COUNCIL The Provost's Address December 4, 1996


The State of the University:
Three Facets of Penn's Academic Life

by Stanley Chodorow

For my report, I have chosen three areas that I've been working on with my colleagues and staff during the last year. I would like to relate them to the Agenda for Excellence. Today I will talk about globalization, research and graduate educationthree very important areas. As you know, I have already reported on the 21st Century Project.

Globalization: Educating Leaders of the Nation and the World

Globalization is one of the major goals of the Agenda for Excellence. We really have two major subgoals under this goal. The first is to educate leaders of the nation and the world by creating an international environment at Penn. It's not enough to increase the number of students who study abroad. The curriculum and the environment at Penn, where most students stay through their entire careers as students, must be internationalized and we're actively working on that. And the second subgoal is to make Penn an international leader in research and education not merely by being better at both research and education than anybody else on the planet but also by interacting with, creating exchange agreements and collaborations with, foreign institutions so that we begin to internationalize our programs through these collaborations and exchange agreements.

In order to meet our first goal--to educate leaders of the nation and the world--we need to create curricular/extracurricular programs that prepare students for the international arena. For example, we have just received a report from the committee in the 21st Century project on Foreign Language Across the Curriculum (FLAC). It is the first step in developing a program which will increase and improve our language instruction, which is, of course, crucial to internationalization. At the same time we want to begin to develop a program that integrates language instruction with actual subject matter instruction.

For example, offering courses in substantive disciplines, in which target languages are used. Languages such as French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and so on where the courses taught include political science, economics, anthropology and sociology as well as the literature of the field. This will take advantage of the fact that twenty percent of our students enjoy an international experience and come back with linguistic capacities which are much enhanced from where they were when they left. We want to take advantage of that.

We also need to develop our language programs so that they create a bridge from the point of proficiency that we require in the schools to the point at which the students can really use the language for substantive activities. And again not just in literature, which is the traditional way in which language has been used in universities, but in a broader array of fields in which this can occur.

The second area is to develop programs like the international studies and business program which already exists. This is a joint program between Wharton and the College which we hope to expand to Engineering and Nursing. We will use the framework which was created for the IS&B program which will provide students of other schools with similar curricular opportunities.

We also want to increase the number of foreign students and visiting faculty at Penn. If you look at the record over the last ten years there has been a very substantial increase in the number of foreign students and visiting post-docs and faculty. But it's leveled off in the past couple of years. And one of the goals of the Agenda for Excellence is to pick up that pace and begin to push the numbers up again because the presence of foreign students, faculty and research personnel on the campus is one of the ways in which we can internationalize the campus.

We will also devise programs that will take advantage of our international colleagues so they're not just here passing through but instead play a role in the education of students and in the life of the campus.

We have about 2650 international students at the undergraduate and graduate level. At the undergraduate level that amounts to about 850. And the rest, about 1700 to about 1800, are in the graduate and professional programs. At the undergraduate level, that's the largest number of foreign undergraduate students in the Ivy League. At the graduate level, we are third behind Columbia and Harvard and are on par with MIT and Cornell. What we really wish to do and what several of the deans and other schools are doing is to look into the international arena for recruitment of additional students to increase the presence of the foreign students on the campus.

And finally we are seeking to improve our study abroad programs. This began before the Agenda for Excellence was formulated. It's part of a comprehensive program to increase the quality of our programs. It will probably result in a reduction of the number of our programs. We have established a review process, so that just as our on-campus programs are reviewed on a cycle, our external--our foreign study programs will also be reviewed on a cycle. We have the capacity, as we have formed this, to review two areas a year. This year we are doing Spain and Latin America and the Francophone areas.

We will have a faculty committee that will be a review committee, very similar to a review committee that you have for a department, which will look at all the programs to ensure ourselves that they meet our standards, that they are meeting our goals, that they are high quality and that the students who are taking advantage of them are getting the kind of experience that we really want them to get. So we are increasing the scrutiny and examination of those programs in the hopes that over time we will produce a series of programs that we are very certain are the best in the world.

In terms of making Penn an international leader in research and education, we are refocusing and enhancing our collaboration in two different ways. Internally, we are bringing the different schools and their programs together. One of the problems at Penn has been the distribution of authority and the lack of communication among programs. For example, we discovered that we have a whole series of programs going on in sub-Saharan Africa and very often they know nothing about one another. Furthermore, they are not working with our area studies program in African studies, which is first -rate, to enhance what they do in that part of the world. So one part of what we're doing is coordinating the activities of Penn through the Provost's Council on International Programs.

We are also getting schools to focus on the way in which they have agreements with foreign institutions. We want to make agreements to have collaborations with peer institutions abroad not with just any institutions abroad.

We are trying to focus our international activities along the lines of the six initiatives that have been enunciated in the Agenda for Excellence. We want to create an effective information system so that the coordination of programs that we create by face-to-face interactions are sustained. We're creating web pages for all the schools in their international programs and a central web page for the whole University that would be a reference point through which you could reach information about what's going on in the different schools. We're using the Provost's Council on International Programs to coordinate these kinds of communication and also to sponsor the annual Provost's Conference on International Programs which will take place this year on March 21st.

One result of the conference is that we created an international health forum. One of the major areas of the Agenda for Excellence is life sciences and health care and health services and we have an enormous number of programs going on in the international arena that have these kinds of projects. We want to coordinate them, focus them, and give them a place to be enhanced.

Finally, we have a small fund now that allows the Provost to provide seed funds for the development of inter-school international programs. We seek to increase the size of that to make it a good strong fund which can increase the pace of development of the programs.

Before I turn to research, are there any specific questions? I'll take just a couple before moving on.

Q: Regarding study abroad programs: I will be a study abroad student and I have noticed that on my Penn tuition form I am paying tuition and other general fees for next semester, even though I won't be enjoying the services. Are there any attempts to reform the study program, so you aren't paying for things you aren't even going to be using?

A: The basic premise is that your tuition is Penn tuition. As a student abroad, you are still a full-time student: you are going to obtain Penn credit, and, in order to run the programs that I was talking about, which is to say, in order to manage the system, to make certain that the proper reviews take place, that the standards are kept up, and that you get credit when you come back, we believe that is the way we are going to have to finance it. We finance it in the same way we finance on-campus programs, through your tuition and other dollars that we raise, and that is the policy that we have set. We are treating you as a Penn student. You go abroad, you are still a Penn student. And that's why you pay a Penn tuition.

Research: An Interdisciplinary Approach

One of the things I want to concentrate attention on is the way in which the strategic plan, the Agenda for Excellence, is bringing people together and creating an interdisciplinary framework for research at Penn. Some of the things that are going on really are phenomenal. I'll just run through some of these very quickly.

Cancer Detection: I'll start with what some of us call our "missiles to mammograms" research program, in which we're taking technology that the CIA developed to detect objects (you can guess what kind of objects) through cloud cover and other debris that would otherwise make it very difficult to tell what was coming. And it turns out that technology can be transferred and used in mammograms for extraordinarily early detection of breast cancer. It is a project that Mitchell Schnall in the department of radiology is leading. It's a $2 million effort. It's a multi-institutional clinical trial, which is based here at Penn. It unites radiology with physics, electronics, and all of the engineering disciplines that deal with these detection techniques, which were for completely different functions.

It is a wonderful example of physical sciences and health sciences of the University, and indeed, in this case, of other universities coming together to carry on a program, a research transfer, an information transfer. When we talk about the making and using of knowledge, and the way in which use of knowledge often advances knowledge, this is a perfect example of that. Knowledge developed elsewhere for different purposes applied now to a health purpose will in fact increase our knowledge at the same time as it applies knowledge.

The Human Genome: A group in the Plant Science Institute led by Joe Eckert has worked out the genome of the weed Arabidopsis and this project is a wonderful example of the way we are going to have to work out the human genome. Now, the genome of the Arabidopsis is about one-thirtieth the size of the human genome, but 80% of that genome has been transferred into us. That is, 80% of that weed is within our genome, so that is not merely a demonstration of how one works out the word called genome, which is a very long word, but it also is a direct contribution to the human genome project. And it brings together not only the group in the Plant Sciences Institute, but also Bioinformatics, a brand new field. At Penn, as people talked about the initiative, they looked over and found that we are incredibly strong in bioinformatics. So that the bioinformatics group that is forming under the initiative is getting together with the plant scientists to begin to understand the Arabidopsis genome.

Medicine & Engineering: The development of the Institute of Medicine and Engineering is a broad-based collaborative effort between the two schools. It has had as its initial success the recruitment of some spectacular faculty who are coming here because of the institute and its interdisciplinary focus. And it's already beginning projects on cardiovascular bio- and chemical engineering and the study of injury at the cellular level. What happens when a cell is deformed? All cells are deformed from time to time, as when you squeeze your hand you're deforming cells. If you squeeze it too hard, you injure it. Then, something happens to the cells that starts a biochemical cascade, to repair the injury, to take care of the injury. This institute is beginning to look at that moment of injury and the consequences of injury to cells at that level.

The institute is planning to grow at $7 to $10 million a year in research activities and involves faculty from pathology in medicine, chemical engineering and mechanical engineering, and bioengineering. It is an absolutely wonderful interdisciplinary program, and is a beautiful example of the kinds of things that are going on under the Agenda for Excellence and will be going on in the future.

Cognitive Science: Information science is another area where Penn is pulling together things to change what we're doing and to bring together new activities under the Agenda. The Institute for Research in Cognitive Science--IRCS--is not brand new but is growing and is one of the leading centers in the country. It was the first national center in cognitive sciences in the country, and it is a powerful interdisciplinary group that brings together philosophy, linguistics, computer science and neuroscience. It is a case of an initiative taking advantage of Penn's existing strengths.

Parallel Computing: Another example is the National Scalable Cluster, which is a remarkable supercomputing project. It just won, by the way, the gold medal from the super-computing association, at the national super-computing conference. The cluster links high-speed, desk top or small computers at Penn, at Maryland, and at Illinois-Chicago, and creates from them, using the network, massively parallel computers, for data mining.

One of the problems with a lot of the things that are happening today in our research environment is that we are producing more and more data. And a lot of the time that data is coming at us so fast we can't deal with it; it's like trying to drink from a fire hose. One of the great problems in a lot of modern research programs is: how do you deal with all that data? The national scalable cluster is a major effort to deal with data mining. It has spawned a project called HUBS, (Hospitals, Universities, Business Centers and Schools). It is a development that Penn is supporting, along with Drexel and some of the other local institutions, to create a regional center for this kind of work. It will combine high-powered computing and very advanced knowledge about data mining.

[In concluding this section Dr. Chodorow briefly discussed sources of funding, primarily using slides.

[He pointed to NIH as the largest source of research funds, and noted that Penn's NIH funding had grown 10% between the year before last and last year. He added that in Education and DOD, and state and local governments, budgetary stresses have reduced the funding available for research, but "in all the other areas, in which funding has stayed constant or gone up, we have also made great progress." -- Ed.]

Graduate Education: The Survey

Next I'd like to talk about graduate education. One of the things we did this year for the first time was to survey our graduate students. We sent out a survey when the graduate student filed for graduation and asked them to rate and evaluate their experience at Penn. And we collected the replies at the time they handed in their dissertations.

First, we asked the students to evaluate their principal dissertation advisor, where a one score was high and four was low. To the question, Did the advisor spend time necessary for advising? the average was a 1.4 rating. Remember that 1 is high and 4 is low.

Discuss research regularly? 1.5.

Accessible? 1.4.

Knowledge of degree requirements? 1.5.

Interested in student's goals and projects? 1.3.

Critiques helped progress? 1.3.

Work returned on a timely basis? 1.5.

Made an effort to secure financial support? 1.3.

Supportive in the job search? 1.4.

These are very high grades and give us an idea that most of our students felt that they related very well to and got a great deal of support and assistance from their mentors.

The next slide evaluates the graduate group. The survey asked about the quality of advising, the same scale of 1 to 4. You can see that the quality of advising the average is rated around 2, and in fact all of the characteristics that were asked about were given grades around 2. Overall quality of courses, professional relationships with faculty other than the principal advisor, and faculty efforts to assist in job placement, again other than the principal advisor, all rated around 2. And what that means is that on the whole people were satisfied. We would like to do better, and looking at the results for individual graduate groups will help us to focus in our reviews of these groups on specific areas that need some work.

Another area surveyed was the extent to which graduate students were presented with opportunities to present research or to participate in professional meetings. And 84% said that the graduate group sponsored a seminar in which graduate students presented their research, and 73% said they were among the graduate students who presented work at such a seminar. So obviously looking at this carefully, there are some groups that are not allowing or making an opportunity for graduate students to present their research and we want to look into that and improve in that area.

Recipient attended national scholarly meeting--almost 90%. Recipient presented work at a national scholarly meeting--77%. A higher number presented work at national meetings than at seminars within their groups, which is very interesting. and in some respects encouraging because that is a very high percentage of graduate students presenting at national meetings.

And finally, Recipient submitted work for publication, 70% had submitted work for publication before they got the degree. Again a rather high number. And this will vary, of course, from field to field; in some fields it's extremely common and in other fields it's very rare. We will look at this very carefully to see what it tells us about different groups and what kinds of questions it raises for the review process. So this is a feedback loop that will allow us to make some progress as we move into the review process, which is critical to the Agenda for Excellence. It is one of the important goals of the Agenda that we will look at and provide criticism of our efforts in all areas, and seek to improve. This kind of information gathering is critical to that.

I will stop there and open to questions.

Q. Do you have any information on how those students who attended those conferences actually paid for it? Whether they received funding?

A. I don't know the answer to that. I don't think Janice Madden is here, but we'll find out. I think most of them are paid for, that is to say, that grants or graduate group funds pay for them; but I don't know the answer in percentage terms.

Q. I applaud your efforts at attracting world-renowned faculty but as many students and the sciences and mathematics already know, a lot of the faculty cannot communicate with them. What efforts are you making to ensure that at least there is some help for the faculty coming from overseas to ensure that they can effectively communicate with the students?

A. That's an ongoing effort. At the graduate student level they have to pass an examination and the standard examination is actually not set by us but is set by the state. We run those programs; we do not allow any student who does not pass those exams to teach. With regard to faculty and deans, I pay a great deal of attention to that. Deans know that is an issue, that the ability to communicate is an issue.

The ability to communicate, by the way, is not merely a language issue; it is also a cultural issue. Some of the schools have already started to develop orientation programs for all new faculty, American or foreign, to orient them toward our standards, what we are looking for in their performance as teachers, as well as to what we are looking for in their performance as scholars, as scientists. I think as that spreads--and again it is part of the Agenda for Excellence--we are very supportive of it you will see a steady improvement in the way in which faculty and graduate students are able to deal with the problems.

One of the things I should have mentioned is that the Vice Provost for Graduate Education and GSAC have joined together to create the Graduate Teaching Resource Center. The Vice Provost put up the funds for a graduate assistant to run the Network.I it is mostly mounted on a home page. It has materials, reference, help. The graduate students were the major players; they were the ones who brought the idea to us. We thought it was a great idea and helped to create the Center.

Q. [On whether there will be more surveys.]

A. Yes, this is the first time we did this and I would guess that over time we will both accumulate more information and make the instrument more and more sophisticated. It obviously can't be too long a questionnaire or people will throw it away. But honing the questions, by looking at the results are and asking questions about the results, will certainly take place. This is an ongoing project, it is not a one time thing and it's not frozen in this form. It would be very useful to have graduate students help hone that.

Q. Can you talk about the ideas you have for getting students hooked up with professors in doing research in other countries?

A. Part of that is first knowing all the things that are going on and who's involved, which is what the Provost's Council on International Programs is engaged in. It is putting together a really good database of all the faculty and developing programs with foreign institutions. There are both information issues--how you get a student to know who's doing what where--and funding issues. If you identify a student and link him or her up with a faculty member, how do you get the funds to carry out the research?


May and August 1996 Survey of Penn Doctoral Recipients

1. Evaluation of Principal Dissertation Adviser Mean Median Spent the time necessary for advising 1.4 1.0 Discussed research regularly 1.5 1.0 Accessible 1.4 1.0 Knowledgeable of degree requirements 1.5 1.0 Interested in student's goals/projects 1.3 1.0 Critiques helped progress 1.3 1.0 Work returned on a timely basis 1.5 1.0 Made effort to secure financial support 1.3 1.0 Supportive of job search 1.4 1.0

2. Evaluation of Graduate Group Mean Median Quality of advising/guidance 2.1 2.0 Overall quality of courses 2.0 2.0 Professional relationships with faculty 1.9 2.0 (other than principal adviser) Faculty efforts to assist in Job placement 2. 1 2.0 3. Opportunities to Present Research Opportunity Proportion reporting yes Graduate group sponsored a seminar at which graduate students presented their research 84.0% Recipient presented work at such a seminar 72.9% Recipient attended a national scholarly meeting 88.8% Recipient presented work at a national scholarly meeting 76.7% Recipient has submitted work for publication 70.2%

Basis of scoring in tables 1 and 2: 1 = agree 2 = somewhat agree 3 = somewhat disagree 4 = disagree


Almanac

Volume 43 Number 19
January 28, 1997


Return to Almanac's homepage.

Return to index for this issue.