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Money Matters

READING THE feature articles for this issue, I was struck by the fact that they are all concerned, in one way or another, with money.
   Our cover story is a bit of a stretch, true. John Shea's article, "The Fragile Orchestra," describes the research of Dr. Martha Farah and Dr. Todd Feinberg, C'74, in the burgeoning discipline of neuropsychology. Separately, they have studied such cognitive mysteries as how an injury to the brain can make a person's own hand attack them; or someone deny their reflection in a mirror; or fail to recognize a loved one met on the street, or, for that matter, to name a common vegetable presented to them. More than curiosities, such cases shed new light on how the brain and mind -- not so long ago viewed as totally distinct entities -- are intimately interconnected. Together, Farah and Feinberg have co-edited a highly-regarded textbook on neuropsychology that brings together many of the new ideas in the field.
   And the money angle? Well, the article does open with an anecdote about a gifted entrepreneur -- Farah's grandfather, as it happens -- who reportedly lost his ability to make sound business decisions after being injured in a car accident, but refused to stop trying until he was penniless.
   Though there is no evidence of any blows to the head as a cause, something of the same condition seems to have affected Penn's investment decisions during the 1970s, a decade in which the University's endowment turned in one of the worst performances in higher education. That all changed when the University brought on John Neff, Hon'84, to chair the 10-member board that oversees Penn's endowment at the beginning of 1980. How he turned things around -- and what the University is doing for an encore as he moves toward retirement -- is the subject of the article that starts on p. 27.
   As an investor, John Neff is renowned for his ability to recognize companies that, despite apparent problems, are poised for success. He might be interested in the Penn Press, which, after 108 years in operation (many of them troubled), is bidding to join the top ranks of scholarly publishers. In "Pressing On," senior editor Samuel Hughes details the steps taken by the Press's new director, Eric Halpern, to streamline operations, raise the Press's visibility, and acquire more and better books. He also describes the stiff challenges facing Halpern, which include the current harsh publishing climate, the lack of a strong backlist of books comparable to leading university presses, and the need to raise money for an endowment to support major projects. (Maybe the Press would be interested in John Neff.)
   Finally, "Bridging Two Worlds," by assistant editor Susan Lonkevich, profiles Penn's Center for Technology Transfer, which seeks to speed the commercialization of research results by matching up faculty members and interested companies and performing other services. Despite questions about the effects of a profit motive on limiting the free exchange of research data, such programs have boomed since a 1980 law that made it easier for universities to own the results of federally-funded research. In 1995, they brought in nearly half a billion dollars in royalties. Had such a law been around about 50 years ago, it's possible to speculate that the University might have owned ENIAC, for example -- in other words, had a piece of the entire computer revolution. Now, that's real money.
    -- John Prendergast, C'80

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