The State of the University

Reports of the President

Dr. Rodin: We all know that one of the crucial factors in our external relationships--relationships with government, with the general public, with alumni, with donors, and with prospective students and their parents--is the presentation of the University in the mass media. While real quality and achievements are the best guarantor of Penn's future and reputation, it is our responsibility to ensure that others see those achievements for what they are--the hallmarks of a great University. When perception fails to keep pace with reality, Penn--and each of us--suffers. Today we face an environment in which new forms and technologies of communication appear and mature faster than one can master the old ones. Taking advantage of this sort of media environment is one of the most important challenges we face, and it will have major impact on our ability to recruit and retain the best students, faculty and staff, and on the support we can attract from alumni, individual donors, foundations and corporations. I have asked the Vice President and Secretary of the University, Barbara Stevens, to share with you her assessment of the challenges we face in our media and communications activities and the significant progress we have made in this area.

Penn and the Media

by Barbara R. Stevens, Vice President and Secretary of the University

It is no secret that we live in an intense media market that can impact very much our ability to do our work. We also live in a time characterized by declining trust in all institutions, including institutions of higher education, and in a time when there is intense competition among our peer institutions for constant media coverage. Given these realities, we take very seriously our charge to reflect aggressively and positively the truly impressive activities at Penn to the external world.

In doing so, our goals are fourfold: to communicate the research, teaching and public service mission of Penn, to differentiate who we are from other universities, to attract the best students and faculty to this campus, and to build public support for Penn and our activities.

We think of communications very broadly, including all ways in which we communicate internally and externally to diverse constituencies which include prospective students and their parents, federal, state and local governments and legislators, our peer institutions, alumni, trustees, donors and potential donors, and of course our friends and neighbors in West Philadelphia, Philadelphia, throughout the Commonwealth and country.

Our communications efforts include, in addition to those specifically targeted to the press and media which I will turn to in a moment, attention to designing University-wide publications, such as recruitment pieces, both undergraduate, and for all our schools, working to develop a new University logo and graphic design, and communicating effectively with all our constituencies, including for example, parents and our international alumni.

Our efforts are also evolving, as new technologies evolve, as in the recent herculean effort this summer to create the new Penn web and home page which is now accessed by 30,000-50,000 people a month who live in over 80 countries world wide and to place on line current, up to date and breaking news about Penn as well as the crucial information about our schools and centers, faculty, students and staff.

We have launched a new source of information for the media, "A Sampling of Experts and Sources at Penn," and distributed it to over 100 national and international reporters. We understand that this has been a resource for example to the Philadelphia Inquirer many times a week in stories ranging from local politics to scientific research. And we will continue to take advantage of significant "Penn Firsts" to reinforce the notion of Penn's leadership--as in the 50th anniversary of the invention of ENIAC, the world's first electronic computer, which will take place in February of 1996 at an event that will be co-chaired by Vice President Gore.

Our media efforts although broad in reach are also focussed to reflect Penn's special character and strengths. Let me share with you some examples of this focus and the kind of attention that Penn is getting.

We communicate the excellence of Penn's faculty. First that they are doing cutting-edge research, and second that their research also translates to the public good. For example, ten days ago in The New York Times, Penn faculty members were quoted in four different stories that ranged from the Internet to Alzheimer's disease to neutrino particles.

We communicate Penn's role as urban institution, committed to pro- ductive partnerships. Extensive coverage of these important initiatives include that of Penn's Dental School's provision of free dental service to migrant workers , the School of Nursing's program in West Philadelphia and the work of Eli Anderson--all of which are leading to increased understanding of our urban communities across the country. As we meet, a Times reporter is on campus doing a piece on the Penn Edison Project, which represents a collaboration between Penn and the Edison/Fareira High School to bring Penn graduate and undergraduate students to Edison where they join Advanced Placement English students for group discussions and one-on-one tutorials.

We communicate about the extraordinary students at Penn. Two days ago Henry Liang, a history and communications major was profiled in U.S. News and World Report on his innovative abilities to find job opportunities on the World Wide Web.

We want to differentiate Penn by talking about theory/practice. Dean Kathleen Hall Jamieson chairs the Theory/Practice Committee to identify strategies for how to best communicate Penn's leadership role in applying academic theory to real world problems. This includes examples from faculty research to teaching to administratively initiated projects.

We want to address the international nature of Penn. Penn is one of the nation's most international universities, as reflected in our student body, our faculty and our global education and research and Penn appears increasingly in the international media. In just the last month, among other stories, Thomas Naff, associate professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies was interviewed by The Jerusalem Post, Art Caplan, director of the center for bioethics was interviewed by The London Times on the rising cost of transplant surgery, and Witold Rybcznski was profiled by The Montreal Gazette.

At Penn, in our communications efforts as in other areas, to the extent possible, we want to measure the effectiveness of our efforts to date has been impressive. As one wag said, "You can never be too rich, too thin or have too many press mentions." Nevertheless, Penn is a "mediagenic" institution, and we do receive a lot of media coverage. Prefaced by the usual disclaimers about the credibility of many rankings, according to an annual survey by the University of Southern California of the nations' major research universities, Penn ranked 5th in the number of national broadcast stories of all major resarch institutions, and 7th in national print media stories this past year.

While obviously heartened by this, we want always to keep in mind the purpose for which we work, which is to communicate to our publics the truly extraordinary nature of this place and the significant accomplishments of our faculty and students that contribute to the future educated citizenry and leadership of the country, and to the economic competitiveness and social, health and welfare of our increasingly global world community. Penn is extraordinarily well positioned to lead many of these efforts, and it is our challenge and our privilege to tell that story with every bit of energy we can muster.

Dr. Rodin: That concludes my portion of today's report. I hope you will all agree that though we face some formidable challenges, we are working hard across the whole University to not only meet those challenges but turn them to Penn's advantage. Thank you for your attention and interest.

(To next page of reports.)


Tuesday, November 14, 1995
Volume 42 Number 12

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