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The Arts and Sciences
Their enduring importance continues under new leadership.
By Judith Rodin, CW'66
AS WE RETURN to campus to begin this new year, I feel invigorated by how well so many things are going at Penn. I hope you share my enthusiasm and pride: I do not believe we could return to a more active, more inspiring university anywhere in the
Simply consider: the most academically gifted class in Penn's history enrolled this fall. These remarkable first-year students-and all of our outstanding undergraduates, present and future-will benefit from an innovative college house system that will create a series of vibrant new residential communities on campus. All will also benefit from the unique opportunities Penn gives students to reach out broadly, vault over disciplinary walls and learn about "what's going on over there" in another classroom, another department, another field of study. And all will have the chance to participate in genuine research projects that could expand human knowledge-one of the unique rewards offered to students by a great research university.
What is more, our world-class faculty have recently won some of the most coveted awards in their fields as they continue their extraordinary productivity in the classroom, the library, and the lab. As Penn faculty lead the way in a broad range of disciplines, their students, the University, and society as a whole are enriched.
The sounds of jackhammers and diesel cranes have continued to fill the air as the Perelman Quad has moved rapidly ahead, the IAST building has been completed, and Sansom Common has turned a former parking lot into the talk of the city. And the University and our neighbors in West Philadelphia have reaped the benefits of UC Brite-our successful program to provide exterior night-time lighting for homes and apartment buildings in the neighborhoods near Penn-and of the University City District, as well, which has cleaned our streets and enhanced our security.
The source of my greatest pleasure as I write this is the School of Arts and Sciences, which is greeting a superb new group of leaders who are joining the splendid associate deans already in place. A world-renowned scholar and 20-year member of Penn's faculty, Dean Samuel Preston, professor of sociology, is the perfect leader for Arts and Sciences as we approach the next century. College Dean Richard Beeman, professor of history, another renowned scholar, will celebrate three full decades at Penn this year. And Vice Dean Michael Mandl is coming to Penn from Duke, where he expertly served that university's provost as director of Academic Financial Services, Budgets and Systems.
Joined by the other associate deans and staff in the SAS Dean's Office, these leaders will infuse the School with new energy, spirit, and direction. Students, faculty and staff in Arts and Sciences-and all the rest of us at the University-could not be more fortunate.
In a note I received from Sam Preston over the holidays, he reminded me of the central role the arts and sciences have played in humanity's progress. As he eloquently put it: "... the development and transmission of knowledge has transformed the face of the globe. The average American now has resources, opportunities, and health conditions that are far superior to those of European royalty several centuries ago. These advances are the product of the application of rational thought, emphasizing logic and tests of consistency with evidence, to our understanding of the natural and social world. What is more, the practice of creating and interpreting literature, music and art-a central province of the arts and sciences-not only helps us make sense of our lives but also develops critical thinking skills that are applicable far beyond the classroom. These processes need to be nurtured and protected within the academy and their value and relevance to our daily lives understood and appreciated by all."
I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment, and I am committed to supporting our new dean in his efforts to fulfill the teaching and research missions of SAS.
As a final thought, it is clear that the School of Arts and Sciences and the University, through prudent fiscal management, resource development, and strategic reinvestment, must ensure that faculty members have the facilities and other resources they need to perform their roles with maximum effectiveness. As everyone in higher education knows today, this is not a simple matter: raising private funds and securing research dollars are increasingly competitive and complicated endeavors. The difficulty of the task does not make it any less important, however. Rather, it must strengthen our resolve, energize our efforts, and inspire the greatest care in all we do.
Just as Sam Preston has given his pledge to do everything he can at SAS in this essential effort, so he and the School have received mine in return. The future of the arts and sciences is integral to the continuing expansion of knowledge. And it is vital to the future of our University.