President's State of the University Report
Progress Toward the Goals of Agenda for Excellence
by Judith Rodin
Since the University community adopted Agenda
for Excellence as its strategic plan for the 21st century, there has
been remarkable progress toward all of its goals, most significantly in
academic areas. While much attention has been given in recent months to
the physical development of the campus, that development is only important
as a means to an endthe creation of an optimal environment in which the
scholarship and research that are Penn's life-blood can best take place.
We are here to teach and to learn; to conduct research and to make new knowledge.
Every step, every campus development, every piece
of our strategic plan supports this academic mission directly or indirectly.
I would like to use my remaining time to focus on the striking progress
we have made over the past year in enhancing Penn's academic excellence.
The superordinate goal of Agenda for
Excellence is for Penn to solidify its position as one of the world's
leading research universitiesa place of choice for the world's best students
and faculty. To attract world-class faculty and students, as we must, we
will need superior research capabilities, for certainly research is the
parent of new knowledge. We also need to be the leader in the development
of new and better methods of teaching and learning. And to be truly excellent
in the 21st century, our university needs to move toward becoming really
The number of successes I have to report today
amounts to quite a list. It is a list that would be considered a "wish
list" at some universities, but one that is quickly becoming a reality
here at Penn thanks to our extraordinary University community.
Students and Programs
We have welcomed the most academically accomplished
class ever to attend Penn, and these are but a few of the markers: The SAT
scores of the Class of 2001 were higher than ever; 306 of our entering students
were valedictorian or salutatorian of their high school class; 130 were
president of their high school class or council; 182 entered Penn as Benjamin
Franklin Scholars. The class is also richly diverse: 35% are members of
minority groups. The trend continues for 1998: Our early-decision numbers
for next year's entering class are at an all-time high. And the quality
of these early applicantswho are ready now to commit to attending Penn over
any other schoolis truly extraordinary.
Penn is a hot school. U.S. News & World
Report ranked Penn 7th in its September survey of the best universities.
Penn students reported high levels of satisfaction in an April 1997 survey
of nearly 400 undergraduates by the Department of Sociology:
- 88% were satisfied with their classes.
- 88% were satisfied with extracurricular activities.
- 84% were satisfied with their living situations.
- 84% would come to Penn if they had to make the
When I was a student living at home and got a 97,
my father used to ask me what happened to the other three points; so I want
you to know that we will be working on the other 15 percentage points and
hope to report next year that all are over 90 and moving.
I think this is a better time than ever
to be a student at Penn, though certainly we will let that hyperbole be
expressed by the students. But there are a number of exciting new programs.
Most recently, announced just on Monday, the Vagelos Scholars Program in
the molecular life sciences will integrate for outstanding undergraduate
science majors work in chemistry, biology, phyics, mathematics, with an
extraordinary support system both financial and otherwise, modeled after
the Fisher M & T Program and the Huntsman International Studies and
Business Program, and other premier "niche-building" programs.
The Provost has talked about Foreign Languages across the curriculum, and
rhetoric across the curriculum. Last year we announced a six-year sub-matriculation
program, Wharton to Law, and this year by the end of the year we'll announce
similar programs both in the College and in Engineering to Law School, again
leveraging some of Penn's unique strengths.
There's tremendous excitement in so many areas
of the 21st Century Project, but one of the things that I think has had
an extraordinary impactit's hard to believe it's only two years oldKelly
Writer's House and other such physical structures that provide hubs for
community-building around substantive areas of academic and intellectual
interest. There's a lot of planning going on for the community hub and for
other hubs, and I know the Provost will have more to report on that at the
next Council meeting.
We think it's
better than ever to be a graduate or professional student at Penn. Part
of the strategic plan is to keep moving the Ph.D. programs and professional
programs upward both in rankings and in productivity. Part of the plan,
which is now well under way, is to reduce the size of Ph.D. programs in
order to better fund doctoral students. I know we will continue working
in this area so that we will have highly supported Ph.D. students in our
A number of exciting new master's programs are
being established as leading-edge programs that position our students for
a variety of opportunities: Telecommunications in SEAS; environmental studies
in SAS; and the joint programs such as biotechnology in SAS and SEAS; bioengineering
in SAS and SEAS; and bioethics in SAS and Medicine.
Campus life is becoming markedly richer. The new
College House system and "Wheel" project will roll out in Fall
1998. Progress advances on Perelman Quad and Sansom Common, with the new
Bookstore on track to open next fall. ResNet wiring is completed. GreekNet
is moving along, Penn is a participant in the Internet II research program,
and as that moves forward Penn will become one of the leading centers, and
will be indeed the regional center for the highest-speed connectivity
over the Internet; we are contributing both intellectual and financial resources
to that aspiration.
There's been a comprehensive review of athletic
and recreational facilities, a great deal of consultation, a lot of interview
processes, and that will be evaluated and reported on, and much discussed,
this semester. Planning and fundraising are already under way. You know
that residential facilities have been evaluated again; this will be a year
in which there will be considerable discussion both about residential facility
construction and progress and also dining halls; and we certainly will deliberate
broadly and consult with you on all of those important issues. The design
for the Wharton building is moving, and there are already designs underway
for a new biology buildingand much discussion for other academic projects.
Faculty and Research
Penn's excellence is so widely recognized in large
part due to our faculty, who are always being recognized as an outstanding
research faculty: the Kyoto Prize to Dan Janzen, the McArthur Award to Susan
Stewart, the Bower Award and now the Scott Award to Ralph Brinster represent
only a few of the many important and distinguished accolades that our faculty
continues to receive.
Last year was an astonishing year with regard to
faculty recruitment and retention. There were many intense competitions
with peer universitiesoften the larger community doesn't hear about that;
it's known at the department level or the school level; we try to play a
very direct role, sometimes it's financial but more often than not it isn't;
it's really supporting the efforts of the schools and the departments. There
have been just extraordinary appointments in SAS and Engineering; many oustanding
appointments in Medicine; I could take the full 25 minutes to talk about
the extraordinary faculty that we have hired and retained, and the wonderful
colleagues that we have here who continue to make Penn the best research
university in the country.
The committee that is focusing on one of the Six
Strategic Initiatives, the democratic and comparative legal institutions,
is searching now for Americanist political scientists, putting a tremendous
effort on building great strength in the political science department. There
has been tremendous progresslots of outside consultants brought in last
year, and the committee is moving toward making several appointments. We
believe again that one of the opportunities that the Agenda for Excellence
provides for us is to really do some bold and unusual things; so in this
case we would be recruiting a cohort of four or five senior faculty members
all at once, to really make a statement about where Penn is and where Penn
wants to go in political science. I understand from my colleagues in political
science that people around the country are talking about Penn and what is
going on thereand that was very much our intent.
Obviously and importantly, the Roy and Diana Vagelos
Laboratories were dedicated Monday. We all know that research facilities
involve more than just scientific research facilities, although BRB II and
III are going up, and I've mentioned the work on Biology. But scholarship
and research facilities are needed throughout the University and we are
very mindful of those that have been signaled in the Strategic Plan as especially
important for first attention: Planning and fundraising underway for the
Humanities Center; Logan Hall renovations moving back the many critical
SAS departments and the College to the center of the campus and providing
the kinds of classrooms and facilities that enhance research and scholarship.
Again, just some highlights of very substantial
progress: The Vagelos Labs began 18 months ago and were dedicated Monday,
and we are continuing to drive aggressively towards completing programs
and projects on time and to deliver the best opportunities for scholarship
and research that can be found anywhere in the country.
A second feature of the Strategic Plan was to create
the infrastructure of support that would allow our faculty to increase research
funding. It is one thing to say "Try to get more funding," and
it's another thing to create the kind of environment and support that enables
this to happen. The growth in research support from 1993 to 1997 is about
8%; that's particularly remarkable. The faculty will understand the extraordinary
nature of this, but to our students and staff: this was a time of diminishing
NIH and NSF funding; certainly we all know the assault on the arts and the
humanities, leading to a significant decrease in funding; and for the Penn
faculty to bewith a diminishing potaccelerating the level of research funding
that they are bringing to their programs is really quite noteworthy and
I think again is another marker of where the faculty is and how they are
regarded and therefore how Penn is regarded.
For the University as a whole, there has been steady
growth in research support from 1993 to 1997 at an annualized rate of 7.8
percent. Of particular note are GSE's $8 million in new external research
awards in FY97; Medicine's grants, up 12% last year, now in fifth place
nationally in federal research funding; and Nursing's continuation in the
national ranking of second place in federal research funding. Social Work's
external research funding rose by 6% last year, despite an increasingly
competitive environment, and the Annenberg School won a $750,000 grant from
Pew Charitable Trusts for the Candidate Free Time Project.
Globalization is certainly very important to us
both as a university and also in many schools and programs the highlight
of the strategic planning process. We continue to recruit from a wonderful
pool of undergraduate students: The Class of 2001 includes 216 outstanding
examples, an increase of 5 percent over last year. Our graduate and professional
pool has always been larger and deeper, and the number of outstanding international
students in the graduate and professional groups continues to climb.
We are also beginning to see an increasingly globalized
curriculum. Recall that we believe that the strategic plan moves us to another
generation of our globalization aspirationsmore than merely collaborating
with institutions around the world, more than merely having Penn Abroad
programs in a variety of areas, we need here in Philadelphia to have a really
global mindset as we move towards the 21st Century. That will mean more
comparative courses, and a variety of other activities, including some accomplished
this year: Wharton established a Chinese Business and Entrepreneurship Initiative;
I have been active recently in one on India that is moving forward. GSE
has been doing much in the Shanghai Education Project and received a substantial
award for its support. The Korea Foundation gave over $2 million to enhance
Korean Studies at Penn, supplemented by $2 million from Korean alumni. Certainly
the recent visit of the Chinese president, while appropriately controversial
and certainly serious with regard to any concern that we must have with
China's position on human rights issues, represents that we need as people
and as insititutions to continue to engage the Chinesebecause their relations
to us represent one of the mechanisms by which some of these issues may
We have a very broad base of international alumninow
15,780and one of the interesting challenges is reaching them. We have done
a much better job over the last year or two in reaching them, hearing from
them, listening to them.
I think we've made wonderful progress; these were
just highlights and examples. Marvelous things are going on here, and working
together we are solidifying Penn's position as one of the world's leading
research universities. This is surely is a place of choice for the world's
best students and faculty and staffpeople like so many of you in this room.
We must keep it so and continue to make it even better. I value enormously
the chance I've been given to work with the Penn community to shape this
university. It's a university that I care deeply about, as do all of you.
One of my particular rewards has been the opportunity
to teach some of you in a couple of different settingsan experience, more
than any other, that has shown me the extraordinary quality of Penn students
today. I'd like to say a final word about this experience before I close.
Earlier this term I taught a preceptorial on leadership. The preceptorial
had 15 students, chosen by SCUE leaders for what they wrote in short essays
set-ting forth their views on leadership. Among the students were aspiring
artists and engineers, psychologists and historians, economists, even the
editor of a certain campus newspaper. All of the essays were wonderful.
But there is a phrase from one essay in particular that I'd like to share
with you: "I believe that leadership should never stop evolving within
I think that's worth thinking about for all of
us, because we sit here as campus leaders, elected to to represent broader
constituencies; and to really think about the role of leadership. I think
that Penn is about the business of educating the leaders of today and tomorrow,
and that we take that very seriously. All of us take our leadership role
very seriously, and that is one of the great activities of this council,
to serve not only as a deliberative body but also to serve as the leaders
of this campus and to help us move forward. Together we are leading this
university to a new plane of excellence in a new century, and again I am
delighted to report on how much has been accomplished.
I also want to report to you, those of you who
don't have contact with alumni: This was Homecoming Weekend, and there were
thousands of alumni on campus. They are extraordinarly pleased with Penn
and with what is going on, enthusiastic about all that has been accomplished
and all that they see as possible to be accomplished. So their thanks to
you, as well, as campus leaders for working together to move the Agenda
for Excellence forward and help Penn to realize its full potential and
all of our ambitions.
Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, November
18 1997, Volume 44, No. 13