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The Changing University

From the President

Over the summer, I have watched from my office window in College Hall the rise of the structure that will become the Roy and Diana Vagelos Laboratories of the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. As this important and impressive building has taken shape, I've thought about the "construction" of the University over its 250-plus years. More to the point, I've thought about the "reconstruction" or "restructuring" of Penn that each generation of buildings has embodied at various times and in various ways throughout its history.

In fact, the University has always been in the grip of change. It has grown, contracted, grown again, plateaued, forged ahead. Always changing. Much to its benefit, Penn has been shaped and reshaped by generations of wise men and women who have responded to the demands of their days and loved Penn as much as we do.

As new buildings take physical form and old treasures are restored, another kind of restructuring is also underway. Across the University, work teams are bringing profound changes to administrative lifedriven by the same desire for excellence and frugality that have been Penn's hallmark since the beginning.

Yes, we mustand we canreduce administrative costs. Shaken by the rising price of higher education, the public is loudly and increasingly demanding this of all universities, including Penn, where total annual costs for an undergraduate now exceed $30,000. But just as important, we have our own strong institutional reasons to tighten our administrative belts: We can reinvest the savings in programs, in teaching, and in the people of this University. The "penny saved, penny earned" legacy of our founder should make us proud to do so.

And as we change, we must continue to improve the quality of life at Pennfor students, faculty, and, in particular, staff, whose work goes unrecognized too often and whose contributions are innumerable. It was on their behalf that I wrote to the Inquirer last spring, following its series on higher education, to say how proud I am of the staff at this institution.

Several changes in the way we do things are already improving the quality of life at Penn and, I hope, increasing job satisfaction. Consider just a few examples:

It is certainly true that some Penn employees, through no fault of their own, have lost jobs over the past year, and others will in the future, as positions are eliminated in individual schools, departments, or offices over time. Since July 1, 1995, 160 positions have been discontinued across 18 administrative departments and schools. Of the 160 employees affected to date, over one-half have obtained new jobs, many through our new Position Discontinuation and Staff Transition (PDST) plan. We established the PDST plan last year to provide salary, benefits, and job counseling during a transition period for those whose positions have been eliminated. The plan is not perfect, but we believe it is one of the most generous in academia. Nothing less would be adequate for us.

In the mission statement of Agenda for Excellence, the draft strategic plan that will be finalized this fall, the last paragraph includes six points about the quality of life at Penn. The first point says Penn will "encourage, sustain, and reward its faculty; nurture, inspire, and challenge its students; and support and value its staff." These words were not chosen idly. Nor were the words I chose two years ago, in my first State of the University address, to say that our collective effort must be to make Penn even greater by using our resources in the best ways possible. We can and must improve the quality of our services, reduce unnecessary expenditures, and invest in the development of our programs and our people. We must empower our employees, extending authority and accountability deeper into the organization and rewarding success. We must eliminate bureaucracy and other impediments to excellence in our administrative services. On the other hand, we have no wish to make Penn look or feel like a business corporation with a relentless focus on the bottom line.

In ongoing conversations with members of the University community, Executive Vice President John Fry and many others have communicated the goals and process of administrative restructuring. Conversations will continue with the deans and business administrators of the schools, leaders of the Faculty Senate, the A-1 and A-3 Assemblies, and student and other campus groups, as will updates to University Council and reports on our effort in these pages. We will consult with more people, and more often. And we intend to communicate still more and still better. Starting now.

In the year ahead, we will build on the progress we have made in many areas, looking to reduce costs and minimize duplicative efforts while improving productivity, quality, and service in critical administrative areas. Among these areas are: procurement, research support, human resources support services, computing, housekeeping and maintenance, construction management, internal audit, public safety, and such auxiliary services as dining.

In each case, we are looking to improve the quality of life on campus by exploring ways to make Penn a safer, more vibrant, and more satisfying place in which to work and to learn. When the key elements of these transformations are looked at broadly, they add up to a university dedicated to service excellence. They add up to a university that is finding ways to work more effectivelyand more productively. They add up to a university that is not afraid of change. And change is truly one of Penn's most enduring traditions.

Judith Rodin


Volume 43 Number 2
September 3, 1996

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