Print This Issue

COUNCIL State of the University: Report of the Provost
December 16, 2008, Volume 55, No. 16

Provost Ron Daniels

This won’t be my last appearance before University Council, but will be my last State of the University Report. In this context, it gives me great pleasure to report that there has never been a more exciting time to be a member of the Penn community. The advances and initiatives I’ll discuss this afternoon [December 10]—from undergraduate, graduate, international, and research programs —will, I hope, convey my admiration and respect for this great university.


Connections at Penn begin on move-in day. In late September, the University celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the College House System. A decade ago, the few College Houses that existed were essentially works-in-progress: small residences without dedicated faculty, organized academic programming, or—believe it or not—computers. How far we’ve come! Today, each house has a faculty master, at least two faculty or senior fellows, a house dean, a house coordinator, graduate associates and resident advisors, undergraduate house managers, and technology advisers. And wireless! The College House “communal” experience—living, learning, and socializing under one roof—continues to be a wonderful component of undergraduate life at Penn. The vision for the future of the College House system includes a large new quadrangle-like residence, tentatively called College House at Hill Square. Additionally, several existing College Houses are undergoing extensive renovations.

Connecting at Penn can also be among students and faculty. This year, under Director Harriet Joseph’s leadership of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Mentoring program (PURM) has funded 28 faculty/student mentor matches, with a focus on rising sophomore students. On a competitive basis, PURM provides support to a faculty member for advising and guiding an undergraduate as she/he assists in a summer project. The student receives a living or travel stipend. The program has had two successful summers and many of the students continue to explore individual research with their mentors.


Let me touch on some recent advances in graduate studies. Beginning this past September, Penn instituted a number of new rules and procedures governing all PhD programs. These important changes come in addition to the increase in the minimum stipend levels for 2008-2009, and the recent standardization of PhD student tuition across the University.

I’d like to briefly provide a little context for these changes. Among universities nationally, there has been concern that once PhD students pass all their courses and reach dissertation stage, they can languish for lack of direction and timely feedback from faculty. The consequences can be significant: extended time-to-degree and associated time-to-career, accumulation of additional debt, and attrition.

The first change concerns timing. Candidacy and dissertation exams will be evaluated within a month of the exam or proposal presentation date. Second, while most students make good progress and advance to candidacy by the end of their third year, some do not; the new rules set a five-year maximum for passing the Candidacy Exam. Third, upon advancement to degree candidacy, each student will be provided with a dissertation committee consisting of at least three faculty members. This committee will be meeting with the student at least annually to review the student’s progress and provide research feedback. Faculty also will be providing timely feedback on dissertation committee reports. Finally, beginning in 2010-2011, the University’s maximum time limit for completion of a PhD is ten years after matriculation.

These requirements also complement the recent changes in the University’s Childbirth and Adoption Accommodation Policy for PhD students. Those changes extend the time-off period from six to eight weeks, during which any stipend support will continue. The policy is now extended to include paternal time off for student fathers, and is extended to include cases of adoption.

In combination, these key changes will improve overall supervision of PhD students, and ensure that Penn continues its leadership in advanced degree programs and progressive family leave policies.

Another major initiative currently underway in the Provost’s Office is a new graduate admissions system linked to the Data Warehouse, which will create a centralized repository of information from across all Penn’s graduate and professional programs. The system is being developed in conjunction with investments from the schools. These enhancements will allow us to look analytically at the experience of the schools, programs, and students, ultimately helping us understand the correlation among applicant pools, student performance, and career outcomes.

Also on the graduate education front, I’m pleased to tell you that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the School of Arts and Sciences a $6 million grant to support graduate education in the humanities. This gift will significantly enhance financial aid for SAS graduate students in the humanities through fellowships, as well as a new award program. This grant builds upon last year’s significant investment in SAS graduate fellowships. This change raised stipends in 2008-2009 from $18,300 for 4 years to $21,000 for 5 years, plus stipend support for 3 years. In combination, these increases allow Penn to offer truly competitive stipends in the humanities and social sciences. 


Let me now turn to international programs. Truly, there’s never been a more exciting time for Penn in terms of our international connections: We are a global university and a global community, with more and more international students on campus and students studying abroad, the new Distinguished International Scholars program, and new lecture series like Writers Without Borders. As part of the Penn Global Forum, we will be welcoming New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in February and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour in April.

I’m also thrilled to report the latest news on the Botswana-UPenn Partnership. This international, multidisciplinary program has received a $2 million grant from The Tiffany & Co. Foundation to join with the Botswana Ministry of Health in building a facility for HIV/AIDS treatment in Botswana.

This honor is recognition of the important work in global heath we’ve been doing, and should serve as a reminder that these initiatives make a difference in people’s lives.

It’s also my pleasure to tell you that last week, I welcomed a new member to the Penn community—or at least to her newest role at Penn. Dr. Anne Waters is Executive Director of the Office of International Programs. Dr. Waters will lead key offices that provide international services to the Penn community, including Penn Abroad and International Student Scholars. She’ll also work to expand these services to the broader Penn community by supporting international internships and resources to help prepare students, faculty and administrators for travelling abroad on Penn-related activities. Dr. Waters holds a PhD in anthropology and history from the University of Michigan and an MA in South Asia Regional Studies from Penn. Dr. Waters will be joining others in the Provost’s Office working on international activities, including Dr. Harvey Friedman on the Botswana-UPenn Partnership; Dr. Brian Strom on Global Health; and Dr. Gayle Christensen on International Initiatives.


This has been an incredible year for Penn research. Time doesn’t permit me to list all the accomplishments of our faculty, but let me quickly spotlight just a few.

At the beginning of the semester, President Gutmann and I jointly welcomed Penn’s eighth Penn Integrates Knowledge University professor, John Gearhart.

In 1998, Dr. Gearhart led a research team that first identified and isolated human embryonic stem cells, and he has been a leading advocate for the federal funding of stem cell research. He was, quite obviously, the ideal choice to serve as director for our new Institute for Regenerative Medicine: he has been a leader in both research breakthroughs and public discussion.

In August, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics Fay Ajzenberg-Selove was awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest honor for science.

In September, Dr. Jim Eberwine, professor in the department of pharmacology and co-director of the Penn Genome Frontiers Institute, was awarded the National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award. This award includes a $2.5 million research grant over the next five years.

In addition, six members of the Penn family have been elected to the Institute of Medicine—one of the nation’s highest honors in biomedicine. Five members of the SAS faculty have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. We applaud their achievements.

In closing, I’d like to say just a few words about old connections, and new ones.

In three months I’ll leave Penn for Johns Hopkins. I can only hope that my time there comes close to what I’ve experienced during my years here. Never have I worked with such an optimistic, socially engaged, collaborative group of faculty and student leaders.

In no other domain has Penn more vividly affected me, and deeply underscored the possibilities for the best in faculty-student intellectual cooperation. This cooperation powerfully realizes the great potential of the fusion of research and education in the same institution. As I said to the DP, it’s so hard to be saying hello to Johns Hopkins when it means saying good bye to dear ole Penn.

It is a community that I will greatly miss. Thank you.


Almanac - December 16, 2008, Volume 55, No. 16