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Former UD President Roselle dies at 84

Katie Tabeling
University of Delaware President David Roselle speaks at the podium at UD's 2006 commencement. Roselle died at 84.

University of Delaware President David Roselle speaks at the podium at UD’s 2006 commencement. Roselle died at 84. | PHOTO COURTESY OF UD

NEWARK — David Roselle, the former University of Delaware president who guided the state’s largest college through a great transformation over the course of 17 years, died on Monday. He was 84 years old.

Roselle died after a brief illness, according to an obituary provided by the family.  A cause of death was not immediately disclosed.

“We are all saddened to learn of the passing of David Roselle, and on behalf of the entire UD community, my wife, Eleni, and I extend our sympathies to his wife, Louise, and their family and all those who knew and worked with him during his impactful tenure at the University,” UD President Dennis Assanis said in a prepared statement.

“Students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members all continue to benefit from his enduring legacy of service to UD. Indeed, we are a stronger, more vibrant institution today because of the leadership and dedication of President Roselle,” he added.

Born in the Pittsburgh suburbs, Roselle studied mathematics and eventually earned a doctorate degree and embarked on a teaching career at the University of Maryland. He specialized in number theory, and later taught at Louisiana State University and at Virginia Tech, where he also served as provost.

In the late 1980s, Roselle became the ninth president of the University of Kentucky, where much of his tenure was engulfed by a men’s basketball scandal where coaches sent money to recruits and players cheated on entrance exams. Roselle was lauded for his quick response to the scandal, launching an internal investigation and rolling out new policies for athletics.

By 1990, Roselle was named the president of the First State’s largest university in a unanimous vote by the board of trustees. At the time, he was the highest-paid public university president in the nation.

Under his leadership, Roselle aggressively boosted UD’s fundraising efforts and worked to cut costs. Between his first and last days, UD’s endowment grew from $362 million to $1.2 billion. He also launched the first capital fundraising effort, the Campaign for Delaware, which raised $431 million, almost double the original goal. 

That financial acumen translated into a series of campus renovations and growth. Roselle oversaw the addition of the Bob Carpenter Center, where scores of northern Delaware high schools host graduation ceremonies, the Trabant University Center, several academic buildings, labs and art studios. Almost all campus buildings were renovated, including Mitchell Hall, Memorial Hall, Bayard Sharp Hall, Mechanical Hall and Jastak-Burgess Hall.

UD also added locations like Arsht Hall in Wilmington, the Paradee Center in Dover and the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown.

Technology was also at the forefront of Roselle’s administration, with all campus buildings wired for computer access and wireless internet connection. It also spurred the administration to use technology for a vast array of business matters, from human resource management to course registration.

During Roselle’s time on campus, student aid grew from $19 million in 1991 to $56 million in 2005. UD saw 75% more graduate students enroll and 160% increase in financial aid for those students. 

He stepped down in July 2007, and was succeeded by Patrick Harker.

“During his long and distinguished career, President Roselle contributed so much to UD and many other institutions, providing an inspiring example of what can be achieved through selfless cooperation and a commitment to future generations,” UD Board of Trustees President Terri Kelly said. “We are fortunate that President Roselle served our University so capably for 17 years and remained a dedicated friend throughout his life.”

While Roselle was the UD president, he was also active in the Delaware community, serving on the boards of the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, the Wilmington Grand Opera House and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware. 

He remained engaged in the academic community, holding membership in several mathematics associations including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. He also mentored higher education professionals through the American Council on Education (ACE), with at least six of his mentees reaching senior management positions.

After Roselle left the university, he became the executive director of Winterthur Museum. While there, Winterthur completed its first major campaign in two decades and grew its endowment. Winterthur CEO and Charles F. Montgomery Director Chris Strand said he was not only a distinguished leader, but a cherished friend and colleague to many in the museum’s community. Roselle served as Winterthur’s leader for 10 years, until he retired in 2018 to spend time with his family.

“Having had the privilege of working alongside Dave for a decade, I witnessed firsthand his unwavering dedication and enthusiasm for scholarship, preservation, and the celebration of art and culture, all of which are the defining pillars of Winterthur’s mission,” Strand said. “Beyond his professional accomplishments, Dave leaves behind a legacy of kindness, generosity, and integrity that has deeply touched each of us fortunate enough to have known him.”

Roselle is survived by his son, Arthur, and his wife; their daughter and her husband; his five grandchildren, as well as his sister, niece, sister-in-law and nephew.

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