At Penn, 2022 will bring more than just the start of a new calendar year. It will mean the departure of longtime University President Amy Gutmann, who was nominated as the next United States ambassador to Germany. Gutmann's successor will have big shoes to fill. The search for her successor is already underway, with students, faculty, and trustees having various degrees of input and influence.
Although we do not yet know the next president's identity, one thing is clear: They will have a major opportunity to make their mark on campus. Given the social upheaval of the past few years, both at Penn and in the United States at large, the new president will have the opportunity to improve systemic areas of concern. As such, they must make major changes to several areas fundamental to Penn.
Start with admissions. As a result of COVID-19, Penn instituted a number of changes to its admissions policies. Most notably, the University extended its temporary test-optional policy, with the SAT and ACT no longer being mandatory. Furthermore, the admissions department has pledged to take into account the individual circumstances that students may have faced as a result of the pandemic, such as personal hardships.
These changes had enormous impacts. From the Class of 2024 to the Class of 2025, Penn's applicant pool grew by 34%, partially as a result of the test-optional policy. Given that high school grades are both a more accurate and more equitable measure of future academic performance than standardized test scores, extending this policy, or at least strongly considering doing so, makes sense. The new president, through implementing changes like this permanently, would have the opportunity to make their mark on Penn early on. Those students who performed well on their standardized tests should obviously still have the opportunity to submit their scores, and be rewarded for demonstrated potential. However, those who cannot score high on such tests because of factors outside their control should not be punished.
With regards to COVID-19, the new president will have a considerable amount of leeway in where to take the University. President Gutmann's administration has done a good job at keeping cases low, with little widespread transmission of the virus, despite the emergence of new, contagious variants. That being said, the University's next president must take steps to further ensure the safety of the Penn community and its neighbors.
For one, the next president will no doubt have significant influence over whether to require COVID-19 booster shots. This Editorial Board has already recommended that the University do as such, for boosters can serve as an added line of defense against the virus. However, boosters are far from the only area where the next president can make major policy changes. As the pandemic evolves, the president must react appropriately, and loosen or tighten mitigation measures when fitting.
Finally, the next president has an opportunity to diversify Locust Walk. Ensuring the presence of various interests on Locust has been a topic of conversation for decades, yet no president has gone so far as to put words into action. Penn's next president has the opportunity to change this. Specifically, they can and should ensure that cultural centers and support systems, which serve as valuable resources for marginalized groups of students, receive prominent places on campus.
The full extent of President Gutmann's legacy will likely take years to assess. However, although the impact of her tenure is not yet fully understood, the new president must get to work immediately, and pursue systemic reforms for the betterment of Penn. If they do so, they can ensure the well-being of the University, both in 2022 and beyond.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.