Board of Trustees discusses upcoming year at June meeting

The trustees were updated on admissions, academic programs and campus construction

· June 20, 2012, 9:25 pm   ·  Updated June 20, 2012, 10:14 pm

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The Board of Trustees met last week to discuss construction projects and new academic programs for the coming school year.

Penn President Amy Gutmann, members of the administration and the 57 members of the Board of Trustees attended the semi-annual meeting on June 14 and 15.

The creation of an Africana Studies Department was approved for September 2013. School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell proposed the new department with hopes that it would help merge Africa and the African diaspora into “a single intellectual scope.”

“I think it’ll foster diversity across campus … and truly contribute to Penn’s global profile,” Bushnell said.

The Academic Policy Committee also approved of a bioethics training program that was proposed by Vice Provost Ezekiel Emanuel. The program will enable two to four students to conduct research, write theoretical and empirical papers and work at hospitals.

“They may be lawyers, philosophers or social scientists,” Emanuel said. “In 10 years, I would expect that our graduates are the leading … in the field.”

Engineering professor Vijay Kumar’s proposal for a product design program was also approved. The program will bring about 40 Engineering, Wharton and School of Design students together and is intended for full-time students heading toward architectural design.

To explain the goal of the program, Kumar presented several student-created products, including the “Checkmate” — a restaurant tablet that allows customers to order their food, pay the bill and split checks.

The Local, National, Global Engagement Committee meeting focused on expanding Penn’s international collaboration, particularly with institutions in Africa, East and South Asia and Central America. The Trustees also discussed how to expand opportunities for Penn students to study and work abroad.

At the joint meeting of the Student Life Committee and the Committee on Diversity, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda announced that 44 percent of U.S. Penn students are minorities and that black students make up 10 percent of the incoming class of 2016 ­— an eight percent increase over the past year. Vice Provost for Education Andrew Binns focused on socioeconomic diversity of the student body, announcing the average financial aid award is $40,768. The committees also discussed how to address lower college completion rates among low-income and minority students.

The Budget and Finance Committee reviewed the University’s financial performance so far during this fiscal year, and discussed the appropriation of funds for summer construction projects and other future expenditures.

At the Facilities and Campus Planning Committee, the trustees were updated on Hutchinson Gymnasium, which is to be converted into a basketball practice gym by August 2013. Shoemaker Green, however, is over 75 percent renovated, and will be open this August.

The Singh Nanotechnology Center on Walnut Street is set to be complete in January 2013, and the site — including the open green space — will be completed by October 2013.

Spruce Street Plaza, set for 33rd and Spruce streets, will transform the asphalt parking lot known as Lot 8 into a public green space open to the Penn community, as well as campus visitors. The parking spaces at the southwest corner of Franklin Field — known as Lot 6 — will become a new location for street vendors. Construction on Spruce Street Plaza will begin mid-July and will be complete in December.

The committee also emphasized the importance of the ARCH building renovation, which received a $15 million gift from an anonymous donor in May. Architect Peter Saylor said the Gothic 1929 building will be transformed with new technology and will boast a new restaurant, lounge, conference rooms and a large lecture hall to seat 150 people.

Gutmann announced Hill Square’s new College House, which is currently in its schematic design phase, will move into design development later this summer. The dormitory will house 350 beds, a modern dining commons, house master suites and an inner courtyard. Speakers and performers will come to the green quadrangle, where a pedestrian path will connect the campus to the city.

“We have limited resources, so we want to use them for things we could get the most out of in the present and future,” Gutmann said. “We’re a bigger player here than any university is in New York.”

Gutmann also mentioned the campus expansion plan PennConnects, which is now in its second phase and involves $2 billion worth of activity.

“We don’t want to slow down as long as we have research and economic engine,” she said.

At the meeting, David Cohen was re-elected as chair of the Board, and Jon Huntsman Jr. was reinstated as a trustee.

Rachel Easterbrook, Avi Grunfeld, Katiera Sordjan and Jenny Trang contributed reporting to this article.

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