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COUNCIL The President's State of the University Report

Progress Toward the Goals of Agenda for Excellence

by Judith Rodin


Since the University community adopted Agenda for Excellence as its strategic plan for the 21st century, there has been remarkable progress toward all of its goals, most significantly in academic areas. While much attention has been given in recent months to the physical development of the campus, that development is only important as a means to an endthe creation of an optimal environment in which the scholarship and research that are Penn's life-blood can best take place. We are here to teach and to learn; to conduct research and to make new knowledge.

Every step, every campus development, every piece of our strategic plan supports this academic mission directly or indirectly. I would like to use my remaining time to focus on the striking progress we have made over the past year in enhancing Penn's academic excellence.

The superordinate goal of Agenda for Excellence is for Penn to solidify its position as one of the world's leading research universitiesa place of choice for the world's best students and faculty. To attract world-class faculty and students, as we must, we will need superior research capabilities, for certainly research is the parent of new knowledge. We also need to be the leader in the development of new and better methods of teaching and learning. And to be truly excellent in the 21st century, our university needs to move toward becoming really global.

The number of successes I have to report today amounts to quite a list. It is a list that would be considered a "wish list" at some universities, but one that is quickly becoming a reality here at Penn thanks to our extraordinary University community.

Students and Programs

We have welcomed the most academically accomplished class ever to attend Penn, and these are but a few of the markers: The SAT scores of the Class of 2001 were higher than ever; 306 of our entering students were valedictorian or salutatorian of their high school class; 130 were president of their high school class or council; 182 entered Penn as Benjamin Franklin Scholars. The class is also richly diverse: 35% are members of minority groups. The trend continues for 1998: Our early-decision numbers for next year's entering class are at an all-time high. And the quality of these early applicantswho are ready now to commit to attending Penn over any other schoolis truly extraordinary.

Penn is a hot school. U.S. News & World Report ranked Penn 7th in its September survey of the best universities. Penn students reported high levels of satisfaction in an April 1997 survey of nearly 400 undergraduates by the Department of Sociology:

  • 88% were satisfied with their classes.
  • 88% were satisfied with extracurricular activities.
  • 84% were satisfied with their living situations.
  • 84% would come to Penn if they had to make the decision again.

When I was a student living at home and got a 97, my father used to ask me what happened to the other three points; so I want you to know that we will be working on the other 15 percentage points and hope to report next year that all are over 90 and moving.

I think this is a better time than ever to be a student at Penn, though certainly we will let that hyperbole be expressed by the students. But there are a number of exciting new programs. Most recently, announced just on Monday, the Vagelos Scholars Program in the molecular life sciences will integrate for outstanding undergraduate science majors work in chemistry, biology, phyics, mathematics, with an extraordinary support system both financial and otherwise, modeled after the Fisher M & T Program and the Huntsman International Studies and Business Program, and other premier "niche-building" programs. The Provost has talked about Foreign Languages across the curriculum, and rhetoric across the curriculum. Last year we announced a six-year sub-matriculation program, Wharton to Law, and this year by the end of the year we'll announce similar programs both in the College and in Engineering to Law School, again leveraging some of Penn's unique strengths.

There's tremendous excitement in so many areas of the 21st Century Project, but one of the things that I think has had an extraordinary impactit's hard to believe it's only two years oldKelly Writer's House and other such physical structures that provide hubs for community-building around substantive areas of academic and intellectual interest. There's a lot of planning going on for the community hub and for other hubs, and I know the Provost will have more to report on that at the next Council meeting.

We think it's better than ever to be a graduate or professional student at Penn. Part of the strategic plan is to keep moving the Ph.D. programs and professional programs upward both in rankings and in productivity. Part of the plan, which is now well under way, is to reduce the size of Ph.D. programs in order to better fund doctoral students. I know we will continue working in this area so that we will have highly supported Ph.D. students in our programs.

A number of exciting new master's programs are being established as leading-edge programs that position our students for a variety of opportunities: Telecommunications in SEAS; environmental studies in SAS; and the joint programs such as biotechnology in SAS and SEAS; bioengineering in SAS and SEAS; and bioethics in SAS and Medicine.

Campus Life

Campus life is becoming markedly richer. The new College House system and "Wheel" project will roll out in Fall 1998. Progress advances on Perelman Quad and Sansom Common, with the new Bookstore on track to open next fall. ResNet wiring is completed. GreekNet is moving along, Penn is a participant in the Internet II research program, and as that moves forward Penn will become one of the leading centers, and will be indeed the regional center for the highest-speed connectivity over the Internet; we are contributing both intellectual and financial resources to that aspiration.

There's been a comprehensive review of athletic and recreational facilities, a great deal of consultation, a lot of interview processes, and that will be evaluated and reported on, and much discussed, this semester. Planning and fundraising are already under way. You know that residential facilities have been evaluated again; this will be a year in which there will be considerable discussion both about residential facility construction and progress and also dining halls; and we certainly will deliberate broadly and consult with you on all of those important issues. The design for the Wharton building is moving, and there are already designs underway for a new biology buildingand much discussion for other academic projects.

Faculty and Research

Penn's excellence is so widely recognized in large part due to our faculty, who are always being recognized as an outstanding research faculty: the Kyoto Prize to Dan Janzen, the McArthur Award to Susan Stewart, the Bower Award and now the Scott Award to Ralph Brinster represent only a few of the many important and distinguished accolades that our faculty continues to receive.

Last year was an astonishing year with regard to faculty recruitment and retention. There were many intense competitions with peer universitiesoften the larger community doesn't hear about that; it's known at the department level or the school level; we try to play a very direct role, sometimes it's financial but more often than not it isn't; it's really supporting the efforts of the schools and the departments. There have been just extraordinary appointments in SAS and Engineering; many oustanding appointments in Medicine; I could take the full 25 minutes to talk about the extraordinary faculty that we have hired and retained, and the wonderful colleagues that we have here who continue to make Penn the best research university in the country.

The committee that is focusing on one of the Six Strategic Initiatives, the democratic and comparative legal institutions, is searching now for Americanist political scientists, putting a tremendous effort on building great strength in the political science department. There has been tremendous progresslots of outside consultants brought in last year, and the committee is moving toward making several appointments. We believe again that one of the opportunities that the Agenda for Excellence provides for us is to really do some bold and unusual things; so in this case we would be recruiting a cohort of four or five senior faculty members all at once, to really make a statement about where Penn is and where Penn wants to go in political science. I understand from my colleagues in political science that people around the country are talking about Penn and what is going on thereand that was very much our intent.

Obviously and importantly, the Roy and Diana Vagelos Laboratories were dedicated Monday. We all know that research facilities involve more than just scientific research facilities, although BRB II and III are going up, and I've mentioned the work on Biology. But scholarship and research facilities are needed throughout the University and we are very mindful of those that have been signaled in the Strategic Plan as especially important for first attention: Planning and fundraising underway for the Humanities Center; Logan Hall renovations moving back the many critical SAS departments and the College to the center of the campus and providing the kinds of classrooms and facilities that enhance research and scholarship.

Again, just some highlights of very substantial progress: The Vagelos Labs began 18 months ago and were dedicated Monday, and we are continuing to drive aggressively towards completing programs and projects on time and to deliver the best opportunities for scholarship and research that can be found anywhere in the country.

A second feature of the Strategic Plan was to create the infrastructure of support that would allow our faculty to increase research funding. It is one thing to say "Try to get more funding," and it's another thing to create the kind of environment and support that enables this to happen. The growth in research support from 1993 to 1997 is about 8%; that's particularly remarkable. The faculty will understand the extraordinary nature of this, but to our students and staff: this was a time of diminishing NIH and NSF funding; certainly we all know the assault on the arts and the humanities, leading to a significant decrease in funding; and for the Penn faculty to bewith a diminishing potaccelerating the level of research funding that they are bringing to their programs is really quite noteworthy and I think again is another marker of where the faculty is and how they are regarded and therefore how Penn is regarded.

For the University as a whole, there has been steady growth in research support from 1993 to 1997 at an annualized rate of 7.8 percent. Of particular note are GSE's $8 million in new external research awards in FY97; Medicine's grants, up 12% last year, now in fifth place nationally in federal research funding; and Nursing's continuation in the national ranking of second place in federal research funding. Social Work's external research funding rose by 6% last year, despite an increasingly competitive environment, and the Annenberg School won a $750,000 grant from Pew Charitable Trusts for the Candidate Free Time Project.


Globalization is certainly very important to us both as a university and also in many schools and programs the highlight of the strategic planning process. We continue to recruit from a wonderful pool of undergraduate students: The Class of 2001 includes 216 outstanding examples, an increase of 5 percent over last year. Our graduate and professional pool has always been larger and deeper, and the number of outstanding international students in the graduate and professional groups continues to climb.

We are also beginning to see an increasingly globalized curriculum. Recall that we believe that the strategic plan moves us to another generation of our globalization aspirationsmore than merely collaborating with institutions around the world, more than merely having Penn Abroad programs in a variety of areas, we need here in Philadelphia to have a really global mindset as we move towards the 21st Century. That will mean more comparative courses, and a variety of other activities, including some accomplished this year: Wharton established a Chinese Business and Entrepreneurship Initiative; I have been active recently in one on India that is moving forward. GSE has been doing much in the Shanghai Education Project and received a substantial award for its support. The Korea Foundation gave over $2 million to enhance Korean Studies at Penn, supplemented by $2 million from Korean alumni. Certainly the recent visit of the Chinese president, while appropriately controversial and certainly serious with regard to any concern that we must have with China's position on human rights issues, represents that we need as people and as insititutions to continue to engage the Chinesebecause their relations to us represent one of the mechanisms by which some of these issues may change.

We have a very broad base of international alumninow 15,780and one of the interesting challenges is reaching them. We have done a much better job over the last year or two in reaching them, hearing from them, listening to them.


I think we've made wonderful progress; these were just highlights and examples. Marvelous things are going on here, and working together we are solidifying Penn's position as one of the world's leading research universities. This is surely is a place of choice for the world's best students and faculty and staffpeople like so many of you in this room. We must keep it so and continue to make it even better. I value enormously the chance I've been given to work with the Penn community to shape this university. It's a university that I care deeply about, as do all of you.

One of my particular rewards has been the opportunity to teach some of you in a couple of different settingsan experience, more than any other, that has shown me the extraordinary quality of Penn students today. I'd like to say a final word about this experience before I close. Earlier this term I taught a preceptorial on leadership. The preceptorial had 15 students, chosen by SCUE leaders for what they wrote in short essays set-ting forth their views on leadership. Among the students were aspiring artists and engineers, psychologists and historians, economists, even the editor of a certain campus newspaper. All of the essays were wonderful. But there is a phrase from one essay in particular that I'd like to share with you: "I believe that leadership should never stop evolving within oneself"

I think that's worth thinking about for all of us, because we sit here as campus leaders, elected to to represent broader constituencies; and to really think about the role of leadership. I think that Penn is about the business of educating the leaders of today and tomorrow, and that we take that very seriously. All of us take our leadership role very seriously, and that is one of the great activities of this council, to serve not only as a deliberative body but also to serve as the leaders of this campus and to help us move forward. Together we are leading this university to a new plane of excellence in a new century, and again I am delighted to report on how much has been accomplished.

I also want to report to you, those of you who don't have contact with alumni: This was Homecoming Weekend, and there were thousands of alumni on campus. They are extraordinarly pleased with Penn and with what is going on, enthusiastic about all that has been accomplished and all that they see as possible to be accomplished. So their thanks to you, as well, as campus leaders for working together to move the Agenda for Excellence forward and help Penn to realize its full potential and all of our ambitions.

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, November 18 1997, Volume 44, No. 13