Speaking Out

A SCUE Omission

Recent events, in particular the O.J. Simpson trial and the Million Man March, have revealed in full clarity, the deepening division in American society, a cleavage which expresses itself painfully as racism in our communities. At the University, this racial divide is symbolized and realized in the continuing deficits of minority undergraduate students, of newly appointed and existing African-American faculty and by the continuing paucity of African-American Ph.D. candidates.

Careful reading of the SCUE white paper on Undergraduate Education provides some insight into the prevailing attitudes and ideologies underlying the atmosphere at Penn, which to most African-Americans, remains exclusionary and racist. Despite the comprehensive and detailed analysis of changes needed in course structure and content, in teaching arrangements and in core requirements, the report nowhere touches on racism and racist ideas on the campus and in the classroom and on their effects on the integrity of the educational process and on the moral and ethical training provided by the University. It is as if the University was an isolated island of brotherly love and racial harmony in the midst of an ever- present sea of racial discord and conflict.

One is left with several possible explanations for this dilemma. The SCUE Committee, while recognizing racism as a problem, was unable to cope with it or deemed it inappropriate for a report on undergraduate education. Alternatively, the Committee did not regard campus racism as relevant to the educational process or the Committee did not believe racism existed on the campus and did not regard it as a problem. Any one of these reasons for denying or ignoring the facts would in and of itself be racist and obstructive of a sound analysis of undergraduate education.

However, on the assumption that the SCUE committee members were not intentionally racist and did not intend to generate a racist document, wouldn't it still be in order for SCUE to evaluate the situation and suggest some fresh approaches to the problem? This might start by expanding the sector treatment in the report from three to four, to include as the fourth sector, the subject of "Human Relations--Inter- Group and Inter-Personal." This added sector could be concerned with clarifying individual's and groups' perceptions of each other and their understanding of the effects on each other. Comprehensive efforts at understanding stereotypes, their historic function, their present character and their destructive effects on individual development, self- assurance, and dignity should be included. Students ought to be guided to an analysis of their own dogmas about race and the relation of these ideas to their family, community and religious background. Thought should be given to deigning new educational modes involving one-on-one dialogue, small group interchanges, dramatic forms, as well as more traditional modes. If the SCUE report is in any way intended to assist in the ability of the University to provide the humane and humanistic education so essential to our times, the issue of racism in education cannot be avoided.

-- Robert J. Rutman, Professor Emeritus
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
School of Veterinary Medicine

Response from SCUE

I would like to take this opportunity to briefly respond to the letter written by Dr. Robert Rutman, Professor Emeritus in the School of Veterinary Medicine. In his letter, Dr. Rutman alleges that the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education's most recent statement on undergraduate education, The 1995 White Paper on Undergraduate Education, is racist. He maintains that because SCUE did not explicitly mention the effects of racism on the educational process at the University, the committee failed to conduct a sound analysis of undergraduate education. I offer two points which suggest the contrary.

There are many issues related to undergraduate education that the 1995 White Paper does not address explicitly. These include extracurricular activities, tenure, numerical literacy and many others. Few would argue that these issues are not important to the undergraduate experience. However, given the constraints within which a committee such as SCUE must work, including every issue that impacts the educational mission of the University within a single document is clearly not possible. SCUE chose to concentrate its energies on topics such as the curriculum, research, and grading because our members felt that these were areas in which we could offer valuable policy suggestions and insights.

In addition, SCUE believes that the humanistic education that Dr. Rutman asks for is at the very heart of the White Paper. Assembling a community of scholars, who are at this institution to learn from each other and their surroundings, is a predominant theme in the Paper. Each of the Penn Sectors emphasizes the varying characteristics of both the Penn and the global community. For example, the Society sector is designed to teach students "to appreciate the plurality of society and the diversity of Penn." In our comments on residential living, SCUE underscores the importance of learning from "the intellectual, socioeconomic, geographic, ethnic and behavioral diversity" of the Penn student body. A thorough reading of the Paper will demonstrate that SCUE gave careful consideration to the very notions which concern Dr. Rutman so deeply.

-- Satya Patel, SCUE Chair
College/Wharton '96


Tuesday, December 5, 1995
Volume 42 Number 14

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