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COUNCIL State of the University: Report of the Provost
October 24, 2006, Volume 53, No. 9

Provost Ron Daniels

Good afternoon.  We have had a busy year implementing the Penn Compact, and we will continue to build on that progress in the academic year to come.  In my report today, I’d like to highlight a few key priorities for my office in 2006-2007.  We are looking outward and inward this year, strengthening our efforts in the world even while we improve the education we provide to our students in Philadelphia. To that end, it behooves me to discuss Penn’s international initiatives alongside the Penn education. The two agendas are mutually sustaining and mutually illuminating.


It is no secret that American universities have entered an international phase of expansion. The “flattening” world calls out for global perspectives as our leaders, thinkers, and activists attempt to solve increasingly complex problems. Bastions of knowledge, universities must take the lead in harnessing vital research for the common weal—a weal that rightfully applies to all world citizens.  

Penn is already a global academic leader. With the Penn Compact goal of global engagement, we are making a concerted effort to expand and strengthen our existing networks and partnerships to advance the values of democracy, participate in the exchange of useful knowledge, and improve the quality of society and life across the globe.

Last fall, President Gutmann and I convened an ad-hoc Task Force on Global Engagement, co-chaired by Susan Fuhrman, former Dean of the Graduate School of Education, and Patrick Harker, Dean of the Wharton School. We charged this committee to develop two to three initiatives that would enhance the University’s international mission and that could be implemented within a two-year span. They worked quickly and well, making a series of thoughtful, creative, and coherent recommendations in February of this year. 

Thanks to the Task Force, we have expanded the Provost’s Global Forum, a speaker series that brings world leaders to campus for a keynote lecture and conversation with students, faculty, staff, and community members. Our first speaker this year was 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, who spoke to a full house at Irvine Auditorium on Monday, October 16. Her work at the intersection of democracy, environmental conservation, and peace reminds us all of the creative possibilities education and activism afford us in the improvement of our societies.  Her lecture, for those of you who missed it, was truly stirring. We were honored to confer upon her the University of Pennsylvania Medal for Distinguished Achievement, presented by President Gutmann. 

Next month, we will host Kishore Mahbubani: a 33-year diplomat for Singapore and the author of Beyond the Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust Between America and the World. Other guests of the Global Forum will include Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf; the CEO of CARE, Helene Gayle; and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.

However, the Task Force was not only interested in bringing experts to campus. The committee also cited a need to better support our own scholars. Faculty input revealed a substantial demand for funding to advance programs, research partnerships, and conferences of an international and interdisciplinary nature. With this persuasive input, the Task Force developed a proposal for a Global Initiatives Fund for faculty, a competitive award fund that would support collaborative, international projects that further enhance the University’s work as a leader in the production of global and cross-disciplinary knowledge.

We were thrilled to announce the winners of the first two grants in Almanac earlier this month. Robert F. Giegengack, the Davidson Kennedy Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences; Jason Johnston, Professor of Law; John C. Keene, Professor Emeritus of City and Regional Planning; and Eric W. Orts, the Guardsmark Professor of Legal Studies, Business Ethics, and Management, were awarded seed funding to establish an International Environmental Management Initiative (IEMI) at Penn. Graham E. Quinn, Professor of Ophthalmology in the School of Medicine, won the second award for his retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) screening and prevention project in the middle income countries of Brazil and Peru.

Meanwhile, our programs and initiatives abroad continue to thrive.  Since 2001, the School of Medicine has sent several faculty members and more than 60 medical students to Botswana in the past five years. I had the privilege of visiting the Penn team this summer and I can confidently say that they have made real contributions in Botswana, not only to the quality of patient care but also to the culture of the hospitals in which they work. We are now entering into an agreement with the University of Botswana to provide graduate training to the doctors educated at their new medical school.

We are also developing a major Interdisciplinary Center on HIV/AIDS in Botswana, where approximately 30% of the population is infected and the average life expectancy is only 38 years. Jim Hoxie at Penn’s Center for AIDS Research, John Jemmott at the Annenberg School, and Loretta Sweet Jemmott in the School of Nursing are developing the NIH grant with the University of Botswana. Our goal here is to enhance our faculty research, engage a number of schools, and establish new internships possibilities for Penn undergraduate students.

Further to that, my office will be working hard this year to increase opportunities for undergraduates to study or obtain work experience abroad.


Back home in Philadelphia, we are working on a number of projects this year to enhance the breadth and depth of the Penn education.

This summer, we launched a summer mentorship program for local high school students in partnership with the School District Philadelphia. The Law School, the School of Medicine, and the Graduate School of Education all participated, educating these local students about careers in law, medicine, and education, while simultaneously preparing them for the college application process and the experience of college itself. The program was enormously successful, with enthusiastic feedback from organizers and participants alike. We plan to expand next summer’s program to include all interested Penn schools.

This fall, we welcomed our first PIK professor, anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, John L. Jackson, Jr. His wife, Deborah Thomas, joins us as well, as an associate professor of anthropology. They welcomed their first baby this summer, and we know that they are thrilled to be here, already energetic forces in Penn’s interdisciplinary universe. We are actively recruiting our next several PIK appointees, having focused our efforts in several distinct “clusters”: neuroscience, economics, and democracy and constitutionalism.

The much-anticipated undergraduate program in Modern Middle East Studies will be up and running by next fall. This is a multidisciplinary program directed by Political Science professor Robert Vitalis, which will encompass the languages, history, politics, economics, sociology, and archaeology of the region. This program crystallizes Penn’s promise of meaningful interdisciplinary study, combining social scientific and humanistic approaches with a diverse faculty committed to both applied and research-oriented study.

Graduate and undergraduate research remains a key priority. This past summer, we funded six graduate research projects as a part of the GAPSA-Provost Award for Interdisciplinary Innovation, and we are working to further eliminate barriers to interdisciplinary study on the graduate level.  We have also published a coherent manual of guidelines for graduate students, intended to promote good working relationships between faculty advisors and students as they enter the dissertation phase of their studies.

On the undergraduate side, the President and I are pleased to announce that we are making a significant new investment in the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF). Currently, students become involved in the Center at the end of their sophomore year, but we are working to extend that pipeline. We want to expose students to a variety of research opportunities earlier in their Penn careers, helping them to build their resumes for future fellowships and degree programs.


We made extraordinary strides last year in implementing the Penn Compact and setting the stage for this year’s successes.  I hope you can see from my outline how well these global and local initiatives work together toward the realization of our larger institutional mission.  President Gutmann set an ambitious agenda for us in 2004, and with passion and ingenuity, the Penn community has continued to embrace it.  I look forward to another dynamic and productive year.

Almanac - October 24, 2006, Volume 53, No. 9