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The changing face of a growing Penn

(04/23/01 9:00am)

My first memory of Penn is from May of 1991, when my father told me after his 20th reunion here that he didn't want me attending his alma mater. I was 11, and my family drove up from Maryland. We stayed in the high rises and spent the weekend touring the campus. It was the first time I had been here, and the first time that my dad had spent so much time here in years. My father loved his four years here. He still gets misty-eyed when the band strikes up the Red and Blue and still counts his college friends among his best. But the campus he saw was a virtual armed fortress in physical disrepair. The early nineties weren't kind to the University. When we arrived that spring, Penn was in the midst of a particularly bad year and things were going to get worse before they got better. There were shootings that year outside of the Penn Tower and what's now Cinemagic; rapes in Hill House, the Medical School and the Quad. Fewer and fewer high school students were applying to Penn, and that year saw a 47 percent admittance rate -- the admissions dean wouldn't even release the class's average SAT score. The University was running budget deficits. And Smoke's almost lost its liquor license. That was exactly 10 years ago next month. Since then, Penn has inaugurated a new president and discovered that it could in fact compare to the Harvards and Yales of the world. Judith Rodin brought with her a strategic plan and the drive to implement it. New faculty and administrators started to realize that Penn could compete with the other top universities, and it slowly found itself rising in stature. The result is that the school we all attend today is dramatically different, both physically and academically, from the one the Class of 1991 left behind a decade ago. And even still, the campus continues to remake itself, to the point where it's unlikely I'll recognize much of this university 10 years from now. When I got here almost four years ago, there was no Sansom Common, no Perelman Quad. The DP crime reporter had something to write about every day. The pre-college house high rises were anti-social (so some things have stayed the same). In 10 years, the University has gone from a pseudo-Ivy also-ran to a school known for more than just being the "social Ivy." It's gone from being in danger of tumbling out of the U.S. News top 20 to being on everyone's list of the top 10 schools in the nation. The campus has gone from a veritable warzone to a place where most students feel safe walking around campus at night. And most importantly, there now exists a long-term vision of where Penn will be 10, 20, even 50 years from now. Penn has indisputably become one of the nation's premier research universities and a model for urban-centered higher education. A far cry from 1991. In fact, it's gotten to the point where, if we continue to evaluate our progress on the same scale, there's no where to go but back down. So after years of comparing ourselves to our so-called "peer institutions," Penn's new challenge is to find ways to measure its successes without comparing itself to the schools that it has already surpassed -- or the ones it never will. Penn is never going to be Harvard and University City is never going to be Cambridge. Our endowment will likely never hit the eight-figure range like some others, and we'll never crack the U.S. News top five. But the very fact that we think in those terms only highlights how far the school has come since a decade ago, when comparing Penn to the Dukes and Georgetowns of the world would have elicited laughter. And it shows that we're past the point where we need to build respectability in order to survive. Penn's done that, and now the challenge is to not just survive, but thrive by becoming its own peer group, with its own unique characteristics and niches to fill. It's time to abandon the vestigial inferiority complex that has for so long been a part of the Penn psyche -- and continues even now to color what students think and how administrators act. We seem to be walking at least gingerly down that road. And it's a necessity if I'm going to avoid coming back to Penn 10 years from now and not see a school that has slid backwards.

Columbine forgotten

(04/16/01 9:00am)

I remember exactly where I was on April 20, 1999, when I first heard about the siege and massacre at Columbine High School. Sitting in my high rise apartment studying for an Econ midterm the next day, I turned on CNN and spent the rest of the day transfixed to the television, watching the images that soon became all too familiar -- the wounded student climbing out a window, the pack of high schoolers running from the school with their hands up above their heads. I remember watching a funeral a few days later for one of the 13 people killed by Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold. I remember the interviews with the students who were trapped in a closet with their teacher who lay with them bleeding to death, with the parents who lost their children. It would prove to be, I believed then, the most profound tragedy our generation would know, and a historic moment for our country as a whole. Two years have passed since the bloodiest school rampage in the nation's history, and it's pretty clear that I was mostly wrong. School violence has become an almost accepted facet of Americana, an eccentricity of the richest and most powerful country in the world. It's become so common, in fact, that we barely batted an eye at the latest shooting in Gary, Ind., earlier this month. The massacre has remained a powerful symbol to people in our age bracket -- according to a recent story in The Philadelphia Inquirer, many colleges are thinking about barring applicants from writing their admissions essays on it because it's become so common. And yes, it's brought newfound introspection and soul-searching to the halls of the nation's high schools, and has increased everyone's sensitivity to even the most benign of threats. But we have done nothing over the past two years to stop it from happening again and again. It has spurred no one to action. After the massacre, there was a flurry of activity in Washington by legislators claiming to have been moved by the events in Littleton, Colo. Yet partisanship prevailed and nothing happened, other than blaming the media and our society and everything besides the ease with which Klebold and Harris purchased their weapons. And then the issue seemed to disappear. Gun control was nearly invisible during the 2000 presidential race. With a pro-gun president and Congress and a Democratic Party scared of alienating any part of the fragile electorate, it seems unlikely that the federal government will take up the issue anytime soon. We can't say that Columbine didn't change anything. No, it changed our world quite dramatically. Elementary school kids are now suspended for just mentioning the word "gun," and any teen who falls outside the mainstream is automatically suspected of being another Klebold or Harris. That this is the legacy of Columbine only compounds the tragedy. It means that not only have we failed to make our schools safer -- we've actually taken a step backwards. We've done nothing to limit guns in this country and are instead making meaningless gestures to make ourselves feel better. And so the 12 students and one teacher murdered two years ago this week died in vain. And a tragedy that should have been a defining moment of our times, a turning point in American history, was neither.

The eight-year tenure of one failed scientist

(04/09/01 9:00am)

It's been eight years now since Penn landed perhaps its biggest hire of the 1990s. The man was on the cutting edge of scientific research and his star was clearly on the rise. He was involved in nearly every major scientific breakthrough that his field produced. He promised to "revolutionize medicine as we know it today," and the University gladly threw tens of millions of dollars at him to try to make it happen. And then James M. Wilson, once the pride of the gene therapy world, failed in spectacular fashion. His recklessness killed an 18-year-old man, and his steadfast denial of any culpability has brought shame onto Penn. And not only is he still employed by the University -- next semester, he will lead a preceptorial on gene therapy that promises to focus partially on the "ethical issues" involved in the field. That he is still here is an embarrassment to Penn. That the student committee which runs the preceptorial program invited him to teach is an insult to the memory of a brave young man named Jesse Gelsinger, who died in a Wilson-led study 18 months ago. Wilson, who holds a faculty appointment in the Molecular and Cellular Engineering Department, is the director of Penn's Institute for Human Gene Therapy. He founded the IHGT in 1993, after being lured away from the University of Michigan, where he headed what was at the time one of just three teams in America authorized to conduct gene therapy experiments on humans. He put Penn at the forefront of the burgeoning field, and was one of the most well-respected scientists in the world. He found novel ways to treat illnesses through the insertion of healthy genes into the body to replace defective ones. He was an innovator in a science that is seemingly nothing but innovation. But his work now appears to have been little more than a house of cards -- Gelsinger's tragic September 1999 death demonstrated that. The 18-year-old Arizonan died after Wilson's team injected him with a modified virus that contained new genes intended to stimulate enzyme production in his liver. But something went wrong, and Gelsinger's body shut down. He went into a coma and died a horrible death four days later. After a year-long investigation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is trying to bar Wilson from ever again performing research on humans. It's a rare step that has been taken only half a dozen times in the past few years, according to agency records. It is, as one bioethicist has said, "the death penalty" for scientists. A federal investigation of Wilson's lab showed innumerable ethical lapses and regulatory violations: He changed aspects of the experiment without informing regulators. He misled Penn's own scientific review boards. He did not disclose the deaths of several lab animals. He used human patients who should not have been eligible for the experiment. And he hid vital information from patients, including Gelsinger, while they were deciding whether to take part in the experiment. All of those charges are serious enough individually. Together, they form a pattern of severe misconduct. Even more damning are the charges of outright corruption -- that Wilson made scientific decisions because of financial motives. Wilson founded a for-profit company called Genovo, which funded much of the IHGT's research and in turn owned the patent rights to any drug developed in Wilson's lab. If Wilson's experiment had worked, he would have stood to profit handsomely. Wilson's defenders say that the FDA is using him as a scapegoat for its own regulatory mishaps, and that most scientists on the cutting edge of their field play it loose with the rules. That's a pitiful response -- working for a university like Penn is different than working for a for-profit company (or at least it should be). Research universities must hold scientists to the highest of high standards, and most seem to do just that. Of the six other researchers who the FDA has threatened to disqualify over the past 2 1/2 years, agency records show that only one worked primarily at a university. And despite that, despite the fact that Wilson could soon find himself on the scientific world's persona non grata list, he still works for an institution that likes to call itself one of the best research universities in the world. Wilson may be a brilliant scientist, but all of his breakthroughs are now tainted by these allegations. Medical regulations are in place to protect clinical patients from doctors who may not have their best interests at heart, and the success of an experiment certainly does not excuse the means of achieving it. Clearly, University administrators realize the extent of the problems in the IHGT. Last April, they stripped Wilson of all authority to conduct human testing. Since then, the institute has been restricted to performing only animal and cellular research (although the FDA last summer raised questions about Wilson's animal research methods, too). Wilson is a black eye on this institution. He has lost the right to practice his craft here, and he certainly has no place teaching undergraduates about science. He arrived here eight years ago full of hope, a young scientist with an impeccable reputation and the modest goal of ushering in a new medical era. With that goal now out of his reach and his reputation now quite deservedly in tatters, it's time for James Wilson to go.

Keeping open the exchange of ideas

(03/26/01 10:00am)

A university can only be free if expression is, and expression can only be free if criminal behavior designed to crush it is punished." Those words appeared on this page nearly eight years ago, on April 16, 1993, the day after 60 students calling themselves "the Black community" seized The Daily Pennsylvanian's entire press run -- nearly 14,000 papers. The words were true then and remain so today, as Brown University grapples with the same dilemma: how to react to the theft of newspapers by students claiming to be engaged in lawful protest. The answer is simple -- interfering with another's right to free expression cannot, in a free society, be considered free expression itself. And yet that's precisely the argument the so-called "Black community" tried to make in 1993 and it's the same argument the offenders at Brown are making now. The circumstances are fairly alike. Ten days ago, a group of Brown students stole The Brown Daily Herald's entire press run, about 4,000 issues. Not stopping there, the thugs descended on the newspaper's office. They tried to force their way in and take any remaining copies of that day's edition. The group did so after the Herald ran a paid advertisement by a radical conservative that called reparations for slavery "racist" and claimed that black Americans owe more to the slave trade and to their government than it owes them. Here at Penn, the minority community in 1993 was upset with what it considered exploitation by the administration and racism by this newspaper, particularly the views of a conservative columnist and the publication of a large front page photo of a homeless, drunk black man titled "West Philadelphian." In many respects, the minority community's complaints were accurate and in desperate need of redress. But rather than seeking that, leaders of the Black Student League coordinated an action that was in clear violation of not just the University's Open Expression guidelines -- which clearly state confiscation of campus publications is a violation of Penn policy -- but also criminal law and the U.S. Constitution. The lack of outrage by both the Brown administration now and the Penn administration then was and continues to be remarkable. Penn's president at the time, Sheldon Hackney, had just days earlier been named by President Bill Clinton to head up the National Endowment for the Humanities. Until 1993, he was known as a passionate defender of the First Amendment. Yet in the interest of political correctness and his fear of further alienating the minority community, he refused to outright condemn the theft. Instead, he issued vague statements noting that "two important University values, diversity and open expression, seem to be in conflict." And after an investigation, Penn's Judicial Inquiry Office dropped all charges against the students involved, meaning that no one was ever punished for trampling on our right to free speech -- one of our most basic of freedoms. Brown's interim president, Sheila Blumstein, is taking a similar stand (or lack thereof). She first issued a statement correctly pointing out that "the most effective response to ideas... is not to silence them or intimidate those who espouse or publish them, but rather to develop effective opposing arguments through wider civil discourse." But three days later, she did an about-face and seemed to take the side of the thieves. "As a community, we have an obligation to look out for each other and to treat each other with respect. In this particular instance, supporting those members of the community who feel most hurt must also be one of our defining values." Wrong. Those students certainly had a right to be offended over the racist ad, just as the Penn students in 1993 had the right to be offended over a racist tone that sometimes pervaded the DP's pages that year. But that does not give them the right to impede the newspapers' rights to publish or their classmates' rights to be exposed to other views. Universities must be places where freedom of expression is sacred, where ideas can be exchanged, argued and debated. It is the only way for we as students to learn all that we can and to continually expand our minds to new ideas. Once we start shutting off those ideas and the dialogues that flow from them -- and supporting those who do it -- we enter a dangerous place where the authority to decide what ideas are proper for public consumption is up for grabs. That's an authority that no one should have over anyone else. Not a university president, not a student leader and not even a newspaper editor. Anyone who tries to take that authority from where it belongs -- with each of us individually -- must be loudly condemned and punished.

Biting the Ivy hand of the university that feeds them

(03/05/01 10:00am)

There's nothing quite as ugly as neighborhood politics, particularly when it involves education. And when you mix that with the painful history of bad blood between Penn and the surrounding neighborhood, you're left with an explosion just waiting to happen. Nearly three years ago, Judith Rodin announced a remarkable partnership with the troubled Philadelphia school system. Penn would donate the land for a state-of-the-art, 700-student school in West Philadelphia. It would also make a commitment to provide both financial and curricular support to the new school. The Penn-assisted school was to be the crowning accomplishment of Rodin's West Philadelphia Initiative, a project dear to the heart of a woman who grew up in the neighborhood, and one that her administration saw as central to the long-term future of the University. And then the sky came caving in. Here's a summary of the basic dispute -- Penn offers to build a school and give a world-class education to 700 neighborhood kids. The community gasps in utter horror at what they call an unwanted and arrogant intrusion into their lives. Since that sunny, hopeful day in June 1998, Penn has seen its gift horse looked squarely in the mouth; its attempt at neighborhood reconciliation instead become the epicenter of a reawakened animosity between Penn administrators and the surrounding community. There have been charges that in deciding who gets to attend the school, Penn was purposely trying to pit neighbor against neighbor. Then there were calls that for Penn to give money to just this one school is unfair -- it must give funding to all local schools (which it has for years). And now we have the displaced University City New School, forced to close down because evil landlord Penn needs to use their building for a school that will educate seven times the number of students as the New School. The result of all this was a full year of delays. The groundbreaking that was to have occurred a year ago finally happened just last week. It means that a cloud of controversy will likely always cover the building to be erected at 42nd and Locust streets. Administrators really are trying to do the right thing here. Penn could have made the school private, open only to children of faculty and staff who choose to live here. That, after all, would have accomplished the overriding goal of convincing faculty and staff to live in the same neighborhood as they work. It's the route most other urban universities have taken. But they didn't -- they promised an ethnically and economically diverse student body, and they've followed through on that promise. A year ago, parents at other local schools ignited a firestorm by criticizing Penn for not giving them money, too. One area resident actually said last February that it was "unfair for Penn to offer land to the Board of Education to build a public school." Absurd as that argument was, the University went ahead and acquiesced to what was basically extortion (it may have been for a laudable cause, but it was still extortion). And with the New School, Penn did everything it possibly could to keep the school open. Penn offered to try to integrate it into the new public school. Penn helped them find a new home and offered grants and loans to cover relocation expenses. But the small school chose to shut down and now the University is attacked for not doing even more. The whole sordid spectacle has been utterly baffling; the vitriol it has sparked, unimaginable. Isn't something better than nothing? Isn't 700 students getting a world-class education at least a positive first step? I'd be the last to say that the University is uniformly fair in its dealings with community leaders. Far from it. But this school is one of those instances where the best interests of the University coincide with the best interests of the neighborhood. It's a pretty simple equation -- Penn needs a safe, vibrant and attractive neighborhood in order to thrive. So does West Philadelphia. A first-rate public school is great for both. Unfortunately, suspicions between the two continue to run so deep that coming to any understanding is apparently impossible. Residents will never believe that Penn does anything in West Philadelphia other than provide for its own best interests. The thing is, that really doesn't matter. Penn is trying to build a great school, and there aren't a whole lot of them in the City of Philadelphia. Why the University is doing it is irrelevant. So with construction finally beginning, let's put this controversy to rest. Let's be happy for the 700 students and the opportunities they will soon have. And let's just acknowledge that this is one of those times where the University really has done something positive for the community.

Relief for Penn's financial pains?

(02/26/01 10:00am)

Imagine this: a University of Pennsylvania that didn't have the specter of financial ruin hanging over it. A little too melodramatic? Definitely. But only a little. Ten days ago, the Trustees decided not to sell any or all of the sprawling, debt-burdened University of Pennsylvania Health System. UPHS will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the University, which will still be ultimately responsible for nearly $800 million in debt. True, the Health System has begun to see the red ink subside. Rather than $200 million in losses, it's now posting modest gains, and may turn a profit of around $30 million in the current fiscal year. It is definitely a remarkable turnaround. But it will still probably take decades to retire the debt -- and it could even increase more, as no one is at all confident that even those meager profits are here to stay. It could've been different. Penn could have chosen to sell off the Health System -- made up of four hospitals and a huge primary care network -- for about $1 billion. In other words, someone was willing to not only take a monster headache away from Penn, but to pay them a huge amount of money to do so. A sale would have retired the debt with a little bit of money left over. It would have removed a large burden from the shoulders of Penn's top administrators, all of whom have spent the past three years seeing their time increasingly eaten up by Health System-related matters. Instead, Penn will spend the next year trying to turn UPHS into a wholly-owned non-profit subsidiary of the University, which isn't much different from what it is now. That's more time and money that could be directed elsewhere. "Don't underestimate the amount of work we have to do going forward," one high-ranking administrative official told me. The decision was made for a laudable reason, one not often associated with Penn these days -- the right academic move trumped the smart financial one. The Trustees decided that the Medical School's reputation would have been damaged badly, perhaps irreparably, and that its faculty would never have forgiven the University. But this may have been one of those cases where the right financial decision was also the right academic one. Not for the Medical School, maybe, but for 11 other schools that would have stood to benefit from an institution that doesn't have to worry about a health system that could still collapse under the weight of its debt. Plus, there are plenty of top-rated medical schools around the country -- Harvard University among them -- without wholly-owned hospitals, let alone multi-billion dollar health systems. And even if a sale had gone forward with a for-profit company, the Medical School would have continued to have an academic affiliation with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. (One outside buyer expressed some interest in leaving the 126-year-old HUP with Penn but purchasing the rest of the system. That too was turned down for similar reasons.) Administrators say that the financial troubles haven't directly affected the rest of the University as much as it may seem, but it does force them to approach every decision with much more caution. So the cost of keeping the Medical School happy is that every financial move Penn wants to make -- from the dorm/dining renovations to buying the postal lands -- will have to be made in the context of an institution with a huge amount of debt and the possibility of much more to come. It costs the rest of the University the ability to fully commit to large capital projects, and it costs them the services of a fully engaged president, provost and executive vice president, who will spend yet another year buried in the Health System debacle. And it costs Penn financial piece of mind down the road. Because ultimately, this new financial arrangement with UPHS isn't even that new. There will be some added protection for the University as a whole from further UPHS losses, but if things go south once again -- a strong possibility -- Penn will still be left holding the bag.

There's no good way to beat the Comeback Kid

(02/19/01 10:00am)

After Bill Clinton's 1999 Senate acquittal, Saturday Night Live aired a parody of his subdued victory speech in the Rose Garden. "I... am... bulletproof!" exclaimed Darrell Hammond, playing the wayward president. The SNL writers were right then and they're right now, and Congressional Republicans need to finally realize that the only way to beat Clinton is to let him beat himself. Let me start by saying I'm a Clinton-hating Democrat, one of those voters Al Gore was worried about offending by appearing with the scandal-riden president during the campaign. And with this latest scandal, it seems like the public has finally given up on him and is recognizing just how destructive and self-obsessed the man is. Clinton screwed up. Royally. He knows it, but as usual he can't admit it. He pardoned Marc Rich, a fugitive who cheated the federal treasury out of tens of millions of dollars. Why? Because a wily lawyer convinced Clinton that he and Rich were cut from the same cloth -- two good men brought down by unfair and overzealous prosecutors. It was a flagrant abuse of the president's constitutional right to issue a full pardon. It's tainted by the fact that Rich's ex-wife has given millions of dollars to Hillary Rodham Clinton and to the Clinton Presidential Library. Even if his reasons for doing it were legitimate, it was an unbelievably stupid political move. But fortunately for Clinton and his allies, he has a vindictive congressman named Dan Burton going after him. Burton is leading an investigation into how and why Clinton granted the pardon during his final hours in office. Arlen Specter is running a similar investigation on the Senate side, and the Justice Department has authorized an investigation into whether Rich funneled money through his ex-wife to the Clintons. Only one thing can come from all of these hearings and investigations: Clinton will have a chance to dig himself out of the hole he jumped into. The reason he survived impeachment and what was initially expected to be a tough re-election campaign isn't the economy, and it's not really his charm. It's the luck he's had in picking his enemies. The hypocritical and childish Newt Gingrich, the pious Ken Starr, the bitchy Linda Tripp. Anyone could have beaten these guys. Rep. Burton (R-Ind.) is of the same mold. He's a man possessed, having spent his years as chairman of the House Governmental Reform Committee seemingly doing nothing except investigating and attacking the president. It's almost sad to watch. He's gone up against Clinton before and lost. Now he smells blood in the water and thinks he may finally have a case. He does. But there's one thing -- Clinton has proven time and again that he is indeed the Comeback Kid. The man is invincible. Attacking him only makes his supporters support him more vehemently. And besides that, Clinton is out of office. There is nothing to be gained in going after a former president who already has his hands full fighting the devil on his one shoulder and the historians eager to pass judgement on the unfulfilled promise of his presidency. Though he wrote a self-indulgent column in yesterday's New York Times, Clinton has no real defense of his moves. Not even his closest allies are really offering one. He made a bad decision. End of story. (Although if the Republicans really wanted some good come of this, they would see it as one more reason to support McCain-Feingold and make sure that it passes.) If the Republicans were to listen to their president and drop their assorted Clinton inquiries, the scandal would end. But its memory wouldn't fade. Bill Clinton has sullied himself enough through these pardons without any help from the Republicans. But they're not listening, and as usual they will soon overplay their hand. The people will turn against the investigators. And Clinton will revel in his usual role as victim to the tactics of the evil GOP.

Enigmatic year across Ivies in M. Hoops

(02/19/01 10:00am)

NEW YORK -- If not for a mere three points over two games last weekend, Columbia -- a team with just one winning season since 1985 -- would be in first place right now. It's been that kind of year for the Ivy League. It's a year in which the Lions have swept Penn and Princeton in a single weekend, the first time a team has done that since 1989. It's a year in which mighty Princeton (6-3 Ivy League) has lost to the likes of Cornell and Dartmouth. It's a year in which Yale (6-3) sees itself sitting on top of the standings with five games to go in the season. And it's a year when Penn (6-3 Ivy, 9-15 overall) could still find itself with an NCAA berth -- despite the fact that it is now assured of a losing record in the regular season. With traditional powerhouses Penn and Princeton fielding arguably their worst teams in more than a decade, the field is wide open to perennial also-rans like Brown (5-4), Columbia (5-5) and Yale. Princeton, rocked by the losses of several key players, as well as the departure of coach Bill Carmody, was expected to struggle this season. Penn, meanwhile, was the preseason favorite to run away with the league. But both teams have been nothing but enigmas, equally mediocre. "Pretty much any team can beat any other team," Columbia forward Craig Austin said. "Overall the Ivy championship is still wide open. I wouldn't be surprised if anybody won it." No team knows that more than the Lions (5-5), who beat Penn Saturday night for the first time since 1992. "They might be the best basketball team in the league right now," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said of Columbia. Last weekend, the Lions dropped two heartbreakers to Brown and Yale -- to the Elis by two points in double overtime, and to the Bears by one point. In the Brown game, Columbia held a two-point lead with one second left, but a shooting foul behind the three-point line gave the Bears three free throws and the game. If the young Lions team --ÿwhich didn't just beat Penn and Princeton, it dominated them by a combined 29 points -- had not blown last week's games, it'd be sitting alone at the top right now. "There's definitely a part of you that thinks back and goes 'Damn,'" Austin said. "It's still hard to take. We'd be 7-3 right now, on top of the league. But we're not, we're 5-5." For the first time ever, though, five losses are not enough to count a team out of the Ivy race. The Elis, who haven't won an Ivy championship since 1962, are obviously even more in the hunt than the Lions. The team has five games remaining, including home rematches against Penn and Princeton. "We are one of the three teams that control their own destiny," second-year Yale coach James Jones told the Yale Daily News. "If we win out, we will win the championship." Brown, which won its sole Ivy title in 1986, is a game behind the Penn-Princeton-Yale triumvirate. The Bears have a game remaining against each of those teams, as well as one at Columbia. And Harvard (5-5), which upset Penn last weekend and came a buzzer-beater away from toppling Princeton, isn't out of it yet. But despite their struggles over the past several weeks, the Quakers and the Tigers are still on top of the Ivy League standings. "It's just a wonder that we still have a chance in the Ivy League, as poorly as we've played," Penn senior Geoff Owens said.

Addressing accessibility

(02/12/01 10:00am)

That was quite a sight on the front page of The Daily Pennsylvanian last week -- Bob Barchi wearing a sweater, sipping hot cocoa and sitting in front of a fire in Houston Hall. It looked almost as strange as seeing Judy Rodin dressed up as Morticia Addams last Halloween and welcoming student trick-or-treaters into her home on Walnut Street. If you didn't know better, you'd think that the administration was trying to make up for years of inattention to the student body. It would be an understatement to say that student interaction has been a major failing of the Rodin administration. Sure, every once in a while, Penn's president does something like watch Dawson's Creek in a college house or teach a preceptorial. But for the most part, the only times the average student sees her is for Convocation, Hey Day and Commencement. Provost Barchi's role should make him even closer to the student body than Rodin. His job doesn't involve as much off-campus work and, ever since the 1960s, the provost has been charged with running Penn's on-campus life. Yet Barchi is often even more of a mystery to students. Ever since the 1999 death of Michael Tobin -- which came just a few months into Barchi's term and caused a flood of ensuing controversy -- he's been guarded and reserved in his dealings with students. It seems like the former Neurology and Neuroscience professor has never been able to quite gel with the undergraduate community. Nine months ago, a DP survey found that only 19 percent of students had ever met their president, and only 32 percent had even heard of their provost. At the time, aides to the two top administrators were furious and angrily decried the poll and its methodology. But in the months since, it's become clear that both Rodin and Barchi have finally gotten the message. Yes, the results of their efforts so far have been mixed, with some events -- like Barchi's "fireside chat" and Rodin's Halloween extravaganza -- seeming a little phony. (And it's too bad that at Barchi's fireside chat last week, students apparently had to apply through the Undergraduate Assembly to attend. That's not a great way for the provost, now beginning his third year in office, to branch out and meet people beyond the cadre of student leaders he already knows.) But it is a start. It at least shows that Rodin and Barchi are trying to address their problems of accessibility and that they do want to change students' perceptions of them. Rodin, in particular, has made changing her campus image one of her major priorities this year. She even hired as one of her top aides a student from the class of 2000, Leah Popowich. Much of Popowich's job seems to revolve around finding ways to connect Rodin more to a distant student body. Throughout the past seven years, Rodin and her three provosts have badly underestimated how much of their time they should be interacting with undergraduate students. It's the reason so many of us refer to them with such derision. And it's a shame, considering how much the University has improved under their leadership. It's nice to see that they've started to realize that. No one expects Rodin and Barchi to be sitting in the dining hall philosophizing with us on a nightly basis. If that's what we had wanted, we'd have gone to a small liberal arts college rather than the sprawling enterprise that is the University of Pennsylvania. But we do have a right to expect them to have some sort of a presence in our lives. These staged gatherings are one way to show their commitment to that goal, but they won't do the trick if their aim is to convince students that they do care about them. What would be refreshing would be to see Rodin at the Palestra cheering on the Quakers more often, or for Barchi to make an appearance every now and then in the Quad, just to chat it up with some freshmen still adjusting to life at Penn. Until they follow up their promising start with non-scripted events like that, students aren't going to hold them in any higher esteem.

The start of a four-year slump

(02/05/01 10:00am)

I don't remember really worrying about college until the summer after my sophomore year in high school. I was lucky. That's rare and getting rarer as the college admissions game continues to ratchet up the intensity of the process to a level that is threatening to cripple a generation. And it's time for this country's elite colleges and universities to do something about it. Harvard University has begun to acknowledge the problem. In December, the school's admissions office released "Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation," a blunt report criticizing what has happened to the admissions process and blaming colleges for an increasing number of freshmen who are burned out from three, four or sometimes eight or 10 years of working toward admission to a top school. Indeed, the report says that between schoolwork and resume building, high-school students don't have time for anything else. And all the things they used to do to blow off steam and relieve stress -- play a sport, dance, play an instrument -- are now done themselves with the goal of helping them get into college. With all the pressures teenagers now face, they don't have a chance to grow up and figure out what they want to do with their lives. "The pace of the day and the year allows little time simply 'to be a kid' -- or, it seems, to develop into a complete human being," the report says. The trend is worrying William Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions at Harvard and the report's co-author. He told The New York Times that, "we think this generation is wonderful in every way, but we worry that unless something changes, we're going to lose a lot of them. Too many of them are going to experience one form or another of burnout, and that would be a tragedy." So what can we do to stop that result? The report puts most of the onus on the students and local school systems. It encourages them to take a year off after high school, to use a summer for recreation and for "old-fashioned summer jobs." It asks state education departments to re-examine the focus of the high school senior year, usually wasted by "senior slump." What can the institutions themselves do? "I'm not sure colleges can do much," says Marylyn McGrath Lewis, Harvard's director of undergraduate admissions and the paper's other co-author. "It seemed to us that we should just say it and get on with our business. If we didn't say what we had observed we would be remiss." But her school and the rest of the Ivy League is remiss if they don't do more. For colleges to deny that they're playing the biggest part in the pressures that students face well before they are old enough to handle it is ridiculous. "It comes down to filling classes," says Peg Cothern, a guidance counselor at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md. "[Colleges] are in the business of filling classes, and that is their primary goal. They want to look good for U.S. News." And so they encourage students to apply early by telling them it's more likely they'll get in -- that assures them of the talent they're looking for. They encourage anyone and everyone to apply -- for even if they know a student doesn't have the credentials to get in, rejecting them lowers the admission rate and increases their standing in the eyes of those who determine the college rankings. Students respond to all of that by taking more Advanced Placement classes, doing more mindless community service -- done only to gain the favor of admissions officers -- and spending every free minute doing something they can write a college essay about. We've all been through it. And it does more than burn us out. It's no coincidence that the incidence of binge drinking among high school students is what it is. I'll be honest. I have no idea what colleges and universities should do here. After all, what if they were to explicitly state that they want high school students to take it easy? The result would be that all those college counselors, who prey on the fears of students and their parents, would find new "perfect" formulas for admittance that include summer jobs and fewer AP classes. But it's time for America's elite institutions of higher learning to acknowledge the part they play in what Harvard has admitted is a dire situation, and begin to find ways to clean up their act.

Keeping up with the cats

(01/29/01 10:00am)

The public has a right to know. It's a simple statement really, but one from which nearly every ethical norm of journalism springs. That's why the names of most criminal defendants are made public upon being charged. It's why investigative reporters spend their lives looking for various improprieties. It's why reporters tell themselves that they cannot be responsible if something they publish has negative to consequences -- such a worry is far outweighed by the public's right to know. There are exceptions of course -- matters of national security, for one. The private foibles of private citizens, for another. But it's an important journalistic tenet, one that is not always popular, yet always important. So it is with the media recounts now going on in Florida. The first major results of that endeavor were released this weekend, the first of what will in the coming months no doubt be a deluge. An analysis by The Washington Post found there were likely thousands more voters who intended to vote for Gore than for Bush in the pool of "overvotes" -- ballots that registered more than one choice for president. The Chicago Tribune studied about 16,000 discarded ballots in 15 predominantly Republican counties, and found that 10 percent of them were clearly discernible votes. Gore would have netted 366 more votes had those ballots in Bush strongholds been counted. And The Palm Beach Post found that had the "dimpled" chads been counted, Gore would have picked up 682 votes in that county alone -- more than enough to swing the election. These stories are just the beginning. A consortium of news organizations are about to begin a full recount of more than 180,000 discarded ballots, which could potentially (however unlikely) prove that Al Gore is the rightful winner of Florida and the presidency. But, of course, the media has been attacked for this endeavor, in the name of patriotism and national reconciliation. "What's the purpose of counting the votes again?" critics argue. "There will never be a satisfactory answer and all it will do is open up wounds that are beginning to heal. It will make foreign leaders question the legitimacy of the U.S. government." Even if the media recount is able to really show conclusively -- which no one expects -- that Gore won Florida, it won't change anything. The former vice president will remain a presidential loser teaching classes at Columbia and UCLA while George W. Bush leads the free world. But the thing is, that's all someone else's concern, and it's not something for which the media can be blamed. Journalism is one of the very few professions where it is dangerous to judge its practitioners on the consequences of their actions. It may sound like a cop-out -- a way to rationalize one's behavior -- but the members of the media conducting this recount insist quite rightfully that they cannot be concerned with any of that. It's not their responsibility to instill faith in the government -- it's their job to release information in the proper context and leave it to others to decide what to do with it. The public is almost always served by having more information available to them, not less. As Arthur Hays Sulzberger, a former publisher of The New York Times, once remarked, "We tell the public which way the cat is jumping. The public will take care of the cat." If reporters start worrying about the short-term unpopular consequences of their stories, they lose the courage to print controversial reports that effect positive change on society. They stop covering the big stories about government scandal and the smaller stories about racism on local police forces. That's dangerous for a society that values not just a free press, but a vigorous one. So the media recount will go on, and yes, it could very well lead to the delegitimization of a duly inaugurated U.S. president. But in the end, we can't afford to have it any other way.

Welcome to a world of flacks, lackeys and spin doctors

(01/24/01 10:00am)

Dear Lori Doyle, Congratulations on your new position. Your job is one of the most important at the University, particularly given its current corporate climate. But don't expect to have much time to enjoy it. As Penn's new director of communications, you've got one of the most challenging jobs at the University -- "communicating the good news and massaging the bad," as your new boss, Judith Rodin, once put it. And one never knows when the next emergency is going to spring up. It's hard because you have to please trustees and administrators by getting this institution's name out in the press as much as possible -- for the reasons they want it to be there. Meanwhile, you have to find a way to gloss over any major screw-ups those same people make. And it's made even more difficult by the endless stream of flacks, lackeys and spin doctors that every administrator employs, in nearly every corner of dear old Penn. The Rodin administration has become the model of corporatized higher education. Nothing is more important than media spin, than doing everything possible to cover up the bad news and accentuate what it considers the good. Sometimes, it seems like the administration is just as thrilled to have a story appear in The New York Times as it is to win a Nobel Prize or Rhodes scholarship. That emphasis makes your job as coordinator of the University's overall media relations strategy especially important. But there's more to it than simply finding a way to spin the Sundance debacle or the latest lawsuit (which I know you will tell all who will listen is "baseless and without merit" -- no matter how much "merit" it actually has). Your job must also be to ensure that the students, faculty and staff of the University of Pennsylvania know all they need to know about the institution they attend or work for. Communication is more than just communicating with the national press -- it's communicating with the people this University serves; you must be an advocate of that philosophy. You must understand and believe that the members of the Penn community have a right to know about the decisions being made in their name, and you must seek to persuade those you work with and for of the same. Judging from past history, it won't be easy. But it remains important for a larger reason. The constant spin control has made students here cynical of all the school's actions. And that's a shame, because having gotten to know many officials all across this school, I do believe that the large majority of them are good people who want to give students the best educational experience possible. But at best, dishonesty breeds mistrust, and at worst outright contempt. And it's the latter that many students and staff feel these days for Penn's top officials. You can do much to change that, and I hope that you will. This school deserves nothing less than an administration whose actions are respected not just by higher education experts, but also by the people those actions affects. None of this is to say there is no value to spin -- it would be hopelessly naive, and maybe even dangerous, to expect it to disappear. As a journalist, of course, the constant spin control used to make my job at The Daily Pennsylvanian more difficult and less fun. But as a student -- in effect, a shareholder of this institution -- I know the value of good PR, and I know that higher education can no longer afford to pretend not to be a part of big business. For better or for worse, that's now exactly what colleges and universities are. But Penn is not General Motors or Phillip Morris, and its spin tactics should not and cannot be the same. I hope that by accepting this job, by returning from your brief hiatus to the Penn family, you understand that. And I hope that you can start to change a culture that has led to such mistrust from the people the administration wants to serve. Best of luck -- you'll certainly need it.

Country awaits Florida recount

(11/08/00 10:00am)

The country awoke this morning still unsure of who had been elected its new president, though it appeared certain as of this afternoon that Vice President Al Gore had won the popular vote by the slimmest of margins. Both campaigns dispatched envoys to Florida to monitor the official recount, where Bush leads by fewer than 1,800 votes, with a few thousand absentee ballots from citizens living overseas possibly still uncounted. Florida officials have said that the new count would be validated on Thursday afternoon. With 99.9 percent of precincts nationwide reporting, Gore leads Texas Gov. George W. Bush by about 170,000 votes out of 100 million cast -- a difference of just 0.2 percent. In 1960, John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by 118,574 votes en route to the presidency. In the electoral vote count, Gore now has 260 votes and Bush has 246. Oregon also remains too close to call, but mathematically it will make no difference in deciding a winner. The winner of the popular vote has not lost a presidential election since 1888, and though many pundits had been predicting that it may happen this year, they all expected that it would happen to Bush. "The vice president is excited that he won the popular vote," Gore campaign spokeswoman Kyl Spell. Spell also addressed reports of possible irregularities in precincts throughout the state of Florida. "We've been hearing some reports from the field, but we're not willing to comment on them at this time." Bush made brief remarks to the press this afternoon, saying he was confident that the recount would confirm that he had taken Florida and would thus become the 43rd president of the United States. ``This morning brings news from Florida that the final vote count shows that Secretary Cheney and I have carried the state of Florida,'' Bush told reporters in a midday appearance. ``If that result is confirmed in an automatic recount, as we expect it to be, then we have won the election.'' Gore, meanwhile, slept past noon after nearly 48 straight hours of campaigning and watching the returns. He remained cloistered with advisers or relatives in Nashville. He planned to thank campaign workers later in the day and then escape for several days to Center Hill Lake in Smithville, Tenn., not far from the Gore family farms in Carthage. Asked whether the Gore campaign would mount a court challenge if the Florida recount did not go Gore's way, campaign chairman William Daley replied: ``I doubt it.'' The election seemed to be over at around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning when the networks called the Florida race for Bush. The vice president even called Bush to concede the race at around 2:30 a.m. But as more votes came in and the margin narrowed, Gore took the probably unprecedented step of calling his opponent back to rescind his concession. The make-up of the 107th Congress was much more clear this morning than the nation's next president. The Republicans are guaranteed of keeping control of the Senate, as they now hold a 50-49 advantage with the race in Washington now too close to call. If Democrats succeed in knocking off incumbent Sen. Slade Gorton there, there would be a 50-50 tie. If Bush and Dick Cheney are elected then, Cheney, as president of the Senate, would break any tie. But if Gore and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman are successful, Lieberman would have to resign from the Senate, giving the state's Republican governor the chance to appoint a successor. Five incumbents lost their Senate seats yesterday -- Bill Roth of Delaware, Chuck Robb of Virginia, Spencer Abraham of Michigan, John Ashcroft of Missouri and Rod Grams of Minnesota. In the most closely-watched Senate race in the country, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the new junior senator from New York, defeating Republican Rick Lazio decisively. In the House, the Democrats looked as if they would pick up either two or three seats, narrowing even further a tenuous Republican majority and ensuring that J. Dennis Hastert would return as Speaker.

Public Safety head steps down after 5 years

(10/09/00 9:00am)

Vice President for Public Safety Thomas Seamon announced on Friday that he will step down after five years of running Penn's police and security operations. The former deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department will leave at the end of the month to become the CEO of TrainLogic, Inc., a security training and consulting company based out of Blue Bell, Pa. "I'm really going to miss him," said Executive Vice President John Fry, who led the search that originally brought Seamon to Penn. "Tom definitely had one of the hardest jobs on this campus, [and] he weathered it like a real gentleman." University Police Chief Maureen Rush will run the division until administrators find a permanent replacement, for which she seems to be a front-runner. Officials said they envision finding Seamon's successor by January 1. "I'm proud of what Public Safety is today, I'm proud of the people there. It's one of the best organizations of its kind in the country," Seamon said. "It's very difficult to leave but I think the division's in good hands." Seamon leaves behind a department in markedly better shape than the one he inherited in the fall of 1995. A new state-of-the-art headquarters, a double-digit percentage decrease in nearly every category of crime and a larger, more professional police force were among his biggest achievements. But he was not particularly adept at handling his division's image, and was unpopular with women's groups around campus. "Certainly there were times when people disagreed with his stance on things... it goes with his position," acknowledged Rush, who also credited Seamon's management skills. But "ultimately you have to do what's best for the University." As head of Public Safety, Seamon presided over the University Police, Special Services, Security Services and the Office of Fire and Occupational Safety. The division has been guided for the past 4 1/2 years by Seamon's "master security plan" -- drafted in the spring of 1996 -- which called for many improvements in how its employees do their jobs and the tools they use to do so. "The Public Safety division today is much expanded and much improved from what I found five years ago, [but] I can't take personal credit for that," Seamon said, explaining that the entire staff has played a role in the turnaround. One of the most important accomplishments under Seamon's watch was the opening of a new headquarters at 4040 Chestnut Street in 1997. The former warehouse which Penn paid $3.5 million to buy and renovate consolidated the entire Division of Public Safety into one location. Before then, Penn Police worked out of what is now Civic House in Hamilton Village, and other departments were scattered across campus. The centralized location, Rush said, allowed Seamon to create "a synergy that when you're in multiple buildings you would never have built." Public Safety has also become increasingly technology-focused over the past five years, which was another one of Seamon's goals when he arrived at Penn after 26 years with the Philadelphia Police. It has also built better relations with the Philadelphia Police and other area private security provide. And the number of sworn police officers on the force has grown about 25 percent -- making it the largest private department in the state. Perhaps most importantly, crime is down across the board on and around campus. "There was certainly very severe crime problems around Penn," Seamon said. "It was a tough uphill battle." Seamon's tenure has been rocky at times. A year after his arrival, a massive crime wave rocked the Penn campus, culminating in the shooting of a student walking home one night from Smokey Joe's and the stabbing death of a Penn researcher at 47th Street and Larchwood Avenue. After an outcry from students and parents -- and a significant drop in early decision applications -- Penn launched an ambitious multi-front attack on crime, which included everything from more lighting on area streets to building hubs of activity along Walnut Street like Sansom Common. According to Fry, Seamon's ability to stay calm and direct helped the University salvage its reputation. "He was the calm in the middle of the storm and we had a few storms along the way." Fry added that Seamon was one of the driving forces behind attracting more retail to campus. "He kind of opened my eyes to safe streets [being] streets filled with people," Fry said. Seamon has also been criticized for inattention to issues of women's safety and for reducing the jurisdiction of Special Services, which was formed in the 1970s after a series of attacks on women. Rush, also a veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department who has run the Penn Police since 1996, said yesterday that she is interested in the job. "I will have an opportunity to see how the position feels" as the interim head, she said. "Certainly I'm open to it." And Fry said he has "enormous confidence" in Rush. Seamon becomes the second major Public Safety official to leave this semester. Last month, Director of Security Services Stratis Skoufalos was essentially laid off when Penn restructured his department.

Breaking News: Gelsinger family files suit against researchers, University

(09/18/00 9:00am)

The family of Jesse Gelsinger today filed a long-expected lawsuit against the University for wrongful death, assault and battery and fraud, a year and a day after the 18-year-old young man died in a Penn gene therapy experiment.<P> Gelsinger died on September 17, 1999 while under the care of Penn's Institute for Human Gene Therapy. Since his death, the U.S. government has made multiple charges of wrongdoing against the Institute and its director, James M. Wilson. The incident has had widespread ramifications on the entire field of gene therapy.<P> In addition to the University as a whole, the <a href="">suit</a> names as defendants all three men who ran the experiment in which Gelsinger was enrolled -- Wilson, Mark Batshaw and Steven Raper. <P> It also names former Health System CEO William Kelley, who recruited Wilson to Penn and ran the Health System and Medical School at the time of Gelsinger's death; Arthur Caplan, the director of Penn's Center for Bioethics; Genovo Inc., the genetic research firm founded by Wilson and which until recently was a major source of funding for the IHGT; the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; and the Children's National Medical Center in Washington.<P> In a statement released today, the University expressed its remorse over Gelsinger's death but continued to deny that its researchers are to blame.<P> "The complaint filed today, by its nature, tells only one version of a very complicated and painful story," the statement reads. "Throughout the last year Penn has readily acknowledged weaknesses in IHGT's monitoring and oversight of clinical trials. At the same time, the University continues to believe that these weaknesses did not contribute to Jesse's death."<P> The suit, filed today in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, says that both Kelley and Wilson had financial ties to the IHGT's research that may have influenced their decisions.<P> The allegations in the suit are similar to ones made last winter by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which suspended all clinical trials at the IHGT last January. In May, the University announced that it would scale back the IHGT's scope, limiting it to just animal and cellular research.<P> The allegations include that researchers understated the risks of the experiment to Gelsinger, that they changed the research methodology without consulting the necessary regulatory boards, and that they failed to disclose Wilson's alleged conflict of interest.<P> <P> <P>

JOKE ISSUE: High rises to house more students

(04/10/00 9:00am)

Due to a housing shortage, all high rise rooms must accomodate one more person. Roommates will be randomly assigned. [NOTE: This article appeared in the annual joke issue.] With hundreds of students locked out of on-campus housing, the Office of Residential Living announced plans on Friday to squeeze extra people into each of the three high rises to ensure that all incoming freshmen receive housing. University President Judith Rodin ordered the move after her office received hundreds of letters and phone calls last week from parents of current students and potential incoming freshmen. The plan calls for every single in Harrison and Hamilton college houses to become doubles, while every double in Harnwell College House will become a triple and every triple a quad. Other residential halls will be unaffected. Housing officials estimate that this change will add about 500 beds to the 5,272-bed program, which should relieve the pressure that this year's enlarged freshman class added to Penn's residential system. "We know this will be an inconvenience to some students, but the fact that we have to do it at all really proves how successful the college house system has been," Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee said. Students who have already obtained on-campus housing in the high rises will receive letters in their mailboxes from Brownlee this week explaining how the change will affect them. Additional roommates will be randomly assigned, he said. "We'd like to give students the chance to pick their own new roommates, but it would be a logistical nightmare," Brownlee said. Many of those roommates will likely be freshmen who do not get housing in the traditional freshman residences -- the Quadrangle, Hill College House and King's Court/English House. Brownlee said that because of an increased number of upperclassmen choosing to stay in those residences, there are fewer beds available in those dorms for freshmen. Eighteen months ago, Penn announced an ambitious plan to overhaul its entire residential system by spending more than $300 million on renovations. That plan will add 1,000 beds to the system, mostly through building new dorms in Hamilton Village. But the overhaul is a 10-year program, and Penn will not see those additional facilities for several years. Brownlee, one of the architects of the college house system, said officials were caught by surprise by how quickly the number of students wanting to stay on campus increased. Last year was the first time since 1982 that students were turned away from the housing system. In the summer, the waiting list for housing reached 200 people, mostly transfer students who in the end spent most of their first semester living in the Sheraton Hotel. Rodin acknowledged last night that the move would be unpopular, but said students should "suck it up and deal." "What would they have me say to the potential incoming freshmen? Unless we take strong action, they will go elsewhere, and you know what that means -- a lower yield rate and a lower ranking in next year's U.S. News & World Report. And then I will never achieve perfect happiness," Rodin said. Penn Students Against Housing said yesterday they were against the new plan, and will show their opposition by becoming commuter students.