In Steinberg-Dietrich Hall, College students are prevented from using Wharton computer labs. But even for a large number of Wharton students, certain doors remain closed within their own school. Established in 1988, the Joseph Wharton Scholars program "is designed to emphasize the importance of scholarly research and the liberal arts within the framework of a business education," according to its World Wide Web site. I happen to think that is a noble goal. Too many of my Wharton peers bulk up on Finance classes only to neglect the fantastic opportunities in the College. Subjects like History, English and Psychology are used to meet requirements; in-depth exploration of the liberal arts sadly exists more in brochures for the Wharton School than in the student body. But distinct from the high ideals of the JWS program is its current execution. The Wharton School doesn't gauge interest in research or the liberal arts on its application specifically, but officials see fit to hand-pick incoming freshmen prior to matriculation from an unknown set of criteria. For practical purposes, the program resembles a registration facilitator, similar to that of Benjamin Franklin Scholars or University Scholars. JWSers are granted special access to honors classes during pre-registration while other students must wait for drop-add and request departmental or instructor permission. Evidenced by their own Web site, participants in JWS further envision themselves as superior to the general student body. For them, the program offers "expanded opportunities for high-potential, motivated Wharton students to interact with among the most talented of their class in both academic and social environments." Under what criteria have these students proven themselves to have a higher potential or more motivation than the average Wharton student? Most students at Penn are extremely motivated and have enormous potential; do the members of the JWS Society honestly believe they are significantly better? If so, the natural reaction is to apply to join this "elite" group. After all, what better proof of one's potential and motivation than his or her performance at Penn? The Benjamin Franklin Scholars program goes so far as to comment, "Because there are others who would be valuable members of the program, we strongly encourage other intellectually ambitious students to apply from on campus." But unlike BFS, which allows students to apply in their first two years, JWSers are admitted only upon matriculation; there is no application process for those who sincerely exhibit an interest in research and the liberal arts within a business framework. When I met with Martin Asher, the director of the Joseph Wharton Scholars program, he assured me his focus is on making the program represent something "different, not better." Over the summer, the JWS section of Econ 001 was replaced by a special experimental class, Finance 103x, which looks to cover more material with an emphasis on the program's ideals. It is good to know JWS is being changed and refocused; it is crucial to harness this momentum for more substantive change. First, any class that exhibits preference for JWS students over that of the general student body must exhibit a strong focus on research and/or the liberal arts. Classes that simply parallel non-honors offerings -- with the exception of offering blue-chip professors and smaller class sizes -- only reinforce a "better, not different" stigma. Furthermore, students admitted into the program should express a specific interest in research and the liberal arts "within the framework of a business education." They should likewise be presented with a curriculum that reflects these interests by requiring a greater proportion of classes in the College than the average Wharton student. But most students do not yearn for a research or liberal arts augmentation of their business curriculum until they've studied for quite a time at Penn. In that vein, if JWS wants to recognize students with this specific interest, on-campus applications and admittance is vital for any sense of legitimacy. Ultimately, the program is in need of continued reform. Too many Wharton students see JWS as a bogus recognition allowing easy access to the best professors and courses. As it stands, the program has little to counter these views. To debunk these widely held beliefs, JWS needs a serious overhaul -- it has to become either a replica of BFS in Wharton or a program that lives up to its high ideals. I have faith the powers that be will refute the former, for the latter has something of value to offer the student body and should be pursued -- but only in an equitable way.Comments powered by Disqus
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