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Dan Bernick
Dan Straight

Credit: Dan Bernick

Penn is not the best university in the world — at least according to U.S. News & World Report. Penn was again ranked fifth (behind Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Columbia universities) and is now tied with four others (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, California Institute of Technology and University of Chicago).

By most measures, nothing changed. We stayed in the top five, with just a little more competition. “Little changes don’t have large impacts on the University,” assistant Political Science professor Marc Meredith, who has done research on the rankings, said.

But, in my opinion, we went down. We stayed still while other schools leaped forward.

Before the analysis gets any deeper, let’s answer the obvious rebuttal: rankings suck. Assessments are biased and inaccurate. As Undergraduate Assembly President and Wharton and Engineering senior Tyler Ernst said, only we can “truly evaluate the full picture of our university.” It is not as if our matriculation percentage determines the value of our experience at Penn.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that other schools are beating us in everything from fundraising to fellowships. And no matter how we compare with peer universities, the rankings do not change the fact we must do more.

Penn is not the best university in the world. But we can be.

We are asking for all the wrong things. We ask students to write lengthy research papers on Athenian history, but we never ask for participation at school events. We expect recitation attendance without giving credit and time for extracurriculars. Penn sets the bar extraordinarily high but often in areas that matter very little.

We need to up our game in academics. This means setting a new standard for 21st century education. For example, research conducted by Duke University professor Cathy Davidson suggests that “‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook.” Instead of stress-inducing gobbledygook, we should prioritize thinking and communication. We should help students win Truman and Rhodes and Marshall and Goldwater scholarships. Flexible, digital learning with a grounding of critical thinking is exactly what 21st century leaders, from Wall Street to Main Street, must possess.

We need to up our game in school spirit. Students and faculty should wear red and blue, know the school songs and attend athletic events. Class unity events, student performances and school speakers can become part of everyone’s routine. This should not be a mandate from on high but a groundswell from all of us. Quakers who immerse themselves in the community will have much more rewarding experiences and be more engaged when they graduate.

We need to up our game personally. The University should encourage healthy living by incentivizing exercise, promoting good nutrition and banning dangerous substances. We must simplify community service to increase participation and help students vote in student government and local elections.

Finally, we need to up our game as a leader. Penn must build on the success of Penn Park and the Faculty Diversity Action Plan to continue pushing the agenda worldwide. We can build satellite schools in Washington and New York and innovate public-private partnerships here in Philly. Benjamin Franklin founded Penn to be a bold, innovative university — he would want us to push the envelope of conventional thinking and challenge the world to a new race in higher education, one we define and one we can win. And it starts with raising the bar.

Don’t just take my word for it. Over the next few weeks, we will look at areas where Penn has the potential to lead. Throughout the process, I welcome your input. In fact, to make sure Penn sweats the small stuff we discussed in my previous column, you can report any problem — small or large — to

We are a great school even if we don’t win every fellowship, attend every sporting game and claim U.S. News & World Report’s top spot.

But we can. And wouldn’t it be nice if we did?

Dan Bernick, a College sophomore from Mendota Heights, Minn., is a College representative on the Undergraduate Assembly. His email address is Dan Straight appears every other Tuesday.

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