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COUNCIL State of the University

At the October 30 Council meeting, The State of the University report was presented. In last week's issue, the portion by President Judith Rodin was published; the remaining sections are published below.

On Strategic Planning by Peter Conn, Deputy Provost

As the President suggested, this part of the report will come in three parts. I'm going to talk very briefly about the current state of strategic planning and then Dr. Nathanson, the Vice Provost for Research, will be presenting some important updates on that critical area of the University's activities. Following that, Vice President Robin Beck will be reporting on information technology.

I'm going to take the liberty of beginning these few comments on strategic planning by reading from the introduction to the version of the plan that was published in Almanac (April 2, 2002).

While the term "strategic planning" may sound abstract, in fact the planning process embodies our collective effort to answer a set of fundamental questions: given our historic mission and purposes, what specific goals do we set for ourselves in the years ahead?

At some important level the process of putting this document together is as important as the product itself. I've just been through this plan again and just counted the number of people who participated in the planning process formally--and there were far more who did so informally--the committees included over 200 faculty members and an extraordinary number of students and staff as well. So it was an immensely consultative and wide-ranging process of conversation that led to the document that was published last April.

The University is now about the business of doing several things at once. As the President mentioned, the schools and centers are working on their plans within the framework of this University document. The University is also attempting now to begin to develop a sense of priorities--and of costs--because this is a very ambitious set of goals which will eventually lead to a development plan, to be generated soon. All of that, one hopes, might occur over the course of this academic year.

I shall certainly not read through the strategic plan for you, but simply pull out from it two or three of its recommendations and give you an update on some implementation strategies. You may recall that the academic priorities within this plan, along with very important initiatives in undergraduate and graduate education, included in the first place a concentrated effort on the Urban Community. We are pulling together a taskforce on the Urban Community, which will be chaired by the President. Its charge is to address how the University will build on its concrete actions in West Philadelphia and translate those successes into a reputation as the leading national institution for research, education and practice focusing on metropolitan areas. This will include finding innovative ways of bringing together scholars from different disciplines and programs. So that is the first major effort to move forward on that priority.

A second taskforce, which has already met, has been pulled together under the chairmanship of the Provost. It is on the Continuum of Education, which again was one of the principal focuses of this plan. I want to read to you that charge, "To develop a continuum of education that redefines the University's relationship with our students and alumni and engages learners throughout their lives and their careers. Meeting this challenge will require novel approaches to education, new resources and innovative support mechanisms. A central element might be an expanded unit or division within the University that focuses on non-traditional learners, and on educational offerings at the enrichment continuing education or professional masters level."

So simultaneous with the President's taskforce on the Urban Community will be the Provost's taskforce on the Continuum of Education. A third task force, which I am chairing, will address Learning, Teaching and Technology, and will develop recommendations for improving learning and teaching at Penn with a particular emphasis on the pedagogical applications of technology. This taskforce will facilitate a campus-wide discussion of these subjects and will support experiments that offer opportunities for innovation. We'll also look around the country to see who else out there might have done some of the things we might be interested in doing, or doing better.

Other areas in this plan that will receive more immediate attention do include two elements in the undergraduate section of the plan. First, research for undergraduates, which has been a compelling focus of interest in this administration going back some years; we've made quite a lot of progress but still have a ways to go. Second, we are moving ahead with the difficult but attractive imperative to develop a shared curriculum across the earliest years of the undergraduate experience among the four schools.

The final emphasis in the Strategic Plan that I want to refer to concerns graduate education--by which I mean specifically Ph.D. education. As it should, the plan identifies graduate education as critical to the University's mission. Simultaneously, Penn is undergoing an intensive Middle States accreditation review, and we have chosen to focus on graduate education in that review. Once again there are literally dozens of faculty involved under six committees examining aspects of graduate education, and their inquiry will be made part of the general strategic effort to address graduate education over the next several years at Penn. This is probably the most searching inquiry into graduate education ever undertaken at Penn, and its findings will inform our strategic thinking over the next several years.

On Research by Neal Nathanson, Vice Provost for Research

I want to highlight the theme of responsible conduct of research which is currently very much an issue around the country and an important one. Let me start out with a quick overview of our performance, measured in a crass fashion perhaps, but still it's an objective measure--in millions of dollars. Basically, the research enterprise over the ten years, stated in annual terms, has increased by about 9.5%. That's not corrected for inflation but still it's a remarkable performance, and has pushed us into the top rank of research universities.

Along with this increased prominence comes an increased attention to the ethical aspects of research accentuated by a whole set of regulatory developments. We made a major investment in increasing our staff dedicated to the regulatory aspects of human research to ensure that human subjects are treated with the utmost respect and care. The cost of this effort has expanded from maybe $300,000 per year to close to $3 million a year. We now have eight IRBs, that's Institutional Review Boards, and it's still a work-in-progress, but we are committed to maintaining the highest standards when it comes to human research at the University.

One part of this effort, in which Larry Gross has played an important role--and which was published in Almanac in the spring--has been a focus on human research conducted by social behavioral scientists. We are probably in the forefront of developing guidelines in that respect, ahead of most of our peer institutions.

Animals are also of major importance. We just finished our three-year accreditation review done by AAALAC (American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care). In contrast to three years ago, when we were put on probation, we received full accreditation, subject to a few small points that require only a written response. Another problem that has been driven by our success is a shortage of animal facilities. I've spent a lot of time over the last few months working with people particularly in the medical school and veterinary school to develop a plan for some additional animal facilities. For the first time in 17 years, we also have the opportunity to recruit a new director for University Laboratory Animal Resources (ULAR) for our animal facility and we are close --I hope--to the end of that recruitment. We are looking forward to a new expanded program for training veterinarians in laboratory animal research in concert with the veterinary and medical schools.

Of some interest to Council are three policies that are either approved by SEC or are in the final process of approval. We have expanded the Postdoctoral Policy, an area in which Penn has been a national leader. Our Research Misconduct Policy has been revised, to make it a much more effective one. Also, we have a brand new policy setting special guidelines for Conflict of Interest for Clinical Trials. Then we have a fairly ambitious new agenda for revision of existing or development of new policies, and I've been working closely with Mitch Marcus in planning these.

Let me turn to Responsible Conduct of Research. There is a recently issued booklet by the National Academy of Sciences on "Integrity in Scientific Research" and there was a major meeting at the National Academy of Sciences about a month ago to present this report. I'd like to point out that we did lead the way in the sense that the Chair of the group that developed this report was in fact Arthur Rubenstein, who is currently the Dean of our School of Medicine. Another indication of the focus on responsible conduct of research is what I call the "ten commandments" that were issued about two years ago by the Department of Health and Human Services. We have planned a set of responses to that guidance. We're first going to develop a set of training modules which we will make available to the schools to use as they wish. Once those are in place, we are going to move into a compliance mode to insure that we are in compliance with federal and University regulations. The emphasis will be on education and on partnership with the various schools. This is a work- in-progress which will take us the next couple of years.

On Information Technology by Robin Beck, Vice President, ISC

I want to talk about some of the major information technology initiatives over the past year including multi-year efforts that have begun and on which we continue to work.

The first is the Penn Electronic Research Administration (PennERA) project. This is designed to provide the information technology tools that support the administration of our ever-increasing research enterprise. The PennERA project will focus on three components of research administration: the first component supports Regulatory Protocols; the second, the Pre-Award process and the third, the Post-Award process.

Last year we went through a very comprehensive University wide effort to identify requirements in these areas: What do researchers and administrators need to support their work in these areas? We selected a software vendor last year, developed a plan and this year we have begun to implement the new system. The first component that will be rolled out, and in fact is in pilot right now, will deal with critical support for Institutional Research Boards (IRBs). The system, PennAE, will provide web-based tools to collect information to track and provide status and data associated with the conduct of research associated with human subjects.

The next series of projects that I would like to touch on have to do with student services. Student service systems are a broad portfolio of applications that support web-based self-service delivery of services; including with Penn InTouch and Advisor InTouch. These are applications that deliver a wide array of services and they continue to evolve every year. Last year for example, in Penn InTouch we instituted a long desired request to be able to search for open sections of courses during the registration process. Phone bills and the ability to input health insurance waivers were added as well. This year various enhancements will continue to be added. Already implemented is the ability to download your schedule to a hand held device for example. Penn Express is the web-based applicant system used when you apply to graduate programs at Penn. Notable in this coming year will be the ability to submit recommendation letters electronically as part of that process, with all the security and verification that will be necessary. Begun this year is the study to identify requirements for a new undergraduate admission system.

On October 14, we instituted the ‘Student Home.' This portal is in response to the many student requests to better organize the delivery of information included in such systems as Penn InTouch, Advisor InTouch, Campus Express, and bring them together with library resources and Blackboard in a way that allows for ease of navigation. The architecture of the student portal is designed on the existing applications; not as a substitute for those existing applications. The portal is organized by tabs and then channels within tabs. For example, there is a Penn tab that may seem very busy when you first look at it and very full of resources. It is the first place to go, when you need to know something, or locate a service. Students may customize the tabs. So if you really don't want to look at that full array of information every time you come to the portal, there are tools and tutorials out there to help customize and build your own tab of what you just want to see. Our expectation is that the content in the Student Home will increase over time.

Next of interest is wireless PennNet. Penn has had a very phased approach to the delivery of wireless capability focused on the need to make wireless PennNet as secure and reliable as wired PennNet. Over the past year or so a number of Penn schools have implemented wireless LANS in specific areas mostly classrooms. For those of you that have been using wireless capability you know that there are currently different ways of authenticating yourself to wireless PennNet. In many cases we use something called Mac Address, in other cases schools have begun to develop their own web-based intercepts. There are a number of current pilots right now designed first and foremost to have a common, secure and standardized way to access wireless PennNet. In these pilots, a user will authenticate themselves using their PennKey. The pilots we have right now are beginning to extend wireless to common areas. If the weather hadn't been quite so cold, you may have been out in University Square, for example, where wireless access is now available including tables in front of the coffee shop or Urban Outfitters for example. The pilots are designed to tell us more about the ease in authenticating yourself to wireless PennNet; to help determine how much demand there is, and provide some insight as we begin to develop what the funding mechanism will be for wireless PennNet in the future.

We have three other pilots that will be shortly coming on-line: the open atrium in Hill House and Harnwell rooftop lounge are the first two. Lounges in Houston Hall is the third potential pilot. If standard authentication in these pilots is successful, we will be closer to the point where how you sign on and make use of wireless capability from one wireless area to another will be seamless.

I want to touch very briefly on some of the ongoing security and privacy initiatives. PennKey is the latest evolution of our longstanding and ongoing efforts to make sure that we maintain the security and confidentiality of sensitive information and protect the information assets of the University. Based on existing policy, PennKey ensures that passwords no longer pass over the network in clear text. If there had been an intrusion in the past, someone might have gotten a clear text password and would have known your password; while still theoretically possible that a password might be compromised, it is extremely less likely now. PennKey was successfully implemented on October 14 and we have almost 28,000 faculty, students and staff that are now registered.

Following a number of years of effort focused on reducing the visibility of social security numbers in core administrative systems, such as employee systems, we began work on other core applications including purchasing, accounts payable, and the employee pay stub. Also last year, the visibility of social security was removed from heavily used screens and forms used by administrators in the student record system. Penn InTouch switched to PennKey effective October 14 so social security number is no longer used as the identifier in that system. In fiscal year 2003, with much work completed on core systems, we are now looking at the interfaces from core systems to local systems and other ways information that comes from core administrative systems is used. Recently completed, is the removal of social security number from pledge cards and donor correspondence, for example. Work continues to find any place where a social security number is visible and to remove it from the report, form, screen etc.

No new system will use social security number as an identifier.


  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 12, November 12, 2002