Getting It Right

 

In 1994, when the Gazette ran a story on Penn’s newly elected seventh president, Yale University Provost Judith Rodin CW’66, the article was headlined, “The President Who Wants to Get It Right.”

Ten years later, as she prepares to leave College Hall, there is little disagreement on that score. Today’s Penn students are more gifted than ever, and can get a better education here than they could when Rodin started her term; for alumni, the retrospective value of their Penn degree has increased markedly. The faculty is stronger and more productive; the campus facilities both far more attractive and much better able to serve students, faculty, and staff; and a concerted and sincere effort to improve relations with Penn’s neighbors and revitalize West Philadelphia is paying dividends on a number of fronts.

We detail some of the specific accomplishments of President Rodin’s tenure in the cover story and interview that begins on page 32, but her greatest contribution may be that she raised Penn’s sights, convincing a great University that it could be even more than that, could take its place among the handful of very best institutions in higher education.

Typically, Rodin herself says it best. Asked what she wanted to be remembered for, she replied: “I want to be remembered as somebody who led Penn into the next part of its future, gave Penn back much-deserved self-confidence, and helped to transform the University.” Again, she seems likely to get her wish.

The other two feature articles in this issue are otherwise very different from each other, but both revolve around a meticulous attention to detail and an acute awareness of social and emotional cues.

In “Whos Who on the Savannah,” associate editor Susan Frith profiles Penn primatologists Dr. Robert Seyfarth and Dr. Dorothy Cheney, whose fieldwork involves intense, non-invasive study of baboons in the wild to parse out how they establish and enforce social hierarchies—which, as it turns out, they do with a nuanced sense of distinctions that demands comparison with the novels of Jane Austen.

In the case of alumni Peter Shelton C’68 and Lee Mindel C’73, partners in a New York-based interior-design firm, the species under observation is the client. In “Creating Space,” freelancer David Perrelli C’01 tells how the partners figure out what their client truly wants—even when it is a couple who say they want opposing things—to create their award-winning and very livable spaces.

Another president—the one in Washington —is getting it all wrong, at least according to Richard Clarke C72, the terrorism expert whose testimony before the 9/11 Commission and recent book, Against All Enemies, “launch[ed] a thousand op-ed columns,” says our reviewer, Dennis Drabelle G’61 L’66. Besides laying out the case against the second Bush administration’s response to terrorism before and after 9/11, the book is also a valuable primer on terrorism and “offers a way of looking at the last two decades of American foreign policy that makes sense of any number of heretofore disparate phenomena,” he adds.

Two stories in our “Gazetteer” section also relate to Iraq—and provide some slight counterweight to the rising violence in the country as I write this. In his second letter from Iraq, the Asch Center for the Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict’s Brendan O’Leary gives a restrained “yea” for the recently approved interim constitution, or Transitional Law, describing it as far from perfect but a possible basis for a workable government. And we also report on an exchange visit by a group of Iraqi museum specialists to the University Museum to view its Sumerian artifacts collected in the 1920s from what is now Iraq, described by one Iraqi visitor as “a courageous step and a smart step … by both Iraqis and Americans.”

—John Prendergast C’80

2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 04/27/04

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