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Panelists at the teach-in finale included Provost Wendell Pritchett, Nursing dean Antonia Villarruel, and Engineering dean Vijay Kumar. Credit: Idil Demirdag

Roughly 70 people crowded into the Hall of Flags in Houston Hall to attend the finale of Penn's Teach-In, the first event of its kind since 1969. 

Faculty Senate Chair-Elect Jennifer Pinto-Martin moderated a panel entitled "The University and the Community," which included Provost Wendell Pritchett, School of Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel, School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Vijay Kumar, and Director and Associate Vice President of the Netter Center Ira Harkavy. 

The panelists discussed how Penn could more effectively interact with the broader public, touching on issues such as technology and learning, economic inequality, and engagement with West Philadelphia communities. 

Throughout the panel, they emphasized the responsibility of the University to benefit society as a whole. 

“Knowledge is for the continuous benefit of the human condition,” Harkavy said. “Today, unquestionably, the most important institution in the world for realizing a good society is higher education.”

When Pinto-Martin asked the panelists about the role of technology in education, many emphasized the importance of these tools. 

Kumar specifically discussed the potential of online opportunities to allow more people to access higher education. 

“Today, technology is front and center no matter what part of society you come from,” he said. “The question is, can we do more? Can we have a bigger footprint in the world?” 

Pritchett, who worked for former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in 2008 and who was appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney to the "Education Nominating Committee" to help select members for the city's new Board of Education, stressed the importance of collaborating with Penn's surrounding community. 

He emphasized that this engagement must be undertaken “in a humble way.”

“We don’t believe that we have an ownership of knowledge,” Pritchett said. “We’re here to learn, not to teach.” 

Pinto-Martin stressed the importance of hearing diverse viewpoints. She said that the issues discussed throughout the teach-in, including gun violence and artificial intelligence, “are incredibly complex problems that require lots of different minds around the table to solve them."

Credit: Idil Demirdag

While few students attended the event, those who did enjoyed hearing administrators’ perspectives. 

“I think the fact that these professors took the time out to come and talk about their thoughts and look for ways how they can improve and help students was really inspiring,” Nursing sophomore Heidi Chiu said. 

She added that she wished more people could have learned about the thoughts of the administrator since "not that many people came."

College senior Sarah Tang, a member of the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education which was involved in planning the teach-in, said she viewed the closing event as a “special opportunity." 

“I think oftentimes students have a lot of opinions and a lot of perspectives on what they see as their education and on what changes they would make, but hardly do you get the opportunity to tell the people that have the power to actually make them,” Tang said. “In that sense, I think I was really happy to see and excited to see that.” 

While the discussion officially marked the conclusion of the teach-in, many events that were scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday were postponed due to the Nor’easter that hit Philadelphia this past week. 

A presentation on “Lies, Pixels, and Video Fakes” and a screening of Young Frankenstein will take place Friday. Other events, such as the immigration town hall and a panel on evolution, have yet to be rescheduled. 

Tang noted that the snow storm had somewhat “[interfered] with the momentum of this whole event,” but stressed that “no matter the number of people you have you still really have quality conversations with the people who come.”

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