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Nourishing the University's Growth

As the hooky specialist extraordinaire (and philosopher) Ferris Bueller famously remarked, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it."

As I prepare for the home stretch of what has been the most exhilarating ride of my career, I cannot help but marvel at the velocity with which this University moves, and the myriad changes and achievements that have firmly established Penn as one of the world's premier urban research universities.

Many changes are hard to miss. Transformed by an unprecedented wave of new construction, renovations, and restorations, the Penn campus is more attractive than ever. Our buildings and spaces are better designed and more welcoming to students and to a neighborhood that itself has been revitalized.

But even more dazzling is the fabric of intellectual life at Penn. How does one even begin to capture all the leading-edge research, the brilliant publications, the path-breaking and often life-saving discoveries, the life-changing lectures, and prized consultations that issue continuously from the minds of our extraordinary faculty? Obviously, as much as anyone of us tries to keep abreast of the latest faculty achievements, we are keenly aware that at a dynamic academic institution like Penn, we're missing more than we can ever learn.

Fortunately, I have tried to stop and look around as much as I could. Throughout my tenure at Penn, I have enjoyed the privilege of hosting faculty breakfasts at the President's residence. I invariably come away from those conversations both impressed by the range of original thinking by our faculty and hardwired to the excitement of their disciplines.

I see that creativity and excitement projected in open lectures for the Penn community and reflected in the emergence of stronger departments, new innovative, interdisciplinary programs, and more coherent curricula.

So I am never surprised when members of our Penn faculty win the most prestigious awards in their fields.

At the same time, no column or book could do full justice to the thousand daily innovations, gestures, and heroic deeds performed by Penn's dedicated staff. These talented women and men are indispensable in advancing the University's core mission. They, too, help educate our students, and create the safe, nurturing environment in which students and faculty can thrive.

Again, regrettably, there are wonderful individual and collaborative staff achievements I'll never know about. But I see their hand in a magnificent University that is so much more than the sum of all its parts.

Change is a constant at Penn, and soon, we'll all learn the name of the woman or man who will lead this University forward. While no one can predict the future, I have absolutely no doubt that my successor will discover very quickly that Penn's greatest strength is not a collection of fabulous buildings or its gorgeous landscaping; it's the extraordinary men and women who have planted their roots deeply and lovingly in  Penn's fertile academic soil. Regardless of the season, they can be counted on to bear fruit that continues to nourish the University's growth. For the time I have left as president of my beloved alma mater, I look forward to enjoying the feast with all of you.

Let's dig in!

Judith Rodin



  Almanac, Vol. 50, No. 17, January 13, 2004