Launched by the School of Arts and Sciences in 1999, the Penn Humanities Forum has promoted dialogue within the University community and between Penn and the city with a series of events on a different topic every year, from “human nature” and “style” to “the book” and “belief.”

Research centers sprang up across campus, combining faculty expertise across the disciplines to better tackle such issues as child-welfare reform (the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research), crime (the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology), and terrorism (the Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis and Response).

Penn also lured high-profile faculty to teach here, including. Dr. John DiIulio, professor of political science and a national advocate for faith-based initiatives; Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and professor of religious studies; Dr. Lawrence Sherman, director of the Fels Institute of Government and the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology and the Albert M. Greenfield Professor of Human Relations; and Dr. Caryn Lerman, professor of psychology and director of the new Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center. As one indicator of the burgeoning productivity of Penn’s faculty, the University brought in $706 million in grants and contracts to support research and other educational activities in the last fiscal year, compared to $280 million in fiscal 1994.

Penn has introduced interdisciplinary minors in legal studies and history, and health communication, as well as joint-degree programs in computer and cognitive science; international studies and business; and environment and technology. One of the newest interdisciplinary undergraduate majors is Digital Media Design, which, as program founder and computer-and-information-science professor Norman Badler told the Gazette [“The Cult of DMD,” Sept/Oct 2003], “gives [students] a chance to get a good grounding in computer science—yet let their inner artist flourish.”

Rodin touched upon the active learning environment she has supported at Penn—and all the opportunities that come with it—in her final Convocation speech last September. “We expect each of you to spend your time [at Penn], at least figuratively, writing the first drafts of your own stories based on experiences here that will surely change your lives and more than likely enrich the community and world in ways that you cannot possibly foresee tonight,” she told students. “I eagerly await your first drafts.”—S.F.

A “Destination” Campus

A cartoon in the May 1966 Gazette featuring Professor Quagmire—then a regular in our pages—has the befuddled academic, pictured against a backdrop of construction cranes and steel-building frames, commenting that former students returning for Alumni Weekend “may not recognize the campus, but they know me!”

As an undergraduate student here from 1962-66, the young woman then known as Judy Seitz lived through a part of the University’s previous construction boom that lasted into the early 1970s. One way to look at the burst of construction and renovation projects during her Penn presidency (besides a nostalgia for the sound of jackhammers) is as a project to repair some of the damage dating from that era—by filling in gaps in the campus architectural fabric and transforming a campus that turned in on itself to one that faces the surrounding streets and community: A kind of physical manifestation of the concurrent effort to engage with the city and Penn’s West Philadelphia neighbors. Overall spending on construction and renovation in the years 1994-2004 has totaled about $1 billion, and has included retail, residential, and academic space in all sectors of campus.

One signature project of the Rodin years was surely Sansom Common (now University Square), at 36th and Walnut Streets, made up of the Inn at Penn; the Penn Bookstore; and an assortment of retail stores and restaurants. Built on land that for the previous 30 years had been a parking lot, the project effectively reclaimed Walnut Street as a thriving part of Penn’s campus and has become the anchor to making University City a “destination” for visitors and Philadelphia residents, along with the shops and restaurants along Sansom Row between 34th and 36th streets.

For the fitness-minded, the main destination on Walnut Street these days is the David Pottruck Health and Fitness Center, which features the latest in exercise equipment; plus practice-rooms for dance, aerobics, and martial arts; a rock-climbing wall; and a golf-simulator, among other amenities.

Further up Walnut, at 40th Street, the road to another major commercial development was a bit bumpier but ultimately successful. Plans to build a multi-screen movie theater stalled when the original partner—Robert Redford’s Sundance Cinema—had to back out for financial reasons in mid-construction. But the University persevered, and later struck a deal with another company, National Amusements, to open The Bridge: Cinema de Lux, a six-screen theater with reserved, all-stadium seating that also houses a café and lounge. Across Walnut Street from The Bridge is the Fresh Grocer, a well-stocked supermarket and prepared-foods store in whose aisles and checkout lines the campus and neighborhood really do meet. (They can also park there, in the 800-space garage above the store.)

At the opposite end of campus, The Left Bank complex, in a University-owned building at 31st and Chestnut streets, was opened in 2001, housing apartments, Penn’s facilities and real-estate department, other University offices, and the Penn Children’s Center daycare center. Radio station WXPN will soon be moving to the area as well, in a facility now under construction that will include a broadcast studio, offices, and a venue for live performances, The World Café. A lot more company will be coming in the years ahead as the University develops the recently acquired postal lands [“Gazetteer,” November/December 2003].

Other key projects have aimed at preserving and enhancing existing campus structures. Here, pride of place must go to the Perelman Quadrangle, completed in Fall 2000, which knits together Penn’s Houston Hall, College Hall, Williams Hall, Logan Hall, and Irvine Auditorium around a new courtyard, Wynn Commons. The loving restoration of Houston Hall, the nation’s first student union, and of Irvine Auditorium are particularly noteworthy (though opinions differ on some features, such as the giant Penn shield that dominates one end of Wynn Commons).

More student-activity space was opened up when the University acquired the old Christian Association building at 36th and Locust Walk, now known as the Arts, Research, and Culture House (ARCH). It houses CURF, performing-arts groups, and ethnic-heritage groups, including La Casa Latina, the Pan Asian American Community House (PAACH), and Umoja, for students of African descent. And Penn’s graduate students got a space of their own on campus with the opening of the Graduate Student Center at 3615 Locust Walk in a former fraternity building. The Carriage House was renovated to house Penn’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Center in 2002, and Steinhardt Hall, the striking new home for Penn Hillel, opened in 2003.

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 04/27/04

The Rodin Years
By The Gazette Editors

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