PRESIDENTIAL SEARCH | After its formation in September, the Consultative Committee for the Presidential Search spent the early fall on what committee and trustee chairman James Riepe W65 WG67 called the first item on its to-do listdetermining the challenges facing Penn and the characteristics necessary to meet themas an aid to selecting the successor to President Judith Rodin, who will step down in June after a decade in College Hall [Gazetteer, September/October].
While the committees deliberations remain confidential, a number of outreach efforts have been undertaken to explain the process and give various constituencies an opportunity to make their views heard.
A Web site giving information about the search and telling how to contact the committee (see box for names) was set up at (www.upenn.edu/secretary/presidential_search). Trustees, school overseers, and other alumni leaders have also been solicited for their advice, and a call for general alumni input into the process was included in the October issue of Penn Alumnis electronic newsletter, Red and Blue Online, sent to approximately 82,000 alumni for whom the University has e-mail addresses. (To subscribe to the newsletter, and join the Alumni Online Community, go to www.alumni.upenn.edu).
And on September 30, the Committee held three separate Town Hall meetings on campus for faculty, staff, and students. While large spaces had been reserved in Houston and College Hall for the meetings, none of the sessions came close to filling them.
At the faculty meeting, which drew only about a dozen people, committee- member Dr. E. Ann Matter, professor of religious studies, referred to her faculty colleagues concerns that the process was already far advanced and that the faculty was not really being consulteda mistaken impression, she insisted. Dr. Lance Donaldson-Evans, the professor of romance languages who serves as chair of the faculty senate, said that an e-mail survey of faculty was in progress. (Similar surveys were also under way for staff and students, it turned out). While all the responses had not been tabulated, he said, there was a consensus that the new administrations priorities ought to be fixed on academics, with less emphasis on commercial development, facilities, and the likeand that Penn should avoid becoming too corporate and too intimately linked with business. The theme of management style was taken up by others as well, with calls for a team builder and nurturer.
Several in attendance spoke to the issue of globalization, both as to the diversity of Penns student population and increasing international-study programs. Dr. Herman Beavers, professor of English, emphasized the importance of a commitment to faculty diversity and equity, continuing the progress made under President Rodin. The next president, he said, should articulate a vision in all schools that gender and other equities are integral to where were going. One speaker noted that the fact that Dr. Rodin is a woman doesnt mean the next president cant be one, too.
There was support for continuing and expanding collaborative programs with the West Philadelphia communityand for more cooperative efforts across departments and schools on campus. While Penns interdisciplinary programs were seen as a strength, its system of budgeting was cited as a barrier to further progress.
The main topic brought forward at the town hall meeting for staff was their lack of representation on the consultative committee. Current statutes for choosing a president specify roles for trustees, faculty, and students only.
Several speakers cited the lack of representation as an example in a broader critique, the main complaint being that the University is less of a career employer than formerly, more focused on budgetary efficiencies than on making Penn a home for workers.
Others raised issues of rising health-care costs, small raises, and cutbacks in educational benefits. But there was praise for the Rodin administrations efforts in West Philadelphiaincluding the Penn-Alexander public school and the Universitys mortgage-assistance program with the caveat that the role of staff in community revitalization is sometimes neglected. One speaker, who said she had lived in West Philadelphia since 1978, commented that in 10 years the neighborhood has changed, and I say for the good, but added that many of her neighbors are staff, not faculty.
Another called for a leader who would look beyond campus and the surrounding neighborhood to take on the challenge of helping the city move into the 21st century and become actively involved as an adviser to the mayor and city government.
At the town meeting for students, comments centered on protecting or enhancing diversity at Penn, getting along with West Philadelphia neighbors, and balancing the academic and financial needs of the University.
Nicolas Rodriguez C04 expressed concern about the opaque nature of the selection process and the fact that there doesnt seem to be a lot of diversity on your committee.
How are you going to combat this [perception]? he asked. And how are you legitimately going to get the input, beyond this [meeting], of the students?
Though the trustees had limited choices in assembling the consultative committee, said Riepe, I dont think that theres any question about our commitment that the pool of people we look at will be a pool which reflects the very diverse constituency we have on campus.
Accessibility of Penns top leader was a priority for Jonathan Ozark W04 SEAS 04, a finance and electrical engineering major. I would like to see the president be more approachable to the students, he said. I know theres one person and 20,000 students, but at least to feel the president is someone whos working with you and not above you.
Several of those attending the town meeting had been involved with the effort to organize graduate students into a union. (After the regional National Labor Relations Board ruled that some Penn graduate students were employees and could organize, they held an election to determine if a majority wanted union representation. The University appealed the decision, and the ballots were sealed pending a decision by the national board.) I think the university president should be someone who is willing to work with collective-bargaining units, said one participant. I dont think that person needs to be pro-union, but [he or she] needs to respect the right of all employees to form unions.
Joanie Mazelis, a sixth-year sociology graduate student dressed in a Penn Works Because We Do T-shirt, voiced frustration with the state of higher education, because undergraduate tuition has skyrocketed while [universities are] cutting costs by having fewer tenured faculty members and relying more on adjuncts and [graduate students] to teach classes. As a result, she said, the undergraduates suffer and the reputation of the university suffers as well. I would like our next president to be less of a CEO and treat this more as a institution of higher learning.
But Steve Brauntuch, a Penn senior, argued that its hard to dismiss the business side of Penn and suggested that it would be backtracking for Penn to ignore the trend throughout higher education toward the CEO model for the presidency.
Donna Gentile ODonnell, a Ph.D. student in nursing, expressed a middle view: Ideally this person would have all the characteristics Dr. Rodin had, but I think we all know these are big shoes to fill, she said. If a non-traditional candidate is selected to replace her, the provosts role should be expanded and really be viewed as more of a partnership, a move that would produce the kind of synergy that creates the opportunity to redefine academics [while also getting] the best benefit in fundraising.
The charge to the committee calls for it to present a roster of at least three candidates to the executive committee of the trustees by early 2004. The executive committee will then recommend one or more of those candidates to the full board of trustees, which has the responsibility to elect Penns next president. The stated goal of the search process is to have a new president take office in early July 2004just after Rodin has stepped down.J.P. and S.F.
2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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