Controversy hits Harker at Delaware

November 9, 2007

Former Wharton Dean Patrick Harker didn’t take long to start making waves again in the higher-education world.

Just months after leaving Penn to assume the presidency at the University of Delaware, Harker and the school have made headlines after his suspension of the Residence Life Escalation Program, a residential program that encouraged students to address diversity issues.

The four-year-old program generated criticism last week from a Philadelphia-based civil-liberties advocacy group, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

FIRE branded Delaware’s diversity-training program an “Orwellian … ideological re-education” that was a “flagrant violation of students’ rights,” forcing students to discuss their personal views on race and sexuality with resident assistants.

According to FIRE’s Web site, the program included such goals as “students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society” and “students will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems of oppression.”

In an Oct. 29 letter to Harker, FIRE director of legal and public advocacy Samantha Harris called for the “immediate and total dismantling” of the program.

Michael Gilbert, Delaware’s vice president for student life, responded on behalf of Harker, saying the program had been misrepresented and defending its existence.

But the next day, Harker called for the suspension of the program for the rest of the academic year.

In an open letter to the university, Harker wrote that there were implementation problems that may have interfered with the program’s goals.

The ultimate decision to terminate the program, he said, was made after recommendations by Gilbert and director of residence life Kathleen Kerr.

Harker would not comment on the specifics of the curriculum because, he said, he did not know enough about it.

Gilbert did not return requests for comment and Kerr declined to comment.

And though the program itself is nothing new, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said “it has intensified in the past year.”

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Schools: University of Delaware Cases: University of Delaware: Students Required to Undergo Ideological Reeducation