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Rankings, religion, and ethics in leadership.

 

REJECT RANKINGS

In a September 17, 2002, Op-Ed in The New York Times, Richard Beeman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, makes an eloquent case to judge the quality of educational institutions by means other than magazine rankings. This opinion, which I share wholeheartedly, seems starkly in contrast with my recent Gazette, which proudly states the University has gained in the U.S. News and World Report annual rankings [“Yesterday’s News: 1982-2002,” September/October].

It is hard to feel enthusiasm for the University when it is pushing alumni to be excited about the same ratings which it bemoans as flawed and an imposition on colleges and universities. I would encourage the University to not feel the pressure of vocal alumni who might want to use these shallow lists to help their egos in discussions with colleagues from other institutions. I am very proud of my graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, but react to lauding of these rankings by the Gazette and other literature with decreased interest to support the institution. I would encourage other alumni who share my feelings to let the University know or allow shallow boosters to dictate the character of the University’s efforts.

Frank Lang GAr ’89
New York

 

WHAT IF PRESIDENTS GOT RANKED?

Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University for 43 years in the first half of the 20th century, has been called perhaps the greatest college president in American history. I think it may now be safe to say that he has company. She may only have reigned at Penn for less than a quarter of that time, but Judith Rodin CW’66 has set a daunting standard for modern university presidents to follow.

When she succeeded Sheldon Hackney Hon’93, Rodin plowed forward with a bold plan—the Agenda for Excellence. Her goals were high and her management style was direct. The results speak for themselves: In 1995, did anyone seriously think Penn would be sitting at fourth place in the U.S. News rankings in 2002? [“Gazetteer,” this issue.] Only Rodin and a few other optimists. A safe campus? Only if they built a wall, some said. Now, thanks to an ingenious plan to bring the neighborhood and the campus together instead of apart, Penn enjoys one of the safest urban campuses in America. Rodin eliminated the Hackney-era speech codes and has defended even the most radical—and, within the last year, offensive—examples of free speech on campus.

When faced with the nascent problem of an ailing Health System, Rodin ignored the numerous voices shouting, “Sell it off!” Under new management and after major restructuring, the Health System appears to be picking itself up and dusting itself off. None of this was done without controversy and complaining, but nothing worth doing is ever easy.

She may never win a popularity contest, and there will always be those who feel her aloofness with regard to the student community is problematic, but those things didn’t matter much to Judith Rodin in 1994 and they don’t count for anything now. Rodin has plotted Penn’s course with brilliance, skill, and, yes, stubbornness. And Dear Old Penn is all the better for it.

Steve Rappoport C’02
Charlottesville, Va.

 

JEWS MAY WRESTLE WITH BELIEF
IN GOD, BUT JUDAISM REQUIRES IT

Although I am sure that he didn’t intend to be controversial, Stephen Fried C’79 makes a statement in his September/October 2002 essay, “Coming to Terms,” that must be corrected.

In the middle of the seventh paragraph, he states: “In Judaism, belief in God is optional, something you may wrestle with your entire life.” This is not correct. The very essence of Judaism is the idea that there is a living God who has created the world for his/her/its purposes and it is the purpose of Jews to make this fact known to the world.

Mr. Fried has most likely been confused by the fact that any individual Jew cannot be forced to maintain this belief. A Jew may wrestle with God for his/ her whole life, question God’s goodness, or even deny God’s existence if he/ she feels so inclined. Such a person does not cease to be a Jew. However, the physical freedom to question, or even negate, God does not mean that the religion does not require this belief.

Sheldon Waxman W’72
Livingston, N.J.

 

EXCELLENT AND TOUCHING

I have just finished reading “Coming to Terms,” the excerpt from Stephen Fried’s book, The New Rabbi, in the September/October Gazette.

It is an excellent as well as touching article, and I commend you for including it in the alumni publication.

Louis Weintraub PSW’42
Sacramento, Calif.

 

CODE OF ETHICAL CONDUCT SHOULD BE MANDATORY

Judith Rodin’s “Lessons in Leadership” [“From College Hall,” September/October] was a well-timed response to the recent scourge of accounting and related scandals. However, the programs discussed are mostly optional. The majority of students can get by without participating in them, and the leadership-oriented students who self-select into them probably already have developed a reasonably strong sense of ethics. Does the University have a mandatory ethical code of conduct? I belong to several professional associations, and they each have one.

David Jacoby W’85 WG’89 G’89
Wellesley, Mass.

 

UNIVERSITY HONOR COUNCIL PROVIDES
EDUCATION ON ACADEMIC INTEGRITY

I wish to comment on President Rodin’s recent article on ethical education at Penn by highlighting an often neglected, yet critical, part of the students’ education on issues of integrity—the University Honor Council (UHC), a group of students who educate students and faculty on issues of academic integrity. I am a former chair of the council.

To emphasize integrity post-college, the UHC, with the generous support of the provost’s office, has been bringing well-known speakers to campus during Academic Integrity Week to address issues of integrity and responsibility in the “real world.” The series began with Jeffrey Wigand, the tobacco scientist who exposed the lies in the tobacco industry (later made into the movie, The Insider, starring Russell Crowe). The following year, the UHC brought Erin Brockovich to speak on her fight against PG&E (also made into a movie, starring Julia Roberts). This year, the council brought Bob Woodward, the famous investigative journalist who broke the Watergate scandal (depicted on film in All the President’s Men, with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman), to speak on issues of integrity. To further emphasize these issues, the council arranges to have these films, along with similarly themed films, shown during Academic Integrity Week.

I applaud President Rodin, Provost Barchi, and the University Honor Council for their tremendous support of all of the ethical educational initiatives, even before issues of corporate malfeasance were so widespread.

Kevin M. Hodges W’00
Atlanta

 

CLASS PRIDE, UPHELD

Mark F. Bernstein’s kind review of my book, The Man Who Made Wall Street [“Off the Shelf,” September/October], contained one small error. It identified me as C’63 when in fact I belonged to Penn’s Class of 1964. This “Kennedy Class”—so-called because JFK was elected in our freshman year and assassinated in our senior year —represented a brief window of hope for constructive social change between the complacency of the Eisenhower years and the destructive anger of the later 1960s.

I’m sure the Class of ’63 has much to be proud of. But Penn’s Class of ’64 is unique, and I cherish my association with it.

Dan Rottenberg C’64
Philadelphia

What do you expect? Bernstein is a Princeton grad. (Actually, the mistake was mine.) Our apologies to Dan, who coincidentally has a couple of pieces in this issue, complete with his correct class identification.—Ed.

 

MALE PRIDE, WOUNDED?

I just received my copy of the Gazette along with the two supplements, the comPENNdium and 50 Years of Homecoming. I found it extremely odd that on both covers of the supplements were pictured a pair of young ladies! Has Penn become an all-girls’ school or aren’t the male students important anymore since you have a lady president?

Fredric C. Rath W’55
West Linn, Ore.


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Copyright 2002 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 11/04/02

 

 

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