Beginnings and Endings

This is the issue in which we report on Alumni Weekend and Commencement, springtime rites that reliably prompt thoughts of beginnings and endings, departures and returns. That sense of time passing was amplified this season with the news in early June, a week or so before we went to press, of the death of Penn President Emeritus Martin Meyerson Hon’70 (See “Gazetteer,” p.18).

Meyerson was Penn’s chief executive during a particularly important—and challenging—period from 1970 to 1981. The same issue of the Gazette that featured his selection as president (February 1970) also included an article titled “The University’s Dollar Gap” that reported “for the first time in modern history, the University anticipated a $900,000 deficit, uncovered by any reserve funds, for the 1969-1970 fiscal year.” The situation would become less dire over time, but a lack of resources constrained the University throughout his tenure—even prompting, in March 1978, a three-and-a-half-day sit-in to protest tuition increases and cuts in sports programs and at Annenberg Center, among other issues.

Still, in many ways those years laid the groundwork for the Penn of today. As current Penn President Amy Gutmann noted in a statement, Meyerson’s administration saw the creation of the School of Arts and Sciences, the introduction of freshman seminars, and the precursors of the College House program; his “One University” concept, “in which all of Penn’s schools would collaborate to produce leading-edge teaching and research that benefited society,” continues to animate Penn’s philosophy.

Meyerson was an urban planner by profession, and another of his legacies listed by President Gutmann—one with particular resonance for this issue’s cover story—was “the transformation of the campus core with the creation of Blanche P. Levy Park.” That project was the first of many at Penn to which renowned landscape architect Laurie Olin, Practice Professor in the School of Design, would contribute.

As associate editor Trey Popp reports in “Mr. Olin’s Neighborhood,” the 69-year-old Olin has taught at Penn for most of his career, and his firm, the Olin Partnership, has offices that overlook Independence Mall (where a major renovation they designed is finishing up work). But his “neighborhood” is a lot bigger than Philadelphia, extending “to just about every corner of the built environment,” thanks to his collaborations with a veritable Who’s Who of contemporary architecture. His latest high-profile partner is Frank Gehry, who invited the Olin Partnership to do the landcape design for the $4 billion Atlantic Yards Project, a highly contentious plan to develop 22 acres in the heart of Brooklyn.

In essence, the design goal of a project like Blanche Levy Park is to create a space that makes people feel good to be there, that is comfortable, welcoming, safe—a haven. A similar communal environment was shattered in the most terrible way at Virginia Polytechnic Institute by the mass killings that occurred there in April.

Two of the essays in this issue address that tragedy. The day after it happened, The Daily Pennsylvanian sent College senior Jason Schwartz to the Virginia Tech campus. In “Notes From the Undergrad,” Schwartz, who graduated in May, describes the experience—attending a convocation in memory of the victims, interviewing dozens of students, and seeing firsthand how central the building where the bulk of the killings took place was to the students’ daily lives.

And in “Expert Opinion,” famed psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman, whose many books include Authentic Happiness, tells why calling the murderer, Seung-Hui Cho, crazy “is a callous and egregious insult to all the wonderful, humane ‘crazy’ people that psychologists and psychiatrists routinely treat” and why evil is the only word that will do.

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