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COLUMN: Missing a piece of the puzzle

(10/05/98 9:00am)

From Michael Mugmon's, "The Way It Is," Fall '98 From Michael Mugmon's, "The Way It Is," Fall '98Here at Penn, someone is missing. It's not really a professor, and it's not exactly a dean. It's not really a student or a staffer, but it's not just an administrator either. I only know that this person is absent. Very absent -- and has been for nine months. And the void might hurt Penn's academic mission more than you'd like to believe. So, who is missing here at the University of Pennsylvania? A permanent provost, that's who. On Halloween Day 1997, then-Provost Stanley Chodorow -- his hands full with a very public hunt for various university presidencies and wary of drawing attention away from more pressing issues -- announced his plans to exit the position he'd held since 1994. Little more than a month later, University President Judith Rodin tapped Deputy Provost Michael Wachter to fill in as interim provost. At the time, Rodin said she hoped to appoint Chodorow's permanent replacement by summer 1998. When Chodorow officially stepped down and returned to the History Department on January 1, Wachter -- a 29-year Penn veteran and a brilliant scholar of economics and the law -- began what he believed would be a "short term" in the interim spot. Rodin and Wachter's expectations for a quick transition seemed right on track when, just 11 days after Wachter took over as interim provost, Rodin selected a 15-member provost search committee. Consisting of 11 faculty members, two undergraduates and two graduate students, the committee would be charged with conducting a national search for top provost candidates based on vision, past performance, motivational and strategic techniques and a genuine affinity for academia. And as for whether or not the committee could select an internal candidate, Wharton School Dean and Committee Chairperson Thomas Gerrity said, "The committee will consider candidates from inside the University as well as from nationally recognized teaching and research universities across the country." All signs pointed toward an efficient process and the selection of a top-notch candidate by the administration-designated July 1 deadline. Jump to the present. October 1998. Summer has long since passed, and Chodorow has attempted to shed his "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" image by scoring a job at the helm of California Virtual University. Much more important, however, Rodin has yet to announce a provost candidate, revealing the fiction of Wachter's "short term." With Rodin and committee members mum on the closed process, the situation sadly resembles the painful search for a permanent dean of the School of Arts and Sciences after Rosemary Stevens resigned in September 1996. There again, administrators and the SAS dean search committee hoped to have a dean in place by July -- well in time for the start of the 1997-98 academic year. But the search dragged on past September for another full semester until Rodin named Sociology Professor Samuel Preston dean December 15. So far, so good with Preston. He has begun to revitalize SAS departments and faculty, and he just received an unrestricted $10 million donation. Faculty and students alike seem quite happy with him. But why wasn't Preston chosen sooner? Admittedly, he had reservations about accepting the job. Nonetheless, he was right under Rodin's nose, and it should never have taken 15 months to select him. Similarly, Wachter has performed his interim duties well, namely keeping things running smoothly and preparing for an easy transition. As interim provost, he has done solid work in the realm of distributed learning, made nice progress on the construction of Perelman Quadrangle and helped to keep the 21st Century Project -- Penn's broad initiative to focus on interdisciplinary study and to provide research opportunities to undergraduates -- moving along. Nonetheless, the "interim effect" paralyzes Wachter to an extent, and since the provost is considered the University's chief academic officer, such a freeze allows Penn to run the risk of becoming stagnant in terms of academics and broader projects. Instead of allowing Wachter and the University to push full speed ahead into new, exciting territory, the excessive wait forces Wachter simply to keep the ship steady. As college house mastermind David Brownlee said last fall, "You won't find the creation of new projects under an acting provost." Additionally, the fact that Wachter doesn't know for certain if he is a candidate for the permanent provostship somewhat immobilizes him, causing him to walk on occupational eggshells. If not, the committee needs to get rolling. If, however, a short list of excellent candidates exists, Rodin is the one who needs to get rolling, and she needs to make a choice sooner rather than later. In choosing Chodorow, the old provost search committee took a mere six months to select him as the top candidate. This time, the search has gone on too long. There is no way the committee hasn't already presented a list on which at least one candidate -- be it external or internal -- would be perfect for the job and willing to come to the University. Please, for the sake of Penn academics, find the missing permanent provost now.

COLUMN: 'Learn something' about God

(04/03/97 10:00am)

From Amar Kosaraju's, "And Justice For All," Fall '97 From Amar Kosaraju's, "And Justice For All," Fall '97 In my first week of college, I was approached by students from Campus Crusade for Christ who graciously wanted to save my soul. I explained to them I was a Hindu, but they continued to explain to me the wonders of Christianity. I was so disturbed because of their sheer arrogance in denying my beliefs and my faith. We do not have this doomsday philosophy of everybody being a sinner, but believe in the purity of the soul. In Hinduism, we believe in the concept of karma -- good and bad deeds decide your fate and not some external force. Our God does not sit in judgement of us, but looks for us to improve ourself in thought and action, thereby understanding the true nature of the world. We do not believe in our gods because they performed some "sideshow" miracles or because of a fear of hell, but because our religion is founded on a relationship of learning between our gurus and followers. While we accept every religion as different ways to reach different people, it must be obvious to you that Hinduism is the true path to God, so I urge you all to become Hindus. Growing up in this Christian society as a Hindu, I have been constantly battered with pro-Christian philosophies. Not only do I get every "Bible" question wrong on Jeopardy!, but I am also forced to listen to my eventual doom. In eleventh grade, my English teacher told me I was a pagan and my beliefs were essentially wrong. She told me to imagine the scenario of an escalator going to heaven and all those believing in Christianity having a ticket to get on this escalator to the pearly white gates. I told her that according to Hinduism we are all able to get different tickets to get on that same escalator. Unfortunately, she felt my escalator was going in the downward direction. In graduate school, I got a flier in my mailbox advertising a Christian Society Meeting along with a few passages from the Bible. One of the passages told me of my future damnation for not accepting Jesus and told me essentially my religion is wrong. This message infuriated me because they were not trying to educate me but were trying to convert me. It is the disguise of let us "educate you about our religion," when they really want to say, "let us convert you to Christianity," that completely offends me. This week there was a supplement published proclaiming "Jesus Week," and telling us to simply "learn something." The first page discussed the existence of God. The second page discussed Jesus as God. The third page gave us proof that Jesus is God. The following pages told us how we could follow God. I was suppose to "learn something," but it seemed to me I was suppose to learn why I should become a Christian. It is not my intention to attack Christianity or any other religion, but to promote an understanding and respect for different religions. It is as offensive to be targeted by Hari Krishnas or Jehovah's Witnesses. Each religion has an inherent value and is unique in providing a social and moral framework to different people in various countries. In the U.S., most people practice Christianity with its philosophies spilling into our educational and political systems. A great amount of charity work performed in this country is done by Christian-based organizations. In India, many of our schools were established by Christian missionaries. The state in India with the highest literacy rate is the state in which the missionaries spread the Christian philosophies. I do not question the value of Christianity or the absolute good that it's philosophies bring about. In fact, many Hindus believe Jesus is a reincarnation of one of our gods, so we accept many Christian doctrines. But I do object to the infringement of other people's religious rights. I should not be told what I believe is wrong or be told that I will end up in hell. The path to God for each of us is a unique experience based on many different factors. We each have beliefs that are a culmination of our environment, our families, our experiences and our religion. In the Jesus Week insert, the front page had the message in bold red letters "Learn Something." Let's follow the message by not only learning about our individual faiths, but open our minds to understand the faiths of other people so we can better understand and appreciate the different paths to each of us take to our gods.