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For a few hours next semester, a handful of lowly Penn undergraduates will have an audience with the University's highest-ranking officials. The Student Committee on Undergraduate Education has added to its slate of spring 1999 preceptorials -- small, not-for-credit mini-courses taught by some of the University's top faculty -- with new courses taught by University President Judith Rodin and University Trustees Chairperson Roy Vagelos, a 1950 College graduate. Registration for the other preceptorials SCUE is offering next semester has already closed, with students registering 2,851 times for a mere 196 seats distributed over the 15 courses. Registration for the Rodin and Vagelos preceptorials will continue through December 22 because of their late addition to the course roster. "We are incredibly grateful to both President Rodin and Dr. Vagelos for agreeing to lead a preceptorial," said SCUE Chairperson Rachael Goldfarb, a College senior. "This has been a tremendously successful program in the past. These two, however, are truly sweet icing on the cake." Rodin's preceptorial will focus on public discourse in civil society, a hot topic in recent months given the ubiquitous discussion of presidential peccadilloes in the Oval Office. The course will build upon the work of her Penn National Commission on Society, Culture and Community, a panel of top academics that pre-dates Monica Lewinsky's emergence onto the nation's nightly newscasts. "SCUE's preceptorial program offers a wonderful, unique venue for students to engage with faculty intense study of a subject," said Rodin, who led 15 students in a preceptorial on leadership in the fall of 1997. "The topic of civil engagement is very timely, considering the current focus of our nation's capital, and the topic is ripe for intellectual debate." Vagelos' preceptorial, entitled "I Want a New Drug," also handles a topic close to the 69-year-old Trustee's heart. Before retiring in 1994, Vagelos was chief executive officer of Merck Inc., the large New Jersey-based pharmaceuticals company. The course will focus on how drugs and vaccines are created to combat an increasing array of human diseases. No science or chemistry background is required, and Vagelos encouraged a wide array of students to apply, noting that many students "are afraid of taking science courses and as a result? don't understand things that are understandable." Entrance to either of the two preceptorials is competitive, unlike other ones. Students must submit a 100-word statement explaining what they hope to gain from the course -- along with their name, year and major -- to to be considered. Vagelos, who said he will step down as chairperson next summer as he nears the mandatory retirement age of 70, said that "not enough" interaction occurs between undergraduates and the University's top administrators. "I think it's always important to have top people meet with undergraduates," he said, referring to his experience as a biochemistry professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "I had more fun teaching undergraduates." Goldfarb, whose year-long term at SCUE's helm ends next month, added that the organization will soon be turning over control of the preceptorial program to an independent, non-SCUE-affiliated body of students. A committee of 10 to 15 "energetic and enthusiastic" students is being established to formulate and implement preceptorial ideas for next fall, with the goal of eventually turning the entire program over to new hands.

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