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Council: State of the University Highlights...Some Committee Assignments

Wednesday at University Council, President Judith Rodin and Interim Provost Michael Wachter gave their State of the University reports, primarily on three topics:

Agenda for Excellence: Dr. Rodin gave detailed highlights of Penn's progress toward the goals announced under the strategic plan drawn up during her first year in office. For example, Goal 1, "Attain comprehensive excellence and secure Penn's position as one of the world's premier research and teaching universities," was fleshed out with specifics such as bringing the undergraduate program to top ten status. Dr. Rodin used increased selectivity as one measure of success (only 29% of applicants were admitted for the class entering this fall), and rankings as another (the undergraduate program ranked 6th by U.S. News, the Wharton undergraduate program ranked first in the nation for the second year in a row). She also traced increases in diversity, listed over a dozen curricular innovations and indicated the appointment of world-class faculty in one of the schools after another.

Under Goal 2, "Secure greater research funding and new sources of support," Dr. Rodin gave a school-by-school rundown prefaced by such overall data as Penn's rise in ranking in federal R & D (from 13th in 1995 to 10th in 1996, the last year for which federal data are available). Internally, Penn's goal of bringing FY1998 awards up 2% was more than met: the rise was 14%, to a total of $415 million for the fiscal year. She also gave fundraising figures for Agenda for Excellence initiatives, which include $382 million overall--with $49 million to date toward endowing undergraduate financial aid; and 18 newly endowed chairs.

She also detailed progress on other academic goals in the presentation, which is being transcribed for publication in full in a future issue of Almanac, as will the full text on:

West Philadelphia Initiatives: President Rodin outlined five overall goals for community improvement, and updated the Council on progress toward meeting them. The goals are to "ensure that our community is clean and safe; provide high-quality, diverse housing; enhance and improve public school options for neighborhood children; revive commercial activity; and accelerate economic development." In this report (also being transcribed for publication) Dr. Rodin sketched progress on all five fronts, then turned the floor over to Vice President Stephen Schutt and GSE Dean Susan Fuhrman for a more detailed outline of the collaborative program with the public schools that was announced this summer (Almanac July 14). Three components of the announcement were reiterated:

  • Providing leadership for the West Philadelphia and University City "Cluster Resource Boards" that are part of the city-wide initiative to improve public schools at all levels;
  • Finding a home for the city's science magnet high school, now in deteriorating space in the Northeast, and bring it into a relationship with Penn, Drexel, the Science Center and other local resources.
  • Create a demonstration school on the former Divinity School site in the 4200 block of Spruce, for 750 students pre-K through 8th grade. In her outline of the educational goals of this project, Dean Fuhrman stressed that Penn's approach differs from other models in choosing to be part of a public school system, rather than creating a private school for its own members.

The College Houses: Dr. Michael Wachter introduced a team led by Dr. David Brownlee, who is both chair of the Residential Faculty Council and Faculty Master of Harnwell House, to report on the House System's implementation this fall. Dr. Brownlee gave samples of the varied ways that the Masters, the House Deans, the Faculty Fellows, and the students themselves work to create community, emphasizing that some modest changes in space use and programming may create interaction even in the "high houses," whose size and structure (up to 750 residents spread on 25 floors) were one of the major factors to be considered as all of Penn's undergraduate residences became parts of a College House system this year.

Housekeeping: The Committees

At Council October 14, the chairs of two standing committees--Dr. Anthony Rostain for Student Affairs and Dr. Peter Dodson for Community Relations--presented their year-end reports for 1997-98. (Under a new arrangement with the Office of the Secretary, these are to be posted verbatim on the web, with official summaries provided for publication in Almanac in print.)

At the September 23 meeting of Council, a major agenda item had been discussion of potential items of business for Council and its committees in the coming year. One of the topics raised in September--an inquiry into the progress of hard-wiring fraternity houses in what is known as GreekNet--was referred for immediate response to the Communications Committee. Wednesday the Committee's chair, Dr. Martin Pring, reported on wiring projects completed and scheduled, with some background on the age, historical status and other factors that affect wiring projects--including differences in ownership in a system where houses may be owned by the University, a national fraternity, or a commercial landlord.

In his role as chair of Steering Committee, Professor John Keene referred members Wednesday to an e-mailed memorandum which gave the following disposition of the remaining topics proposed in September:

Items for Referral to Committee for Review And Subsequent Reporting to Council

  1. Admissions and Financial Aid: Quick review of recent reports on the broad issue of faculty and graduate and undergraduate student minority presence; check numbers at other Ivies, and report summary to Council (November or December). This issue is to take precedence over the committee's other charge. Review minority and under-represented minority presence issues in the context of financial aid.
  2. Communications Committee: Review and evaluate WXPN goals and as they relate to service to the community.
  3. Community Relations: Review development of corridor West of 40th Street and any Penn impact, or only discuss at Council, or both. Discuss development to the East. Ask committee to explore linking Penn Latinos with North Philadelphia Latinos.
  4. Facilities: Evaluate and propose alternatives to the lack of facilities large enough to hold convocation and other ceremonies.
  5. International Programs: Consider the question of Penn tuition being charged to students who study abroad.
  6. Safety: Review unique situation of graduate students living off campus and of international students. Safety Committee and Committee on Open Expression draft video monitoring policy may be ready for the November Council meeting.
  7. Student Affairs: Discuss improving computing quality across schools in consultation with the Communications Committee.

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 8, October 20, 1998