How to improve on excellence

A better way to recruit and retain faculty and a greater focus on graduate education—which could take the form of more stipends and benefits for graduate students—are among the academic priorities proposed for the University’s next five-year plan and unveiled by Provost Robert Barchi and Executive Vice President John Fry at a recent open forum, held at College Hall on Jan. 28.

The plan, a new set of institutional, organizational and academic priorities, follows the “Agenda for Excellence,” the successful previous five-year plan.

Addressing a packed audience, Barchi was quick to point out that the current outline is not “legislative.”

“Don’t think this is a closeout because it’s not,” he said. “It’s really the opposite.”

Barchi said the next few months are a time of information gathering as the University revises the draft originally compiled by 17 committees.

On faculty recruitment, Barchi said that Penn must “play the aggressor” and be “more organized as to who’s out there and appropriate.”

He said, “It’s not waiting [until] someone gets an offer and wondering what you should’ve done three years ago.” To that end, Penn will pay more attention to its junior faculty by offering more promotion possibilities, such as endowed positions.

Barchi also said Penn hopes to increase the visibility of and support for certain disciplines, including the social and life sciences. An audience member responded with a complaint that the strategic plan makes no mention of the physical sciences.

“The issue of what goes in and what goes out doesn’t mean we’re not doing it,” Barchi said. “We can’t sweep into a strategic plan everything we do as a university.” He said that each school is also responsible for its own strategic plan.

The plan’s call for more high quality faculty and research caused some in the audience to wonder whether the University will provide adequate research facilities. Barchi said more than $200 million will be invested in new construction, which includes added space for the Veterinary School. He also said that existing facilities need to be rehabilitated to keep abreast with changing needs.

Yet Penn’s academic outlook is not the only area slated for improvement. Fry said Penn’s business operations will also change. With the slowdown in the economy, many offices are planning to scale back their budgets 5 percent. He said that reducing redundant services across the schools via centralization is a solution.

But Fry said that Penn will also look for new ways to generate revenue by encouraging and supporting entrepreneurial activity. “Too many things die early on because they’re not provided with that little seed,” he said.

Penn will also turn eastward and look for ways to strengthen its ties with Center City Philadelphia, Fry said.

The campus environment will also not go unnoticed. More bike lanes, shuttles and signage have been proposed.

The plan’s final draft will be presented before the Trustees in mid-February. Due to kick off in June 2003, the strategic plan is still in its initial stages, with plenty of room for input from the University community, said Barchi.

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Originally published on February 7, 2002