Wanted: Advice

 

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 W’65 WG’67 called the first item on its “to-do” list—determining the challenges facing Penn and the characteristics necessary to meet them—as 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 committee’s 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 Alumni’s 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 consulted—a 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 administration’s priorities ought to be fixed on academics, with less emphasis on commercial development, facilities, and the like—and 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 Penn’s 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 we’re going.” One speaker noted that the fact that Dr. Rodin is a woman doesn’t mean the next president can’t be one, too.

There was support for continuing and expanding collaborative programs with the West Philadelphia community—and for more cooperative efforts across departments and schools on campus. While Penn’s 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 administration’s efforts in West Philadelphia—including the Penn-Alexander public school and the University’s 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 C’04 expressed concern about “the opaque nature” of the selection process and the fact that there “doesn’t 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 don’t think that there’s 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 Penn’s top leader was a priority for Jonathan Ozark W’04 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 there’s one person and 20,000 students, but at least to feel the president is someone who’s 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 don’t 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 it’s “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 O’Donnell, 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 provost’s 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 Penn’s next president.” The stated goal of the search process is to have a new president take office in early July 2004—just after Rodin has stepped down.J.P. and S.F.

2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 11/04/03


GAZETTEER: News & Sports

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Nov/Dec
Contents
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Consultative Committee

Chair James S. Riepe W’65 WG’67, Charter Trustee

Trustee Members

Thomas Ehrlich, Esq., Term Trustee

Natalie I. Koether, Esq. CW’61 L’65, Charter Trustee

Andrea Mitchell CW’67, Charter Trustee

Egbert L .J. Perry CE’76 WG’78 GCE’79, Term Trustee

Alvin V. Shoemaker W’60 Hon’95, Charter Trustee

David M. Silfen C’66, Term Trustee

Michael L. Tarnopol W’58, Charter Trustee

Paul C. Williams W’67, Alumni Trustee, President, Penn Alumni

Faculty Members

Howard Kunreuther, Cecilia Yen Koo Professor, The Wharton School

Phoebe S. Leboy, Professor of Biochemistry, School of Dental Medicine

Mitchell P. Marcus, RCA Professor of Artificial Intelligence, School of Engineering and Applied Science

E. Ann Matter, Professor of Religious Studies, School of Arts and Sciences

Michael T. Mennuti, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, School of Medicine

Charles W. Mooney, Jr., Professor of Law, The Law School

Arthur Rubenstein, Executive Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and Dean of the School of Medicine

Barbara D. Savage, The Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought, School of Arts and Sciences

Student Members

Robert J. Alvarez WG’04, Chair, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly

Jason M. Levy C’04, Chair, Undergraduate Assembly

Dierdra J. Reber, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Romance Languages, President, Graduate Student Associations Council

Ophelia Roman C’05, President, Student Committee on Undergraduate Education