Provost Dr. Tony Allen will assume the presidency of Delaware State University on Jan. 1 following the departure of Wilma Mishoe, who announced Sept. 5 that she will retire after a 40-year career in education.
Allen has a background in the corporate sector as the former head of corporate reputation for Bank of America, where he worked to build the bank’s brand and community presence across customers, academics and other stakeholders. In a pair of September interviews, Allen expressed excitement about the job ahead.
I have always wanted to be a university president, but I never felt compelled to take the traditional route,” Allen said. “While I am a classically trained academic, I always thought that involving myself in other sectors and applying my learnings as a practitioner would be how I could best make a contribution in the public square. Having had experiences in private, private nonprofit and the public sector, I am confident that I took the right route before returning to higher education and pursuing my ultimate goal.”
Allen added that “the critical thing is never to do any job like it is a steppingstone to something else; I’ve seen my last two years as provost as having its major focus being to improve the academic enterprise here. You can have goals, but you have to dig in where you are to get there. As long as we are educating students to solve real-world problems, making good on being Delaware’s State University and continuing to raise the standard of performance, there is no challenge beyond our capacity.”
Allen said the university’s accomplishments in recent years include “raising the profile and import of this institution that has long deserved to take its proper place in higher education in Delaware and around the world. Getting the fourth year of the Inspire Scholarship for Delaware students, becoming the No.1 choice for Dreamers around the world, using our relationship with Apple to go digital, and continuing to hit record enrollment are all evidence of where we are headed.”
Asked to reflect on what it will take to make his first year as president a success, Allen said, “The transition is really about making sure that we have the organization aligned in a way that will continue to grow the organization and the right people are in the right positions to make that happen. If I’ve got that team in place, and functioning, I will have a feeling of personal success. For the university as a whole, we’ll generate those metrics in collaboration between that team and all of our key stakeholders.
Allen said he and his team’s No. 1 priority is “student success and our current strategic plan is robust and focused in that way. Having said that, our plan ends at the end of 2020, so what I really want to do is take the year to engage our stakeholders around the world as to how we take on the next frontier. As we go through that process, I can say with great certainty that I do not want the university to be all things to all people. I want us to pick three to five big ideas and attend a laser-like focus to them. However that materializes, students will be at the center and we won’t lose that sight of that special expertise we have in helping students succeed who have been frozen out of, or poorly served by, the public education system.”
Allen said one of his points of emphasis will be on reducing students’ average time to graduate.
“There are many factors that impact matriculation, particularly when much of your mission is focused on students who have been under-resourced or overlooked in the K-12 public education system,” he said. “We work harder to make sure that this portion of our student body gets the resources they need to be successful. Some of that is making sure that is making sure that they are taking at least 15 credits a semester and ensuring that those credits work them toward graduation in their major. We must make sure that we have resourced them well financially, which takes special effort, but in the end is worth the investment. We also think that tools are important, so we declare our intent to be a fully digital campus and have worked a deal with Apple where every incoming freshman receives an iPad or MacBook Pro. Our faculty have them too, so ensuring that we can meet our students where they are with tools they know and use every day is also very important.”
While many in the community point to the University of Delaware as the most visible educational brand in the state, Allen says DSU won’t overcome that perception by trying to compare itself to UD.
“They are not our competitor,” he said. “Our clarion call is to be the most, diverse contemporary HBCU in America, which simply means if you believe in access to comprehensive higher education for ALL, there is no better value than Delaware State University.”