special thanks to Nancy Gainer, Katie Hickey, and Deanna Lentini, whose leadership and tireless work made the event a success. And they had plenty of help from dozens of students, Ag Ambassadors, faculty, Extension professionals, staff, and volunteers – basically a cross section of the College. Donna Bailey even made a commemorative quilt out of Ag Day t-shirts that will soon be art in The Commons for all CANR students to enjoy. I am grateful to everyone.

While every college of Ag in the USA has some type of annual event like this, I would bet that Ag Day ranks in the top 5 nationally in terms of visitation and diversity of attractions. I have had the opportunity to visit many ag schools across the nation and talk to many deans, and I’ve yet to see or hear of anything on par with what we do. I am so proud of everyone that helps bring Ag Day to the community.

Beyond Ag Day, here are a few items that have occurred over the past two months:

I. Teaching and Advising Award. Let’s give a special shout out to Dr. Kali Kniel (Animal and Food Sciences), who received the 2015 ANR Teaching and Advising Award. It’s been a few years since we’ve given this award, and I believe there were 20 nominations this year. Coincidentally, in the same week that I notified her about the College award, Kali also won the Elmer Marth Educator Award from her national society! Obviously, Kali is one of our best teachers and we’re grateful for all that she does for the students, and doubly grateful for the dual recognition. I thank Lesa Griffiths for spearheading the effort to develop the nomination process, and then convene a committee of faculty to make a selection. Kali will receive a monetary award, a certificate and an engraved brick will be placed in the Dunham Garden patio area on the south side of Townsend Hall to commemorate this accomplishment. She’ll be recognized at the ANR convocation on May 29th, as well. Moving ahead, the Teaching and Advising Award will be given in odd-numbered years.

II. Staff service award. Another shout out for Sharon Webb, an administrative assistant at our Carvel Research and Education Center, who received the new ANR Superior Service Award. Sharon has worked at the Carvel Center for 14 years, and in the words of the Center Director, has been “vital” to Carvel operations and has provided “exceptional” service. Sharon will receive a monetary award, a certificate and an engraved brick in the Dunham Garden, and recognition at convocation. Next year, and in succeeding even-numbered years, we’ll have another staff award for research support, alternating with this award for administrative support.

III. Lasher Lab reopens. On April 17th, we dedicated a newly renovated Lasher Laboratory in Georgetown, our primary facility for avian disease surveillance and diagnosis. We were joined by Senator Carper, several Delaware legislators, members of the Lasher family, industry folks, Delaware Secretary of Ag Ed Kee, Vice Provost Charlie Riordan, members of the ANR Advisory Board, faculty, staff and others. Following the lab tour, we had a legislative lunch to thank the elected officials who supported the appropriation of the $4 million to make this happen. Lasher is now on par with Allen Lab, UD’s only biosafety level III laboratory. The reopening of the lab comes at a time of an unprecedented outbreak of avian influenza in Midwestern and western states. Thankfully, it has not yet surfaced in Delaware, but, if it does, we will be ready to handle the increased sampling and diagnosis of birds. Lasher Lab represents the front line of defense against a possible disease outbreak.

IV. New faces in the dean’s suite. I am so pleased to welcome Dr. Eric Wommack and Kathy Lyons to the administrative team of the College, both coming on board in April. Eric is a professor in Plant and Soils Sciences, and now Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education. He was one of the original hires at DBI back around 2001, and has maintained an outstanding research and graduate program in environmental virology. Eric holds joint appointments in Biology and Earth, Ocean and Environment, as well. He will provide leadership for research and graduate education in the College, and oversee related matters such as the College committees on Space and Cost Recovery.

Kathy Lyons is a familiar face around the dean’s suite as she worked as liaison to ANR from the Research Office for several years before assuming direction for the College’s grants and contracts operation. I am glad that we were able to hire someone who is intimately familiar with the College, as the learning curve in this position would be quite steep otherwise. We are the second smallest college at UD, but rank 3rd in grant submissions and sponsored program expenditures. Kathy will continue the progress made during the LEAN process improvement retreat last December.

The blog will return in June, after we send off another class of agriculture and natural resource leaders to change the world. Join us on May 29th at 4 pm in the Bob Carpenter Center if you can – free ice cream!


Thoughts From the Dean

As a Pennsylvania native, I’m really having a problem with Punxsutawney Phil these last two years. Do we really know if he saw his shadow, or is that a matter of interpretation? How can he see a shadow of anything on the dark, overcast days of winter in Punxsutawney? These are the questions I ponder while scraping my windshield and experiencing the painful, subzero wind chills.

As some of you may know, I started teaching again this semester (Organic and Sustainable Farming) and the main project is to grow a crop organically in the new high tunnel sited on the northwest corner of the Newark farm. This single-digit weather has really put a damper on enthusiasm for getting outside for some hands-on learning! The silver lining is that it reinforces the connection between farming and weather for the students, just one of many take home messages that I hope they will remember for the rest of their lives.

As we wait for the warmth of spring to return and bring our botanic gardens back to full glory (frozen, curled foliage on broadleaved evergreens is downright sad looking), here are a few things that have occurred during the winter months.

I. Peru and Kenya trips. Over the past few months, I made my first international trips since becoming dean. While at UGA, I taught study abroad, and at UF, I oversaw the portfolio of study abroad and student exchanges, so I was glad to get back to some familiar and rewarding territory. In November, I traveled to Kenya with Randy Wisser to establish the Borel Global Fellows program, made possible by a generous gift from Jim and Marcia Borel. Their gift will allow two African students per year to pursue an MS degree in CANR while researching a topic of great significance to their home country. We’re working with AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), a Nairobi-based organization, to help with recruiting and logistics. Last month, I spent about one week in Lima, Peru, meeting with university and government officials and various ag industry groups to raise awareness on the PRONOBEC-Presidente scholarship program for Peruvian students. UD has signed an MOU with the Peruvian government that should increase the number of MS and PhD students across campus. The PRONOBEC-Presidente scholarship provides very generous support for Peruvian students (airfare, stipend, partial tuition, and more). As I found out, the agricultural export business in Peru is simply booming, creating huge demand for trained professionals and researchers. Both trips were fruitful and should help bring several more graduate students from Africa and Latin America each year, all with their own sources of funding.

II. New faces, ongoing searches. I am so pleased to see Tara Trammell, our Bartram Professor of Urban Forestry, and Anna Wik, our assistant professor of landscape design, walking the hallways of Townsend and getting settled in. If you haven’t met them yet, please take a moment to welcome them to CANR. Just yesterday, I saw Ryan Arsenault, our soon-to-be assistant professor of food animal biology, who was here with his wife looking for places to live and sizing up his space in Worrilow. He accepted the position in ANFS a few weeks ago, and will be on board officially in June or July. We have three open searches that are each beyond the interview stage – natural resource economist (APEC), statistics (APEC), as well as the internal search for the next associate dean for research and graduate programs. Eric Wommack and Eric Benson are the finalists for the associate dean position, and the search committee is deliberating on this issue as I write. Please provide Mark Isaacs with any last minute input you might have ASAP!

III. New faculty mentoring underway. The collective wisdom offered through our strategic planning efforts and the four recent Academic Program Reviews prompted the development of a formal faculty mentoring series for our new hires. I’m glad to say that this is underway. The newest faculty are meeting biweekly to discuss issues such as the Master Plan, P&T, grants, teaching and learning, and other topics. Obviously, the mentoring must continue beyond this spring series, so I hope that one or more faculty will reach out to the newest hires in their departments and build on the foundation that is being laid.

IV. LEAN process for managing grants and contracts. Beginning last fall and peaking in December, all of the staff involved in grants and contracts for the College went through a LEAN process to troubleshoot and streamline their collective efforts. I attended a few sessions, as did several faculty and chairs, and everyone seemed to agree that it was a great experience that produced immediate, impactful results. Steve Horah, from Lean Change Agents, LLC, was brought in as a consultant to facilitate. I’m pleased to say that UD HR kicked in to help pay his bill, as they were glad to see staff development occurring organically (sorry, it’s on my mind these days) in the Colleges. Kathryn Thoroughgood has had her responsibilities redesigned to handle HR, as this turned out to be a “rate limiting step” in the process of managing grants from submission to close out. I learned a lot about the intricacies of managing grants and the great staff who runs 1/3 of the College’s budget behind the scenes. They’re doing great work! One sad postscript to this (sad for us, that is) is that Victor Peguero, the current CANR grants manager, was made an ‘offer he couldn’t refuse’ to move upward and onward to Johns Hopkins, which he’ll be doing in March. Victor was instrumental in the LEAN process and a great asset to the College for the last year and a half, and he will be sorely missed. We wish him the best as he moves into grants administration at the nation’s #1 research university down the road.

V. Coming soon – survey for the 2014 Federal Plan of Work. Each year, we must ask research and Extension faculty and professionals to provide information about the outputs and impacts of work that was funded from federal capacity funds (Hatch, Smith-Lever, Animal Health and McIntire-Stennis). Last year, we spent a lot of time revising our Plan of Work and implementing an Extension Planning and Reporting System, so that the annual chore of collecting information and writing the report would be greatly simplified. I’m glad to say that it has been greatly simplified, and nothing will be needed from Extension personnel beyond what they’ve already put into the Planning and Reporting system. Since we have no such system in place for research, we will be doing a brief survey of all faculty with research involvement in the coming days (similar to the one Tom Sims used to send out each spring, but shorter). It will ask you to select the research emphasis from the Master Plan that most closely describes your work, and provide simple output metrics (such as grants, publications, graduate students) and a brief impact statement regarding your 2014 work. From the Master Plan, our five research emphases are: Genetics and genomics for plant, animal and ecosystem improvement; Sustainable food systems, landscapes and ecosystems; “One health” – intersections among animals, plants, humans and ecosystems; Climate change – impacts, mitigation and adaptation; and Human dimensions of food, agriculture and natural resources. Please respond to the survey when it comes to you. Remember that the Plan of Work is our way of demonstrating the return on investment that $3.4 million of federal funds (plus its required state match) has had on our stakeholders. It is an essential part of our research enterprise and our annual budget.

V. Mid-term evaluation. Speaking of surveys, and as I said in the December 2014 Blog, I am happy to share the outcome of the IDEA Center survey that many of you received as part of my mid-term self-evaluation. The survey report will be sent by email shortly, but I’d like to summarize the major findings with you now. I welcome follow-up conversations on how I can improve in my role as dean over the coming weeks.

  • The survey was modeled after the provost’s guidelines for reviewing deans at the end of their 5-year terms. The survey questions were identical to those used in the most recent dean’s review on campus. In theory, my mid-term results can be compared directly to results obtained when I am reviewed officially at the 5-year point.
  • The response rate was about 44% (233 out of 528), which is good for a web-based survey. Of the respondents, the largest classification was “faculty” followed by “colleagues,” “students,” “not identified,” and “staff.”
  • As you’ll see in the report, faculty tended to score me about one point or so below where students, colleagues, and staff rated me, suggesting that I need to communicate more effectively and build stronger relationships with faculty. On questions with a 5-point scale (strongly agree…….strongly disagree), faculty responses were about 3 while others rated at 4 out of 5. The same ~1 point difference between faculty and all other respondents held true on questions where respondents were presented a spectrum (e.g., indecisive=1 vs decisive=7) rather than a typical Likert scale. To me, this was one of the most important lessons of the self-evaluation, and while I need to make sure that lines of communication are open to all constituent groups, working with faculty in new ways will be a major priority in the future.
  • 62% of all respondents answered positively when asked “overall, this administrator has provided excellent leadership,” while 21% were neutral and 17% were negative. Despite the relatively low percentage of negative ratings, to me this is large enough to be a concern.
  • A slightly higher margin (66%) responded positively to “I have confidence in the administrator’s ability to provide future leadership in this position.” The same 17% responded negatively.
  • Written comments were roughly even between positive, negative, and neutral. This might be expected given the three open-ended questions: the first asked about strengths and the vast majority of responses were positive. The second asked about ways to improve, where most comments cited weaknesses in style, judgment or effectiveness. The third question asked about future challenges, and most of the responses were neutral as people were citing issues such as “budget” or “deferred maintenance,” and not commenting on my performance per se. They were simply pointing out what are (indeed) the major challenges that the College faces moving forward.
  • As communication seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the survey results, I checked the web analytics on the Dean’s Blog page – what you’re reading right now – to see if it is being read. For December’s Blog, only about 25% of email recipients opened the page. The web folks tell me that this is actually good for an Internet blog, but I am struck by the 75% of intended recipients that don’t see it. This just underscores the need for opening new lines of communication and finding ways to improve existing ones.

Like teaching evaluations, it is a humbling, yet constructive experience to read through this mid-term evaluation of my performance. Obviously, there is room for improvement, particularly in communication, which is something I plan to address immediately. You may recall that I offered an invitation for coffee or lunch to anyone willing in my first semester on campus:

I still have many more of you to meet, so once again, I extend the invitation to have coffee or lunch, or simply chat about your program or issues of concern. I have really enjoyed learning about Delaware agriculture and natural resource successes and challenges over these four+ months, but have a long, long way to go. Please, take me up on it! [Dean’s Blog, December 2012].

In retrospect, I probably should have been more proactive in asking you, not waiting for you to ask me, for an opportunity to get to know you better. Thus, don’t be surprised if I invite you to spend some time sharing your views and concerns. Please know that I take seriously the concerns voiced by any of the 260+ employees or 960+ students of the College (and their parents!). As I said when I interviewed, I work for you (ALL of you), and ultimately, I will measure my success by your success. I thank you for taking the time to complete the survey.

The blog will return in April, after a brief visit to Punxsutawney.

Thoughts From the Dean

As the holidays draw near, many of us are reminded how fortunate we are to work at such a cutting-edge university and on such important topics. It’s great to be part of an organization that works diligently to solve problems related to feeding the world and protecting the planet. This time of year, I get a healthy dose of insight on a few individuals who are going through the promotion and tenure process, as those dossiers come across my desk on their way to the next level. (Yes, the dean’s involvement is scheduled over the holidays!) I am truly amazed at the work being done by our faculty. Reading between the lines, I can see the involvement of the staff, farm crew, students and others who help bring that work to fruition. I read the comments by individual students from past evaluations, talking about how much they loved the professor’s class, how funny they were, and how much they learned. The external letters come from all over the world and are usually quite complimentary regarding the impact of the candidate’s work on the discipline. It takes a couple of hours for me to write each letter, and longer to read the dossiers, but it is time well spent as I come away with great talking points to use as I’m out advocating for the College. So, this Blog is a bit short as I’ve got work to do!

Here are a few brief updates to ponder as all of you go off for the holidays, hopefully with a strong sense of satisfaction and purpose:

I. Record enrollments in Fall ’14. We can celebrate a lot of hard work by many individuals this holiday season in yielding record enrollments at the undergraduate (755) and graduate (208) levels. We’re edging up on 1000 students in the College and thus contributing more strongly to the societal need for graduates in our disciplines. Thanks to all of you who spend days, nights and weekends helping to recruit and retain our students, especially those in CANR’s Undergraduate Student Services department!

II. Research funding is at or near record levels. In FY14, which ended last June, we had a record or near record award total of about $22 million. This is the highest in three years, probably longer, but prior to 2011 the data were reported including cost share, so it’s hard to disentangle amounts from earlier years. In any case, it was a very good year!  There’s more great news. The FY14 awards were more heavily weighted to future year funding, meaning that we’re landing more multi-year awards, creating more longevity and stability in our research portfolio. Thanks to all of the faculty, professionals and students who are doing great work in attracting support for their programs!

Curriculum consent agenda passes. Kudos to the CANR Curriculum and Courses Committee (Balascio, McCarthy, Benson, Ilvento, Hastings, Yackoski) for engineering a door-to-door vote on several items of curricular reform that align us more closely with our strategic plan. By the deadline on Monday, we recorded a majority positive vote for the items they acted on this fall, which will now go to Faculty Senate for approval. Curriculum enhancement is an ongoing process and I’m sure we’ll have another slate of items next year, as I’ve had some great discussions with faculty and chairs in the last few weeks. Please remain engaged in this important activity.

III. Bylaws vote postponed. Another group has been working diligently to update and enhance our CANR Bylaws to be more inclusive of the College membership and more explicit on our operations and shared governance (Sims, Whaley, Benson, Shriver, Hastings, Balascio). While they had hoped to have a vote launched by December 18th, we thought it wise to pause and allow more time for input. Please see the email sent by Tom Sims on December 16th and give some thought to this important item. We don’t want to do this again for several years, so it is best to delay a few weeks and get it right. We anticipate a vote taking place in February 2015.

IV. Its official – UD is an “engaged university.” With a strong sense of appreciation for the work done by Cooperative Extension, I almost want to say …….Duh (!) to this one. Achieving this Carnegie classification as an engaged university was not easy task, and special thanks goes to Michelle Rodgers and others who produced a successful proposal. Indeed, there are a lot of outreach activities going on campus-wide besides the good work we do in Extension, and I hope this opens doors to greater collaboration in our existing Extension programs, as well as new initiatives like “One Health” that we proposed in our strategic plan.

V. Mid-term evaluation for the Dean. As I mentioned in the October Dean’s Blog, we’re launching a survey this week, so you can give feedback to me on how I am doing two-and-a-half years into the job. You’ll get an email from The IDEA Center (for more detail see in the coming days that will allow you to provide input on my performance. When I was teaching regularly, I found mid-point evaluations to be far more useful than the end-of-course evaluations, and often changed things about the course midstream in order to meet students’ needs. The same is true here. Be assured that your input will be confidential (raw data are kept on the IDEA Center server and I receive only a summary report), and taken very, very seriously. I will share the results with you when they come in, and I welcome any feedback that you may offer outside of the survey itself.

Make good use of some much deserved time off with family and friends beginning next week!

Wishing you all the best this joyous season,


Thoughts From the Dean

I just returned from a “send-off” event on Long Island with about 20 incoming students and their parents who wanted to learn a little more about the decision they had made to attend UD this fall. It was hosted by one of our alums, Dr. Bob Cohen, who spoke eloquently on the value of a UD education, and how the course of his life had been influenced greatly by his four years in Newark. Some of the students were enrolled in CANR, but most were in other colleges. As I spoke to the parents, I could see the concern in their eyes. While all seemed to be excited about the UD decision, they wondered if their son or daughter had chosen the right major, if they would do well in classes, and what kind of a career they might have after graduation. I reassured them that many faculty had also sent sons and daughters off to college, and we understood what they were going through. For some of them, this would be the largest monetary investment they had ever made, short of buying their house. It reminded me of the awesome responsibility we have as we welcome thousands of sons and daughters to campus each fall, who come with the promise of becoming educated and prepared for a better life through our collective efforts. And it takes all of us – faculty, staff and current students – to pull off this amazing transformation.

So to all of you – get ready to welcome the largest incoming class ever! By last count, 179 new undergraduate students will enter CANR this fall, up almost 30% from Fall 2012 levels. For this entering class, we’ve exceeded our “15% by ‘15’” goal by a good bit, but we still need to add students to reach the overall enrollment increase of 15% by next year. I’d like to send a special word of thanks to Kim Yackoski and her staff for helping to yield this record class, thus far with 0% melt since all of our admitted, deposited students have pre-registered. (Melt is the percentage of students that deposit but do not enroll.) And thanks to all of you who took time over the last year to meet prospective students and their parents. Your efforts are paying dividends.

Overall UD enrollment is up as well: over 4,100 students (we were shooting for 3,800) from 48 states and 82 countries will become Blue Hens this month. Yield is up, diversity is up, international student enrollment is up, and the Delawarean segment of the class is the strongest academically in history. This is truly a great group of young people.

Of course, we’re welcoming a few dozen new graduate students as well, though we won’t have good numbers on this until classes begin. Two new faculty will begin this fall, both in APEC:

  • Shanshan (Susan) Ding: Just finished her PhD at U Minnesota’s School of Statistics.
  • Xiaoke Zhang: A recent grad from UC Davis’ Department of Statistics.

Please take a moment to welcome them and all of our new faces to CANR as classes begin.

Here are some other items of note as we wind down the summer and get ready for fall:

10478414_246987938758307_4639111982710214352_oFresh to You. This is a new entrepreneurial venture that “sprouted” on the farm in 2014. As you know, we produce tons of fresh produce in our Garden for the Community project that, up to now, has benefitted only the Delaware Food Bank. Thanks to Mike Popovich’s efforts, we’ve added an entrepreneurial aspect to the Garden, and we’re selling produce at the UD Farmer’s Market and the Creamery. We’ve attracted the attention of some local restaurants and Vita Nova, and some expansion is planned for the coming year. We will have more capacity and will have produce available for a greater portion of the year with our new high tunnel, soon to be built on the northwest corner of the Newark Farm. The tunnel was purchased with my startup funds, and will more than pay for itself in produce sales over the next several years. I have even submitted an experimental course syllabus to teach organic and sustainable farming in the spring using the high tunnel. Looking forward to it!

championsaUDairy Creamery having a great summer. Melinda Litvinas and Jacob Hunt (a 2012 CANR grad and former UDairy intern) received the “Champions of Change” award given by the White House (yes, thee White House). They were honored in a two-day ceremony held in late July in Washington, DC. Melinda and Jacob were among only about 20 people in the entire country to receive the award, given to people who are changing US agriculture through innovation. Another exciting recognition involved the Food Network that filmed both the Creamery and ice cream truck for one of their new TV programs to be aired this fall. The Creamery has also attracted the attention of some local entrepreneurs and we’re looking into new outlets and products to augment the learning opportunities even further. I am also pleased to announce that the Creamery had a good year financially, and for the first time, some of the net proceeds have been funneled back to the dairy operation to defray its costs. Melinda and her team have done an outstanding job!

New Deputy Dean sought. As Tom Sims prepares for retirement in 2015, we have begun an internal search for his replacement. Perhaps the title “Associate Dean for Research and Graduate programs” gives you a better idea of the portfolio this person will oversee, though there will be additional duties as Deputy Dean of the College. Mark Isaacs is chairing the search committee, so please funnel comments and nominations to him in the coming weeks. If you’d prefer, schedule a time to speak with me about the position or search before classes begin.

FY14 budget close out and FY15 budget. UD dodged the proverbial bullet when the $3 million cut that was threatened over the power plant issue never came to fruition. Thus, the CANR budget for FY15 looks a bit brighter than originally thought. While this was helpful to our bottom line, the most significant improvement to the budget came from the greater efforts in teaching. Student credit hour production was up significantly from previous years, bringing several hundred thousand in new income to the College. Nice job, faculty! Your efforts will result in an additional $300k being distributed to departments for teaching through the teaching incentive program I implemented last year. The FY14 budget close brought good news as well – we saw a structural deficit of just over $400k based on year-end analyses. While red ink to the level of $400k may sound bad, remember that it has dropped from over $1M in 2012. The shortfall will be made up through our endowment funds, but I hope that one day soon, we’ll be able to use the full endowment for strategic investments in the College, not just for paying our bills.

AG-Cooperative_Extension_Centennial_CelebrationCooperative Extension celebrated its centennial with Governor Markell. Governor Markell and other elected officials were among the many who gathered at the State Fair on July 24 to help Cooperative Extension officially celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act. I was especially happy to hear the Governor talk about the impact Cooperative Extension made on him as a child. As part of the ceremony, Michelle Rodgers announced Joyce Witte as the winner of the contest held to name the new centennial ice cream flavor, “Centennial Cherry Chunk.” It was a sweet day all around.

Worrilow architectural study completed. Thanks to all who worked with SmithGroup over the past several months to produce rough plans and cost estimates for a potential renovation and expansion of Worrilow Hall. Special thanks to Jenny McDermott and Shelley Einbinder who expended many hours holding meetings, gathering data, and advising SmithGroup. They’ve given us a vision of what could be, which I’ll be making public in the next few weeks. This fall, we need to develop an implementation strategy to take the next steps.

Unidel grant update. Thanks also to those who served on the Unidel Task Force this spring. As you may remember, Janine Sherrier and Yohannes Tesfaye wrote a proposal, entitled “Extending Information Technology-Rich Environments to South Campus,” that was approved for Unidel funding. As a result, $303,420 was awarded to the College for the purpose of outfitting two classrooms and transforming Townsend Commons. A task force was convened and went to work surveying and speaking with students and faculty about the most useful ways to upgrade the Commons and two popular classrooms. The transformation has started. The Commons will soon have new carpet and furniture, as well as more outlets for laptops. Over winter break, classroom #006 will be converted to a more dynamic, flexible classroom with video conferencing capability to allow remote students to participate, especially from our Georgetown campus. Classroom #007 will be maintained as a computer lab, but modernized with improved server capability that will allow students to remotely use licensed programs stored on the server.

Mt Cuba FellowsMt. Cuba Center partnership. We have begun two new research projects with the Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, both of which involve the ecological value of plants in the landscape. Thanks to a generous gift from Mt. Cuba, two graduate fellowships were established to aid the research. Mt. Cuba Center Fellow Emily Baisden is studying the attractiveness of woody plants to foliar feeding insects, guided by her advisor Dr. Doug Tallamy. Mt. Cuba Center Fellow Owen Cass is working with Dr. Deb Delaney to examine the nutritional value and attractiveness of native Coreopsis selections. The partnership was announced on July 9 at Mt. Cuba Center during their Trial Garden reception, which was attended by President Harker.

CANR Policy and Procedures Manual under construction. One summer project we have undertaken in the dean’s suite is to produce a Policies and Procedures Manual for the College. The idea is to have one searchable document to use as a guide for everything from P&T to space utilization. Currently, our policies are scattered and difficult to find. If you know of any policy or procedure that we’ve being abiding by, but could never find written down, send in your suggestions. We plan to have this on the web site in the fall of 2014.

The blog will return in October.

Thoughts From the Dean

Yes, that Alice Cooper song (schoooooooool’s out…..…for…..summer!) gets replayed in my head every year about this time, as we send off another group of graduates to change the world. I never get tired of attending convocation or commencement ceremonies, and it is even more fun now that I do the MC duties. I encourage more of you to participate in the ceremonies – it means a lot to the students and their parents, and it is a great personal satisfaction to take part in the celebration of shaping young people’s lives. This spring, we graduated over 150 Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhDs. In an average year, over 90% of them will have started working full or part-time, or will have enrolled in graduate or professional schools by the end of the summer. We’re doing great work.

Another important but less-fun task that comes each year as school lets out is the college budget. We close out the fiscal year in June and then make allocations for the next FY in July, so we’re busy running the numbers in the dean’s suite. As usual, there’s good news and bad news, but overall, we’re making progress and executing on some of the goals we set in the CANR Master Plan. A couple of brief points:

  • With enrollment up at UD and (amazingly) some reduction in costs, FY15 was shaping up nicely as far as the overall university budget. However, the dispute involving The Data Center and its proposed power plant on the STAR campus prompted a withholding of $3.3M from the UD budget, half of which was allocated to colleges. Absorbing our share of this cut reduced our gains, but we’re still slightly better off than last year.
  • On the federal side, an appropriations bill is working its way through Congress that has all of the appearances of an increase for federal 2015, which starts in October. Compared to last year’s sequestration cuts, we’re really pleased to see this. Since it is an election year, controversial decisions are not likely before November, and our Cornerstone lobbying team seems to think the proposed increase to Hatch and Smith-Lever will be maintained in the final bill. Only about 6% of our budget is in federal capacity funds so this will not be a windfall to the college, but every little bit helps. The really exciting news from federal is another proposed increase in AFRI competitive funds. Both the House and Senate are proposing $325M, up about 17% from pre-sequester FY13 levels. So, get your grant teams together and consider applying to one of the many AFRI programs in the upcoming year – more money to be had!

Taken as a whole, there’s more good news than bad with the upcoming FY15 budget year, but we have a way to go to eliminate our structural deficit and balance our budget properly. Most of this blog is devoted to important changes in policies affecting our budget that will take place on July 1, 2014, just around the corner. While the financial impact of policy changes will not be felt for several months, I wanted to give ample lead time to allow for changes in unit-level budgeting to be considered. Additional budget policy adjustments will occur during FY15 and will be communicated well ahead of time.

The intent of the new policies is to improve the college’s financial position, and get ahead of anticipated changes in RBB that will occur in the coming years. The RBB Task Force has completed its work, and the provost’s office and UD Budget Office are now working toward implementing changes that could possibly disadvantage CANR relative to today’s budget. While a new RBB model is probably two years off, we cannot afford to wait until the model changes to diversify and strengthen our revenue portfolio. Even if the RBB model remained unchanged, we’ve been on an unsustainable path, and we must look to new sources of revenue while cutting our costs to secure our financial future.

For background, let me reiterate two points I presented at the Spring Semester Faculty Meeting on May 20 that help justify the need for budget and policy changes.

  1. Our effective F&A rate (AKA indirect costs) across all sponsored programs is only 9%, whereas the top federally negotiated rate is 41% – quite a gap. Compare this to other science-based colleges at UD who have effective rates of 19-25%, more than double ours. Even if we exclude federal capacity funds and the associated state match from these calculations, which mandate 0% F&A, we’re still at a 12.2% effective rate. I presented calculations to the Provost this week that showed a net revenue increase of $2.8 million per year if we were able to raise our effective F&A rate to just 27%, within our reach but still well below the top negotiated rate.This begs the question – what does F&A pay for, anyway? While the calculations are complex, the items covered are straightforward. On the “F” side (Facilities), indirect costs cover some building maintenance, depreciation of major pieces of research equipment and purchases of new equipment, operations including utilities, expendable supplies, and library resources that are used for research. Some of the “F” goes to new hires in the form of a startup package, who in turn spend it on renovations, equipment, etc. On the “A” side (Administration), indirect costs cover the salaries, benefits, allocated costs and other items related to personnel that help make research happen. This includes people who handle grants and contracts, our RBB “taxes” paid to the UD Research Office, some technicians and research professionals, farm staff, and some of our administrative assistants. You likely bump into someone daily whose salary was used to calculate our “A” rate. The bottom line: F&A is carefully calculated and negotiated to cover real costs borne by the college related to research. Without F&A, research would grind to a halt.
  2. As high as a negotiated F&A rate of 41% may seem, even this does not cover everything that we do related to research, which brings me to the second point on cost recovery. Also mentioned in my presentation on May 20, we will be instituting usage fees for cropland, animal, and growth chamber usage (per square foot) during FY15 to help defray costs that are not being charged to sponsors either directly or indirectly. Additional fees may be instituted as the CANR Cost Recovery Committee convenes in the coming months to study the issue. A 2013 survey of agricultural experiment stations in the northeast revealed that 11 of our 13 peers in the region have instituted some form of direct cost recovery for their farms, greenhouses, and other unique facilities that operate outside the realm of F&A. We are starting small: for example, we will be recovering only about 10% of the total cost of dairy cow use by instituting fees of $2/cow/day beginning on all grants submitted after July 1, 2014.

So here are the policy changes we’re making to begin to address our tenuous financial position, effective July 1, 2014:

  • New fiscal to academic contract conversion policy for faculty. Since the 1990s, a policy has been in place that allowed faculty to convert from a fiscal year (11-month) to an academic year (9-month) contract with no loss of salary. Those converting were not eligible for salary increases for the two years following conversion. Beginning July 1, 2014, this policy is voided and we will use the standing University policy where salary would be reduced by 2/11th’s upon conversion. When you consider that you are trading 2/11th’s for the potential to gain 3/9th’s by writing summer months into grants, there is still an attractive incentive to convert. Most of the CANR faculty were either hired as 9-month or have long since converted, so this would affect very few people.
  • Graduate Tuition Policy. We forgo over $3.8 million per year by not asking our research sponsors to pay any of the tuition of our students on research assistantships. Thus, the largest and most detailed of the policy changes slated to take place on July 1, 2014 deals with graduate tuition payment. As I announced at the Spring Faculty Meeting on May 20, we will be launching a new policy requiring 15% of graduate tuition to be paid from sources other than the College’s Tuition Waiver Authority for new and renewed contracts signed after January 1, 2015. The policy will be released in the coming days in full detail. Note that this DOES NOT affect students who have been or will be placed on assistantship contracts for Fall ‘14; the College will continue to waive 100% of their tuition for FY15. And, students paid from current grants will be grandfathered in since those budgets were developed prior to this policy. This allows plenty of time to begin writing 15% of tuition onto new grants or finding other sources of tuition funds during the upcoming year.

Let’s put this in perspective. A graduate student on assistantship is almost a ~$50,000/year proposition: roughly $22,000 in stipend & fringe, $24,000 in tuition waiver, and $3,500 in allocated costs. At today’s tuition rate, the new policy equates to shifting $3,600 in tuition expense to the sponsor, in addition to the stipend & fringe, thus sharing the total expense closer to a 50:50 split between the sponsor and the college. Basically, our sponsors are getting half off, even with the new policy!

  • Incentive for including more than 15% of graduate tuition on grants. While the above might be considered a “stick”, we’re also implementing a “carrot” for those who can and wish to do more. We will return larger amounts of F&A to departments and PI’s who write more than 15% of graduate tuition into grants (thanks to those who have been doing so!). For example, grants including the full cost of tuition will have 40% of the F&A returned compared to only 28% returned now. This will be split 32% to the department, and 8% to the PI. The PI may retain these funds in a discretionary account that carries forward annually, expiring only when they leave the university. This is a way for PI’s or Centers to build a discretionary fund for research.
  • Hatch-funded assistantships are included in the CANR Grad Tuition Policy. Each department has been receiving Hatch funds from the College, and historically a large portion of these funds are then used to pay graduate stipends and fringe benefits. Considering the example given above, the college budget assumes all of the ~$50,000 liability for each student paid with Hatch funds. Now, departments will pay $3,600 of the tuition, or less than 10% of the total value of the assistantship. By law, Hatch funds cannot be used for tuition payment, so the 15% tuition payment must come from other sources of funds, such as departmental supplemental accounts, gift accounts, grants, or RBB funds. Again, this does not affect Fall ’14 enrollment as their contracts for FY15 were processed prior to the policy taking effect.
  • Graduate students eligible for Sustaining Status must be registered as such. Once a student completes all required courses and credits, they can retain full-time status (and all the attendant benefits) by registering in Sustaining Status. The cost of Sustaining registration is currently only $911 per semester, as opposed to $1,578 per credit to register for courses or research hours. In addition, students on Sustaining Status do not incur allocated costs under RBB, saving an additional $3,500 per year per student. Clearly, we need to be taking advantage of this, and since there is only a financial upside, we’re implementing this on July 1, 2014.
  • To encourage students to register as Sustaining as soon as eligible, a corollary to the last bullet is that the College’s Tuition Waiver Authority can only be used toward the minimum number of credits required for the degree. For contracts signed or renewed after January 1, 2015, this will be enforced, so please make students aware of the upcoming change. The dean’s office will provide the broiler plate language to be used on letters of offer going out in the next calendar year to make this clear to students from the outset.
  • Cost Recovery. Beginning in FY15, direct cost recovery fees will be required in grants using dairy cows, cropland and growth chambers in Newark. Fees at the Carvel Center will be introduced later in FY15 as those calculations are still ongoing. Some of you are doing this already – and thank you – but we need everyone to get involved to have an impact. For grants submitted after July 1, 2014 using the Newark Farm, please include:
    • $2 per day per animal for dairy cows
    • $100 per acre (or any fraction thereof) per year for cropland
    • $10 per month (or any fraction thereof) for growth chambers in the Fischer Complex

Here are a couple of other ways you can help. Educate sponsors who pay little or no F&A. Remind them that there are real people and hard physical facilities being compromised when they undercut our negotiated F&A rates. I will be happy to have a conversation with your sponsors to help raise awareness of the true cost of research and how F&A is calculated and budgeted. Faculty and staff can also help by educating graduate students on Sustaining Status and planning their programs of study accordingly.

We’ve made real progress in two years by reducing our RBB structural deficit from $1.2 million to ~$600,000. New policies will help us recover hundreds of thousands of dollars that we’re currently leaving on the table, and get us closer to balancing our budget, making renovations in Worrilow, constructing new spaces, and replacing old, worn out equipment. Truly brighter days are ahead, but we need to ask more from our sponsors to help get us there.

The blog will return in August as we welcome one of the largest classes of incoming students we’ve ever had.

Enjoy your summer!

Mark Rieger, Dean

Thoughts From the Dean