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Outgoing chair of the Board of Trustees Alvin Shoemaker invests Rodin with the presidency of the University at her inaguration in 1994. Now, nearly a decade later, Rodin prepares to pass the position on to a yet to be named successor in June. [Stephen

After a decade of service to the University, Judith Rodin will resign as Penn's president at the end of this academic year.

The first female president of an Ivy League university when appointed in 1994, Rodin announced her decision to step down on June 20 at the Board of Trustees' annual meeting.

In the coming weeks, a presidential search committee will be formed to choose Rodin's successor. Board of Trustees Chairman James Riepe, who will chair the committee, said over the summer that with the year's notice, it is unlikely that an interim president will be appointed before the committee finds a permanent replacement.

As the University prepares to launch its next strategic plan -- which is expected to take eight to 10 years to realize -- the outgoing president said it made sense for her to bow out now.

"I didn't think I wanted to be a president for 20 years," Rodin said. "And so it just seemed like the right time."

Some, however, would not have minded seeing her sign on for another 10 years at the helm.

"I was surprised -- I kind of hoped she would stay another decade," Psychology Professor Martin Seligman said. "I've been at Penn for 40 years, I guess I've seen four or five presidents, but she's off the scale. I don't think we've had a president of this quality before."

The Board of Trustees encouraged Rodin to accept the title of "chancellor," a newly-created fundraising role, after she announced her intention to resign. After initially accepting the post, she soon declined, explaining that she did not wish to cause confusion in the higher education community.

Rodin said that she will continue to take an active role in University fundraising campaigns and will remain on the faculty in the Psychology Department.

A graduate student in Penn's Psychology Department who shared lab space with then-undergraduate psych major Judith Seitz in the mid-1960s, Seligman said that the future University president's leadership qualities were already well-developed when they first met.

"She was both a dynamite psychologist [and]... a leader from the time she was 18 years old," Seligman said.

Seligman also praised Rodin's success in leading Penn from "sleepy number 10, bottom of the Ivy League" status.

"Penn was pretty stagnant... the first 30 years I was here," Seligman said. "The leap in student quality, in the quality of the faculty, national ratings, the endowment -- it's really kind of astonishing."

Rodin's tenure began on the heels of the "Water Buffalo" incident -- an episode that saw Penn attempt to punish a student for calling members of a black sorority "water buffalo" as they celebrated noisily under his window. After media picked up the story, scathing editorials and sarcastic cartoons heaped national attention -- mostly negative -- on the Penn community. A murder near campus in the second month of her presidency added to West Philadelphia's reputation as a dangerous urban wasteland.

Considering the cards she was dealt, Rodin said she was proud to have helped "to rebuild a sense of community at Penn, a place where civic discourse became really important," and to have taken back the night for students and law-abiding West Philadelphians.

"When I became president, this campus was absolutely dead at night," Rodin said. "No one walked the streets. There was no light. We transported people everywhere and there was just no activity once it got dark."

Despite neighborhood activists' complaints that the "McPenntrification" of West Philadelphia has adversely affected residents -- with retail spaces occupied by new restaurants, galleries and shops -- Rodin said the streets have become more vibrant and populated at night, and thus safer.

Rodin will continue to serve as a co-chair of the Knowledge Industry Partnership, which coordinates the efforts of community leaders seeking to improve the city and attract and retain students and professionals.

David Thornburgh, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Economy League and a colleague of Rodin's on KIP, praised "the contribution she made to the city and the region."

"There's a great deal of momentum, that's for sure," Thornburgh said. "She's endlessly energetic and positive and focused."

Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, a native Philadelphian who, like Rodin, attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls, said that Rodin has "transformed West Philadelphia and the lives of students, faculty, staff and community members."

McCoullum, whose grandson is a second-grader at the Penn-assisted Sadie M. Tanner Alexander School at 42nd and Locust streets, added that Rodin "has been an extraordinary role model and leader for Penn and our wider community."

On the real estate front, Rodin will go out with a bang, having entered final contract negotiations with the U.S. Postal Service to secure around 20 acres of land between campus and the Schuylkill River, opening doors for Penn's eastern expansion.

Rodin said that her record of accomplishments boils down to a new pride at the University.

"I think Penn is far more self-confident than it was 10 years ago and really has a sense of how great it is and why it's great," Rodin said. "It has sustained its energy, which it always had, but it built into that energy a real entrepreneurial spirit, a real sense of confidence, a real sense we can do anything we set out to."

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