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Welcome Back From the President
September 8, 2009, Volume 56, No. 02

Intelligently Responsive to Change

At our 253rd Commencement this May, I suggested to our newest graduates that the toughest test posed by the current economic crisis is not their finding a job, but rather their facing up to a fundamental question: What matters most in life?

When economic bubbles burst, it becomes all the more important for individuals and institutions to focus—and refocus—on what matters most to them.

Summer afforded us the opportunity to reflect on what matters most to Penn: putting the broadest swath of knowledge to work for humankind. During these tough economic times, we will remain true to our core goals: 

We will enroll the most talented and diverse students, regardless of income.

We will strengthen interdisciplinary teaching and research.

We will deepen our commitments in West Philadelphia, and enhance our global partnerships. And we will make Penn the most vibrant and greenest urban University.

Knowing what is most important to Penn is necessary, but not sufficient. In order to be effective stewards of our University, we must also squarely confront the facts of the economic downturn and find creative ways to pursue our highest priorities, and thereby continue building our momentum.

On top of adopting essential measures this past year to contain costs, I asked each of you to help keep Penn strategically focused so that we emerge from the recession stronger than ever.

As a direct result of your hard work and creative focus on our priorities, Penn enjoyed its second best fundraising year in history, saw our endowment significantly outperform the S&P 500 index, and met in six months 75 percent of our 18-month, $58 million cost containment goal, which will remain in effect until June 30, 2010. (A more detailed account of Penn’s fiscal performance, along with a more comprehensive review of new initiatives and capital projects, can be found in my August 10 statement on Penn and the Economy (www.upenn.edu/pennnews/economy-update-0809.php).

I greatly appreciate the many initiatives taken and sacrifices made across the campus community to meet our cost-containment goals, which to date have helped us to sustain our highest priorities while avoiding a mass reduction in workforce or across-the-board spending cuts.

Our success in increasing access to a Penn education for all qualified students, regardless of their economic circumstances, continues unabated. For the first time in Penn’s history, all undergraduates who are eligible for financial aid will receive grants rather than loans in their aid packages. Ten percent of our incoming freshmen class are the first in their families to attend college.

To attract the best graduate students, we have increased base stipends by 56 percent since 2004 for graduate students in Arts and Sciences and by 22 percent for all Penn graduate students.

This month marks the opening of the new home for the Annenberg Public Policy Center, the first of several superb capital projects that will open over the course of this academic year and will further beautify our campus and contribute to the teaching and research mission of Penn. Next spring, our distinguished Music faculty will return to a newly renovated and expanded Music Building, and we will open the new fitness center and athletic training room, Weiss Pavilion, at Franklin Field’s northern arcade, which will relieve the overcrowding at our ever popular Pottruck Fitness Center. 

This year we will also break ground on the signature project of our Penn Connects campus master plan: Penn Park—24 acres of athletic fields, recreational spaces, and walkways with lovely views of the Schuylkill River and Center City skyline.

Another palpable sign of Penn’s vitality is our choice to devote this academic year to the theme of “Arts & the City.” At a time when colleges and universities throughout the country are slashing arts programming and courses, why are we spotlighting arts and culture? Because strengthening arts and culture fits hat and glove with our academic mission. Our students need to be broadly educated, first, to figure out what truly matters most in their lives, and then to pursue it. That broad education develops their intellectual skills and also stimulates, cultivates, and refines their imaginations.

We know that there is much we cannot know about the future. “It is not the strongest of species which survive,” Charles Darwin concluded, “nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

I am proud that our Penn community has been so intelligently responsive to change. By keeping our eyes fixed on what Penn can contribute to our students, our society, and the world and by working together in creative ways to realize our goals, we can demonstrate that no obstacle on the road to eminence is insurmountable.

Amy Gutmann


Almanac - September 8, 2009, Volume 56, No. 02