Speaking Out


Well, we have come through the winter. Soon the campus will be a glorious sight. Under the current administration the physical plant received major attention. There are new buildings; some old buildings have been renovated; new construction is in progress throughout--all well designed and in good taste. A class act! The flowers will soon bloom in their colorful splendor. Our students in all their existing diversity will cheerfully celebrate the rites of spring. A happy picture indeed!

Underneath the picture, however, the fabric of the canvas is deteriorating. Since the previous administration, the faculty has been progressively degraded by a persistent, creeping regimentation. Some examples almost at random include compulsory form filling. (We now have to certify annually that we do not violate University norms.) Secretarial services are now limited to administrators. Student evaluations are now single-mindedly applied. The Faculty Club, once the haven of faculty social and intellectual interaction, has been reduced to something akin to a Horn and Hardart operation.

Even more serious is the systematic exclusion of the faculty from the governance of the University. First, faculty meetings were trivialized, stuffed full of "reports" by administrators who preempted any possible discussion of fundamental policy issues. Indeed at one point the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences asked the assembled faculty to choose the preferred design for a logo on the SAS teeshirts! Under President Meyerson the plenary meetings of the Faculty Senate were frequent and well attended. During the term of his successor their number was reduced to one a year with hardly any faculty present; then even the single annual meeting was abolished. Following this pattern SAS meetings were reduced from four to three a year.

Meanwhile when committees were set up, they were rarely based on academic qualifications. More often the well-known political principle was the guide: "Never appoint a committee whose deliberations and recommendations you cannot control." Manipulation was reinforced by favors distributed as patronage. The previous administration introduced the most blatant example of this. Term chairs were awarded by administrators bypassing the traditional process of selection by senior members of the faculty. Just in case anyone missed the message, the former Dean of SAS explained that while term chairs may be renewable, whether they actually will be renewed will depend on an administrative decision.

Faced with this deplorable reality, we hear the refrain: "It's all the faculty's fault; they just do not show interest. They were the ones who voted to reduce the number of Senate meetings, and they were the ones who voted to eliminate them altogether." Which is true but misses the point. For it is the administrators' tone that discourages faculty members. It used to be an essential qualification for university administrators to be committed to academic values and to stimulate and encourage faculty involvement and participation.

It may appear that administrative governance is more efficient and easier. Faculty members after all tend to talk too much. They have all kinds of views on all kinds of issues. Their exclusion may have benefits in the short run. In the long run, however, the costs will prove to be prohibitive for administrators and for the University as a whole. For one thing, it wastes enormous resources of talent. Moreover there is evidence of some alienation by the faculty. Nearly a decade ago when the Senate Committee on the Administration polled the faculty, it turned out that a large majority did not have confidence in the administration. Alienation, let us not kid ourselves, sooner or later invites unionization. In 1980 the Supreme Court held (Yeshiva case) that private universities can avoid unionization because their faculties participate significantly in governance.

So may I suggest that having accomplished wonders with the physical plant, the administration ought now focus on the challenge of reversing the previous trend and move determinedly to restore the vigor of academic values and the full participation of the faculty in the governance of the University.

--Karl von Vorys, Professor of Political Science

On Underage Drinking

We recently went to Italy for 2 weeks with our 17 year-old daughter, Dana. As a junior in high school, she was thrilled at the prospect of going to a country where she could be served anything she wanted in any bar. For those who haven't been to Italy, bars there open at 8 a.m., and serve a busy morning crowd a variety of espresso beverages, fresh squeezed orange juice, and assorted pastries. The afternoon and evening crowd continues with more coffee, soft drinks and a variety of enticing panini (hot and cold sandwiches) and pizza. And, oh yes, they also serve alcoholic beverages, mostly wine and beer.

Since the bars were not dark, smoky places where people over 21 gathered to get a buzz, our daughter experienced a kind of cognitive dissonance. In fact, bars in Italy are usually small, brightly lit family establishments, most of which close about 8 p.m. Sure, some folks have a cocktail at about 4 or 5 p.m. But we never saw native Italians drinking excessively, making fools of themselves, driving drunk or otherwise intoxicated. (Although on more than one occasion, we did notice American and other English speaking tourists who were drunk.)

Many times, we found ourselves enjoying a glass of wine or beer and a plate of olives, roasted peppers, provolone cheese & crusty bread with our daughter in a bar or savoring a fine Tuscan wine with our meal with her in a restaurant. This did not preclude her from experimenting on her own after hours. She did find the one Irish Pub and an American style bar in Rome. But suddenly, the fact that she could get anything she wanted out in the open, and be served with a real glass instead of sneaking around with her friends took the forbidden excitement out of it. She may have had a few drinks but she did not get drunk, probably because it would have been embarrassing to make a spectacle of herself, and probably because no one else was doing it. Besides, the fact that alcohol was so readily available and no big deal made it lose its glamorous appeal. After all, what's the fun of drinking excessively, if you're not subverting authority?

Dana lamented having to come home and no longer be treated like an adult. Forbidding her to drink any alcoholic beverages at home now seems silly. Instead, we would prefer to allow her to "drink at home," with the understanding that she not get behind the wheel of a car. We think that if she could drink in the comfort of her own home, she'd be less likely to drink on the sly with friends. But then, that would be illegal, wouldn't it?

Last night was the night before Dana's spring break. To my great surprise, she was home shortly after 11 p.m. She confided that there had been a keg in the woods, and the juniors and seniors thought it was just the coolest thing. For Dana though, drinking beer outside in the cold at night with no bathroom facilities had lost its appeal. She was very conscious of having taken a giant step backward culturally and chronologically. She commented on "how stupid" the scene appeared to her. Completely on her own, she decided not to suffer the indignity and inconvenience of drinking with a bunch of high school students in the woods. After all, she informed me, "In Italy I could drink in bars and restaurants."

In our quest to eradicate binge drinking, drunk driving, hazing, and other drinking related fatalities and dangers, perhaps we have missed the mark. I believe that in cultures in which alcohol is served in the home, the rate of alcoholism is negligible compared with that of the United States. I don't pretend to have the answers to the recent alcohol- related deaths on college campuses. But I do know that teenagers who want to acquire and consume alcohol will always find a way to do so. What if, in our society, beer and wine were enjoyed in moderation and in conjunction with meals? Is it a uniquely American trait to eat and drink excessively? I noted that, with all the delicious foods in Italy, we rarely saw a fat person. The old Roman saying, "moderation in all things" seems to be culturally embedded.

I can't help wondering if our current efforts to ban alcohol on college campuses are going to have the reverse of the desired effect. Remember the result of prohibition? What if beer and wine were available to young adults in an open and monitored environment, where moderation is encouraged and excessive drinking is treated as a socially unacceptable and immature lack of judgement? If young adults could obtain alcohol openly, might not it lose its glamorous appeal? The more we create a forbidden aura around it, won't we be making it all the more attractive? Should we as a society perhaps consider taking a different approach?

--Lois MacNamara, Student Affairs, Graduate School of Education

On Postdoctoral Programs

I read with interest the annual reports of the University Council Committees on International Programs and Research (Almanac March 30) as they relate to the postdoctoral experience at Penn.

I am delighted that both committees have focused on what has historically been a forgotten community. It is important to recognize that we were one of the first institutions in the nation to develop a University-wide Postdoctoral Policy (Almanac April 30, 1996) which set minimum standards for the postdoctoral appointment.

The School of Medicine has taken a leadership role in that it has established the first Office of Postdoctoral Programs (OPP) in any professional school at Penn. We not only implement the University-wide Postdoctoral Policy, but also provide extensive services to the postdoctoral scholars (currently 650) and their mentors. It is our hope that other schools within the University will establish similar programs to service their postdoctoral fellows. In light of the committee reports I would like to provide an update on our office.

As the University Council Committee on International Programs highlighted, the OPP runs orientation sessions for all newly appointed postdocs. In addition, our office (i) provides orientation packets that contain comprehensive information on benefits, taxation, off-campus housing, the Office of International Programs, etc., (ii) tracks all appointments in our postdoctoral database, (iii) maintains our web site, www.med.upenn.edu/postdoc, which supports the PennMed Postdoctoral Positions posting service, as well as information on training, sources of fellowship funding, pertinent University policies and resource offices, (iv) provides an on-line postdoc directory through our homepage, which lists valuable contact information for networking, and (v) hosts monthly postdoctoral roundtable discussions.

Our office continues to implement the University Postdoctoral Policy school-wide. An effective postdoctoral policy is the foundation to any postdoctoral program. I am particularly pleased that the Committee on Research is developing a formalized grievance procedure for postdocs to be incorporated into the policy. I look forward to working with them on this matter.

The report of the University Council Committee on Research accurately states that the training experience of postdoctoral scholars varies greatly and is generally dictated by the culture of the discipline. As a University it is our obligation to ask ourselves the larger question, "What are the goals of postdoctoral training? And are these goals being met?"

These questions have been discussed on a national level in reports published by the Association of American Universities, the National Research Council, and the Graduate Research Education and Training group of the AAMC. In the biomedical sciences the goals of the postdoctoral program must be to provide advanced research training beyond the doctoral degree and prepare individuals to follow scientific careers in academia, industry, government or alternative careers that require expertise in the life sciences. We need to take an introspective look to determine whether we are really preparing individuals for the next step in their professional careers. Currently, the OPP advisory committee is developing draft recommendations that deal with these important issues.

The goals of OPP are to establish the premier postdoctoral training program in the country through quality recruitment, training and career development. We, as a University, have a vested interest in this endeavor.

--Trevor M. Penning, Associate Dean, Postdoctoral Research Training, School of Medicine

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues can be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.--Ed.

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 28, April 13, 1999