Business 12, academe 3

As freshmen trickled into “How To Start Your Own Business,” we mused that perhaps punctuality should have been the first lesson.

But the dozen or so students who showed up Sept. 5 for the overflow section of orientation’s most-requested session settled in right away.

“Who do you think wrote the laws of American capitalism?” local entrepreneur Lawrence Gelburd (WG’91) exclaimed. “Poor people? Noooo. People with money? People who run corporations? Yeeaah! C’mon, Jack! Let’s make a deal! That’s what bankruptcy law is all about.”

Gelburd paced the aisles, leaning over and getting in students’ faces more than once.

Some students scribbled notes in the backs of their date books. One young man ensconced himself in the last row, decked out in a backwards baseball cap, thick ball-bearing necklace, scruffy goatee and baggy clothes. He typed earnestly on a thin keyboard wired into his Palm Pilot.

As for the value of connections made at Penn, Gelburd counseled : “If there’s someone really geeky, don’t make fun of them. In 10 years, he’ll be the president of the Federal Trade Commission and he’ll call you up and say, ‘You were always so nice to me,’ and you’ll say, ‘Yeah, I really need a break on this law.’ I’m not saying you should manipulate people. But why not take advantage of resources you already have?”

An earlier orientation session took a more philosophical turn. The students who came said they wanted to contemplate why they were here at Penn.

But those who came numbered only three. All 25 slots in the course had been filled, but English Professor Robert Lucid, who was leading “The Idea of a University,” said he was not surprised by the low turnout. “I’d offered this as a course three times before, and each time about 10 people took it,” he said.

The idea behind “The Idea of a University” was to examine how and why society came to trust this particular model for educating its future leaders.

When asked by Lucid why he showed up, Nicholas Harrison (C’04), said, “I had hoped for a debate over whether a university was still relevant.” He also had his own explanation for the apparent lack of interest in the subject on the part of his fellow students: “Most of those now here have already answered that question by choosing to come.”


Originally published on September 14, 2000