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On Wednesday evening, September 5, the University community welcomed the Class of 2005 under a clear sky on College Green.


Addressing Ethical and Social Questions
by Robert L. Barchi

Members of the Class of 2005--it is my great pleasure to join the President in formally welcoming you to the University of Pennsylvania. What a fantastic time to be joining our community of scholars; a time both of intellectual discovery and of eager anticipation of discoveries yet to be made. A time ideally suited to curious and creative minds like yours.

Most of you were born in 1983. Most of us on the stage were born…well, let*s not go there, but we come from a different era and have shared a different set of experiences. In order to put your generation into perspective, Beloit College has developed a "mindset list" that explains your viewpoints and frames of reference. For instance, I do find it useful to remember that, for most of you, The New Kids on the block are actually over the hill.

And thongs no longer come in pairs and slide between the toes.

For you, Cal Ripkin has always played baseball.

And Tylenol bottles have never been easy to open.

In spite of our differing backgrounds, one thing is clear; we are all now caught up in a time of remarkable change; a time of such rapid scientific and intellectual growth--a whirlwind, as President Rodin aptly put it--that the accumulating knowledge itself often outpaces our ability to address the ethical and social questions raised by efforts to apply that knowledge.

Let*s take a few examples. The Human Genome Project, one of the most ambitious and far-reaching research efforts ever undertaken, has provided us with a catalogue of the entire human DNA sequence encoding all of the thousands of genes that are present in every cell of our body. We now have in our hands the blueprint for describing each of the key building blocks that uniquely constitute a human being.

But this wealth of knowledge raises a host of ethical questions. Do we have the right to alter defective genes during development to allow a healthier baby to be born? Well, many of you might say "yes." What about modifying genes that aren*t defective to produce a smarter, faster or taller child? Hmmm…not so easy. Where do you draw the line? Where would you draw the line?

Or how about human stem cells, another hot topic in the news lately. These remarkable embryonic cells have the ability to develop into any of the body*s specialized tissues and organs, be it a heart, a neuron or a liver. To its proponents, stem cell research holds out hope for treatment, even cure, of a variety of debilitating or fatal diseases. To its opponents, this research further erodes our respect for human life.

Here again, our ability to accomplish things through technology has outpaced society*s comfort level with actually seeing them done. The critical issue is not the potential scientific value of stem cell research, but rather the ethical, moral and political questions it raises.

The intersection of technology and ethics is by no means limited to the life sciences. Global banking and business, linked through the Internet, enjoy instant access to the populations and economies of countries half a world away. But that same access can have a profound impact on the domestic politics of a developing country. As executives ponder their options in the global market, at what point do ethical and societal issues outweigh bottom line business considerations?

With the rapidly accelerating pace of discovery in science and technology, striking a balance between what is possible and can be done, and what is ethical and should be done will become increasingly difficult. The truly valuable contributions to our society will come from those individuals who are willing and able to engage in informed debate on both the practical and the ethical aspects of these tough questions. This in turn requires a broad educational foundation in the why of living as well as the how of life.

In short, it requires a well-rounded liberal education.

One of our goals at Penn is to provide each of you, no matter what your area of primary interest, with the breadth of education needed to put such issues into perspective. As faculty, we seek to strengthen your already robust ethical framework and reinforce your personal commitment to integrity at the same time that we help you to become the most skilled entrepreneurs, economists, nurses or molecular geneticists. For your part, don*t be like Candide; question what we tell you, learn from experience and push the envelope.

But ethical questions don*t only arise at the macro level of policy, politics and business. In your next four years, you will face a host of difficult ethical and moral questions in the microcosm of our university and in your own personal life. You will confront head-on the ethics of living in, and being collectively responsible for, an academic community.

Here, too, you will need to draw on your growing knowledge and experience, and your own inner resources, to find the right answer. Do a gut check, because, very often, how you feel deep in your stomach is a good reading of where your personal moral compass is pointing.

As Penn faculty, we like to think that we are your principal educators. But in fact the people who will have the greatest impact on your experience here will be your peers. As you sit together tonight on the cusp of so much exciting discovery, look around you at your most important teachers--for no one will help you learn more than your suitemates, your teammates and your classmates. In the next seat or the next row may be a future business partner, a co-inventor, a co-author, or even a spouse.

I urge you to approach your academic work and your new classmates with the same energy, integrity, imagination and enthusiasm that brought you to our campus. Together, you will help shape answers to some of the deepest questions of our time. As your teachers, we know that you will answer well, and will challenge us to do the same.

Tonight, as you formally join our Penn family, what I wish for you is this:

That in four years you will say that you have learned and grown beyond your wildest expectations; that you felt a true sense of community with your peers and with your faculty colleagues.

That your intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge reached new heights.

That you were given the tools you needed to confront tomorrow*s complex ethical and societal issues.

That you felt supported and secure.

That you made lasting memories.

That you are eager to start your new life but will sorely miss the Red and Blue. For now, enjoy every possible minute you can in this extraordinary place during this exceptional time of learning and discovery.

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 3, September 11, 2001


September 11, 2001
Volume 48 Number 3

Dr. Afaf Meleis--a prominent medical sociologist and specialist in women's health issues--will become the Dean of the School of Nursing in January.
Dr. Richard Gelles--a leading researcher in the study of family violence has been named Interim Dean of the School of Social Work.
Lucy Momjian is now Associate Vice President for Finance and Treasury Management.
Jack Shannon is named Associate Vice President in the Office of the Executive Vice President.
Dr. Battistini, director of Penn Health for Women, dies in a motor vehicle accident.
Convocation 2001: President Judith Rodin and Provost Robert Barchi welcome the Class of 2005.
Council Year-end Committee Reports: Admissions and Financial Aid as well as Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics are both on the agenda of this week's Council Meeting.
Penn moves up in the latest U.S. News rankings of the nation's best universities to its highest ever ranking.
A noisy night in the neighborhood prompted a Speaking Out letter and two responses.
Code Red Alert: Preventing a computer worm is possible with these steps.
The Models of Excellence program wants nominations to recognize staff achievements from the previous academic year.