When Robert Fox gave $10 million to his alma mater in the spring of 1999 to endow three chairs and a leadership program, it seemed like manna from heaven. The Fox endowment gift would produce enough interest to fund the salaries of three senior professors.The cash-strapped School of Arts and Sciences could then use the savings to hire new professors without spending more money. Cut to the spring of 2001 and cue "Ain't that a shame." Because last week, SAS Dean Samuel Preston announced that University President Judith Rodin would fill the third and final Fox chair. She was, Preston said, the most appropriate person for the position. That may well be true. Over the course of her career, Rodin's contributions as a researcher and an educator are second to none. The problem is that Judith Rodin has another job. Since becoming president in 1994, Rodin has co-written about a dozen refereed articles and taught infrequently and irregularly, often in extracurricular settings. In the context of her other obligations, that is a remarkable achievement. But when measured against the research and pedagogic activities of the average Penn faculty member -- let alone those who hold endowed chairs -- it is hardly adequate. The School of Arts and Sciences exists for two reasons -- research and education. Rodin's appointment serves neither very substantially. That said, Rodin will replace John DiIulio as the head of the Fox Leadership Program for the duration of DiIulio's tenure in Washington, D.C. In that capacity, she has the opportunity to make a significant, if unorthodox, contribution to undergraduate education. In the long term, it makes sense for a Fox professor to head the Leadership Program. But in the long term, Penn has already selected the man for the job -- John DiIulio. Surely, an interim director -- even Rodin herself -- could have kept the Fox Leadership Program on track without an accompanying permanent appointment to a Fox chair. Now, when DiIulio returns, Rodin won't be teaching, researching or directing leadership programming. She will, however, still hold a Fox chair. DiIulio, of course, is the success story of the Fox program, a good example of how endowed chairs can be used to a school's advantage. The Philadelphia native was a professor at Princeton University when Penn offered him a Fox chair in 1999. DiIulio not only accepted; he also agreed to head up the Fox Leadership program, in keeping with the requirement that recipients of a Fox chair assume programmatic responsibility for leadership education at Penn. Of course, each recruitment process -- particularly at the senior faculty level -- is highly individualized. At such an advanced career stage, academics tend to have very focused interests and very particular needs. The extracurricular requirements of the Fox chair would doubtless prove a turn-off for many. But you don't need to use the Fox chair as a direct recruiting tool to reap its benefits. Take Psychology Professor Martin Seligman, already a member of the Penn faculty when he was appointed to a Fox chair in the fall of 1999. Seligman -- a past president of the American Psychological Association and a best-selling author -- regularly teaches at the graduate level and is actively involved in a wide variety of research. He is the kind of professor that makes Penn look good. So Penn gave him a Fox chair, in recognition of services rendered and in expectation of future performance. Seligman had previously held the Kogod Term Chair in Psychology. With his appointment to the Fox chair, Penn was able to give the Kogod Chair to Martha Fara this past fall. That took Fara's salary off the SAS payroll and freed up valuable funds for the recruitment of new faculty members. In contrast, Rodin's appointment won't save the School of Arts and Sciences any money whatsoever, because she wasn't being paid by SASin the first place. While Rodin holds a joint appointment on the faculties of the Medical School and SAS, she is paid at the University level. The interest that would have been used to pay the third Fox professor will fund leadership programming instead. Of course, Robert Fox gave a separate sum to fund that programming. Which makes Rodin's appointment a waste of two million dollars.Comments powered by Disqus
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