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A shower of goodbyes

(05/24/01 9:00am)

Friends and family looked for shelter as the students of the Class of 2001 braved the heavy showers on Monday morning, marking the University's 245th commencement. Despite a soggy Franklin Field, thousands of onlookers cheered for the graduates, refusing to let a little rain dampen their spirits. The University cancelled the student processional across campus in light of the dreary conditions, which was slightly disheartening. Seniors were robbed of their time honored tradition to walk side by side with their fellow classmates after four long years. In the midst of the unseasonal showers, the University unveiled its $200,000 renovations to Franklin Field for the commencement exercises. The rain masked any illusions of grandeur that were associated with the large scale project. Better luck next year. But it was the renown graduation speakers that helped compensate for the other shortcomings. Arizona Senator John McCain, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination last year, encouraged the students that the way to make a positive contribution was to be a leader, not a follower. What McCain says comes as no shock -- you have been hearing it since you got your first Penn T-shirt while you were in diapers. The school graduations also featured notable speakers, such as Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., Class of 1992 and Philadelphia Mayor John Street. President Judith Rodin, in her speech, emphasized that now it is time for the students to give back to their community. Seniors, your President has called on you to fullfill your duty. As adults entering the real world it is time to leave your mark. For the last four years, Penn has given you a place to call home and a lifetime of memories. Remain active alumni and do not forget us -- a few donations could not hurt either. So congratulations and best of luck to the Class of 2001. We hope your accomplishments will make future classes proud.

Valuing achievement

(03/08/01 10:00am)

As college students, we would all like a high grade point average. We want to prove to our parents and friends that the hours spent studying in the library or staying awake during lecture have somehow paid off. We want big-name companies to take notice of our knowledge and potential -- and then we want them to offer us lucrative internships and full-time jobs. Most of all, we just want to be the best. We want to score higher than the student sitting next to us during the Chemistry exam or handing in the Management project. And we want to have that slight edge when decisions are made regarding honor societies, awards and employment. Unfortunately, just too many of us are competing for those high grades. And an even greater number, it now seems, are running home to their parents with near-perfect transcripts. Grade inflation is a trend that has taken America's top-tier colleges and universities by storm. According to recent studies, students at Ivy League universities now routinely receive higher marks than their counterparts 20 years ago. That kind of leap may be attributed to the advanced study options available at universities today. It may be linked to the growth of the Internet as a study tool. And it may, some say, just be the result of a harder-working generation of students. But a more plausible explanation is that students today -- embroiled in tighter competition for jobs and graduate school admission -- are more adept at persuading professors to augment their grades or offer higher marks to classes as a whole. Such practices are inherently dangerous, for they establish an artificial bar of achievement that makes it difficult for any employer or admissions committee to identify real accomplishment or potential. It also undermines the legitimacy and integrity of the grading process, which should be based on an established set of distributed requirements. Obviously, each professor or instructor is entitled to establish his or her own system of evaluation. And some of those systems, naturally, are going to be more generous when it comes to high grades. But that type of variation shouldn't stop concerned parties from taking action. Administrators, professors and students at universities as a whole should work to identify just how prevalent grade inflation really is. And then those same groups must take steps to eliminate it. Only then will we have a real measure of achievement to take home to mom and dad.

Pioneering technology

(03/06/01 10:00am)

Just two years ago, the word "Napster" didn't exist. Metallica and Dr. Dre hadn't yet found their calling as legal vanguards -- they were simply performers. And college students around the world were forced to get their music through the same old channel: the music store. Oh, how things have changed. This week, the world of online music distribution was dealt a serious blow when a federal appellate court forced Napster -- a popular file-sharing service -- to begin restricting access to thousands of copyrighted songs that it had been making available for free exchange. In legal terms, the decision represents an enormous short-term victory for the big music labels. They have been vigorously arguing, and rightfully so, that Napster presents its users with an opportunity to obtain copyrighted music without compensating the artist or distributor. The recording companies may be right. In its current form, Napster's service may in fact infringe upon established laws concerning intellectual property. But that interpretation does little to account for the significant technological leap which Napster and its peers have brought to the music industry. And that development, it appears, will outlast any short-term court ruling. The simple truth is that electronic file sharing is a technology that has enormous future potential. Even if Napster is completely shut down -- which is not likely -- other companies will soon rise in its place to capitalize on the proven market and the proven technological platform. Great possibility also exists in file sharing as a means of promoting new and unheard musical acts. And even some popular performers -- such as Dave Matthews and Moby -- have decried the decision against Napster as a move against intellectual freedom. The recording labels would stand to benefit by embracing the technology which Napster has pioneered, instead of condemning it. To do otherwise risks continued music piracy, further legal battles and a stagnation of innovation in the industry that relies upon it the most.

Don't condone handouts

(03/06/01 10:00am)

To the Editor: I am writing to condemn the article in Thursday's 34th Street ("Spare change," 2/1/01) that tacitly condoned giving money to panhandlers and portrayed "James" in a sympathetic and favorable light. While a large number of homeless are mentally ill and therefore not altogether responsible for their actions, James is just the type of person who is hurt most when people give money to panhandlers. This activity is illegal for a reason. It is not only bothersome, but it keeps panhandlers on the street instead of seeking support from social services and shelters. As James says, "There's some help around, with the government... I just got to get to it." He will never get to it if he continues to receive handouts on the street. James did not move to Philadelphia eight months ago. I have been a student at Penn for four years, and he has been around since I got here. He likes to frequent the food trucks around Gimbel Gym where he earns a decent living from the generosity of the Penn community. The fact that homelessness and poverty thrive in the world's wealthiest nation is abominable. And James is right that probably most people "have enough to spare a little change." If this is the case, those people should make charitable contributions where they are most effective, to the types of institutions that combat homelessness and poverty, where people in James' situation can find a bed and a hot meal -- instead of directly into the hands of people who are often drug and alcohol abusers.

At the stroke of midnight

(03/01/01 10:00am)

To the Editor: In George W. Bush'sÿfirst address to Congress last night, he outlined his proposed budget,ÿhighlighting the $1.6 trillion tax cut over ten years. In addition, the president spoke of increasing investment in education, law enforcement, Social Security, Medicare,ÿmilitary salaries, spending $2 trillion for debt reduction and leaving another $1 trillion aside as a contingency fund. It's interesting, our new President sounds like a Democratÿ-- tax and spend, spend and tax. While some Americans want a tax cut, most want the money spent on other priorities. What Bush said in his address last night is that we can have it all. Unfortunately there just isn't enough money. Even with the most conservative budget surplus projections and a booming economy -- like that of the past six years -- it would still be difficult to even balance the budget over the next 10 years. We went down this road in 1981 with Ronald Reagan and fell into record deficits -- must we do it again? The president says that everyone's priorities are his priorities, but it is now time to be fiscally responsible. So Bush must chose between his tax cut, which would add up to $2 trillion over 10 years once interest is calculated in, andÿpaying down the national debt coupled with increases inÿsocial programs such as education. Unfortunately, at the stroke of midnight, Bush will most likely choose his tax cut and turn back into a Republican.

A sweet championship

(02/26/01 10:00am)

When Kelly Greenberg came to Penn just two years ago to take the coaching reins of the women's basketball team, she encountered a program with a long history of futility. In 30 years as a team, in fact, the Quakers had amassed a paltry 289-440 record. They had never won a Big 5 championship. They had never been to the NCAA Tournament. They had never won an Ivy League championship. On Saturday night, inside an enemy arena in Boston, Mass., Greenberg and the Quakers turned almost all those fortunes upside down. The Pennsylvania Quakers are the 2000-01 Ivy League Women's Basketball Champions. To the entire team, we extend our congratulations for an amazing season and an incredible turnaround. By defeating Harvard this weekend, the Quakers have become the first team -- of all the men's and women's teams in the nation -- to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Such a feat is certainly a great accomplishment, and deserves the applause of an admiring campus. The Quakers likewise show little sign of slowing down, as their current 18-game winning streak is tops in all of women's basketball. How wonderful it would be to see such a streak continue into the tense, single-elimination days of March Madness. Winning an Ivy League title -- especially the first -- is an incredible accomplishment. It takes the contributions of an entire team, and that entire team is worthy of recognition. But in this case, one player is especially deserving. And for that, we congratulate Diana Caramanico for a stellar season -- and a stellar career -- during which she led the Red and Blue and put together more points than any other women's basketball player in Ivy League history. Caramanico's success, as well as that of Greenberg and Erin Ladley -- who joined the elite 1,000-point club this weekend -- are all part of the new winning tradition that is Penn women's basketball. We wish them all nothing but the best as they wrap up their season and prepare for the NCAAs.

The universal measure

(02/20/01 10:00am)

The SAT has never been particularly popular. Millions of students fear taking the college placement test every year. Civil rights advocates decry it as discriminating against those of lower economic standing. And some college administrators say that it is an inherently flawed means of measuring academic potential. But despite all the opposition, one fact about the SAT is true -- it remains the most universally accepted measure of student ability in our country. This week, the president of the University of California made waves in academia by recommending that the state's system of colleges and universities drop its reliance on the SAT as a factor in its admissions process. Should the California regents and faculty accept the president's sweeping suggestion, the nation's largest state-controlled higher education system would be the first to abandon the oldest and most relied-upon measure of student potential. And that move, should it become reality, could be harmful. As college admissions becomes an increasingly competetive enterprise, the importance of consistent measures of ability and promise is going to grow even more prevalent. High school grades, recommendations and activity reports are all useful and necessary components of the admissions application. But the circumstances and standards surrounding these criteria vary tremendously, and demand an additional means of objective perspective. That's where the SAT -- despite its flaws -- still provides value. No test can predict academic performance perfectly. And, to be certain, there still exist many inherent flaws in the application and makeup of the SAT. But rather than dismantling the framework entirely, academic leaders would benefit from reworking the assessment -- rather than abandoning a measure that generally provides a clear picture of student abilities. To go in any other direction -- in California, at Penn and anywhere in between -- could threaten the integrity of a balanced admissions process.

From where we stood

(01/19/01 10:00am)

A year ago, we came to our positions as editors and managers of The Daily Pennsylvanian with the mandate to produce, night in and night out, a newspaper worthy of this University and of you, our readers. We aimed to reach new heights -- in writing and reporting, in photography and design, in Web site design and content -- while adhering to our time-honored commitment informing the University community and honoring the sacred principles of fairness and accuracy. And while we hope we have succeeded, we realize now that this enterprise is about much more than paper and ink. It is about the awesome responsibility that a free press, with its credibility on the line each day, has to the people it serves. It is about about the people who toil through the night for little pay and less recognition. And it is about hard work and team efforts and the inherent value of a job well done. We have been tested many times over the past year. The sun rose the morning after the historic November elections with no clear winner in sight, and to a nation in confusion. Controversies over gene therapy, labor rights and Penn's position in West Philadelphia have pushed our staffs to dig deeper into stories that weren't always popular but were always central to the mission of this University. Throughout, we have operated on the dual premises that the faculty, students and staff of the University have the right to know what is happening on campus and that such information should be presented without bias or judgment. At times we have failed. We promise that we've done our best and have appreciated your feedback, positive and negative, over the past 12 months. Our time here done, we leave this newspaper -- this institution -- in the hands of as capable and committed a slate of young journalists and businesspeople as we could have hoped. Good luck and godspeed to our friends on the 117th Board of Editors and Managers. We can only hope that one year from now, you feel the same sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that we do today. And to our readers, thank you for making our time in these windowless confines worthwhile. Never forget that this is your University, and that neither this school nor this newspaper can prosper absent your active involvement.

Welcome back, Billybob

(01/18/01 10:00am)

When "Best of Billybob" quietly and mysteriously shut its doors over the summer of 2000, many in the Penn community wondered what would become of the famous cheesesteak emporium at the corner of 40th and Spruce streets. To generations of Penn students, Billybob was as much a part of this campus as College Hall or Ben on a Bench. Famous for its greasy cheesesteaks and ecclectic late-night atmosphere, the establishment catered to University students and West Philadelphians alike, and prided itself on remaining open 24 hours -- a considerable rarity where most restaurants start shutting their doors around 10 p.m. Without doubt, the departure of Billybob left a void in Penn's retail landscape last fall. Gone was one of just a pair of 24-hour campus food stops, and gone too -- especially considering the pink-and-teal interior that came along with a 1999 renovation -- was one of the University's most colorful hangouts. That's why it is so welcoming to hear that Billybob will likely open its doors yet again sometime in the coming weeks. Though the details are still unclear -- especially in terms of the new menu -- it is good to know that Penn students will once again have a place to go for cold beer and snacks when the hands of the clock swing past midnight. The anticipated return of Billybob also provides much needed competition for El Diner, the University's new 24-hour restaurant on Walnut Street. By providing an additional outlet for hungry late-night diners, the new Billybob will likely help to ensure that El Diner keeps to its intended standards -- including quality offerings and low prices -- even after the initial rush of student patrons wears off.

Opening the dialogue

(12/08/00 10:00am)

Race. It's the elephant in the corner, the crazy aunt in the basement, the 800-pound gorilla that everyone knows is there but no one wants to talk about. But on an increasingly diverse campus in a racially divided city in a country known as the great melting pot, it's time we started talking about race. Over the last 10 days, in a series of articles and on the editorial page, we have joined with you in an exploration of the ways in which race defines community at Penn. We have set out to better understand ourselves. The results of our snapshots of campus life conform to the realities we all encounter on a daily basis. We interact with members of our own race to a greater extent than we do with members of other races. We participate in groups that are defined by race, and in groups that are defined by other interests but remain racially homogenous. And we choose mentors, friends and housemates of the same race as ourselves, even if we do not choose them for that reason. Some have read this exploration as an indictment of race-based groups. It is not. We have sought to understand the reasons people hew to racial lines, not to judge those reasons. Wherever we looked, we found two broad forces shaping our segregated reality: a perception that we benefit from race-based association, and a perception that our choices are made under external pressure. Equally, we found that students are of two minds about the implications of segregation: most see both benefits and costs to division along racial lines. But the most important thing we found was silence. Most students neither consider these facts nor weigh their consequences. Race has a valid place in our lives; discrimination does not. And we will never know the difference until we start talking about it.

A salute to a scholar

(12/06/00 10:00am)

For the second year in a row, one of Penn's brightest will soon be heading to the United Kingdom as a Marshall Scholar. Our congratulations go to College senior Ari Alexander, who recently earned the high academic honor and who next year will study world ethnic conflict in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Marshall Scholarship is one of the nation's highest undergraduate honors, and provides its recipients with two full years of paid study at a university in the U.K. Obviously, the competition for one of just 40 spots is always ferocious. Alexander deserves recognition for overcoming such tremendous odds. After all, he did prevail in a pool of more than 1,000 of America's most gifted and enterprising undergraduates. But his award is also much more meaningful. In a broader sense, a Marshall Scholarship is a victory for the University, as Alexander now becomes the second Penn student in the last two years to win the award after a decade-long drought. Andrew March, a 1999 College graduate, was a recipient last year. The recognition also speaks well for the future of undergraduate research initiatives at Penn. Alexander's honor is a feather in the cap of the new Center for Undergraduate Research Fellowships, and likewise a tribute to the work of CURF Director Art Casciato and Associate Director Claire Cowen. But more than anything else, Alexander's success should act as incentive for other Penn undergrads who have research ambitions. Over the last few years, the University has seen the caliber of its student body skyrocket. But as our acceptance rate continues to fall, major academic recognitions -- like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships -- haven't been as plentiful. Those students who may have an interest in doing research -- and thus taking the most active role in their own education -- should follow Alexander's lead. That's why this award is so significant, both for him and for the University. Good job, Ari.

Interaction is key

(12/06/00 10:00am)

To the Editor: In his column, "Building a university beyond the Ivy walls," (The Daily Pennsylvanian, 12/5/00) Enrique Landa made it sound as if educational programs offered on the Internet would soon be the death of the university as we know it. I think he ignored a very important aspect of a university: the education derived from our peers and the learning experience of living with them. Yes, I can read Shakespeare in the cozy corner of my room, but my understanding of his work will be very narrow without the input of teachers and the other students in my class. Many students at Penn share their ideas on life, academia and culture during late night conversations, group homework sessions, forums like the DP and by asking questions during class. These are all integral parts of an education. When most undergrads come out into the workforce, what is expected of them is not necessarily a thorough knowledge of ABC 101, but the skills developed through four years of interaction within an academic community. I felt that Landa's column completely ignored this. While the Internet is certainly a useful tool in providing educational access to those who cannot travel, it will never replace today's institutions of higher learning because what they exemplify is a community of scholars who learn not only from their texts, but also from their fellow scholars.

Expression is powerful

(12/05/00 10:00am)

To the Editor: In his column, "Building a university beyond the Ivy walls," (The Daily Pennsylvanian, 12/5/00) Enrique Landa made it sound as if educational programs offered on the Internet would soon be the death of the university as we know it. I think he ignored a very important aspect of a university: the education derived from our peers and the learning experience of living with them. Yes, I can read Shakespeare in the cozy corner of my room, but my understanding of his work will be very narrow without the input of teachers and the other students in my class. Many students at Penn share their ideas on life, academia and culture during late night conversations, group homework sessions, forums like the DP and by asking questions during class. These are all integral parts of an education. When most undergrads come out into the workforce, what is expected of them is not necessarily a thorough knowledge of ABC 101, but the skills developed through four years of interaction within an academic community. I felt that Landa's column completely ignored this. While the Internet is certainly a useful tool in providing educational access to those who cannot travel, it will never replace today's institutions of higher learning because what they exemplify is a community of scholars who learn not only from their texts, but also from their fellow scholars.

Expression is powerful

(12/05/00 10:00am)

To the Editor: In her recent column "Don't tell me. I don't want to know," (The Daily Pennsylvanian, 11/29/00) Ariel Horn writes about the dangers of gushing personal information about oneself to those who might not care. While this idea has its merits -- in such cases as bare-breasted table dancers -- the problem on this campus is not so much excessive self-expression, but rather our general adversity toward it. We walk around campus and categorize peers as mere classmates, study partners, social friends or intimate friends -- and limit both the amount of influence we allow them to have on our lives, and the amount about them we're willing to accept that strays out of those categories. It's quite pessimistic to see another's self-expression as our own excess baggage. Are we so self-involved and fragile that we cannot deal with hearing what another yet undiscovered person has on his or her plate? There is something wonderful about each and every person on this campus, something that isn't usually expressed outwardly. Listening to others with gritted teeth and rolled eyes, as Horn suggests, would be a step up from complete insensitivity, but still just the lowest form of charity. Listening with an open mind and benefit of doubt is the least one can do. But that listening, as well as anticipating the gift of another's self-expression, could defeat the common current of cynicism and acknowledging one of the miracles of human communication.

A rare appreciation

(12/01/00 10:00am)

To the Editor: As a lover of rare books, I applaud Enrique Landa's efforts to encourage his fellow students to visit Penn's rare books collection ("Finding treasures in Van Pelt," The Daily Pennsylvanian, 11/21/00). I must take issue, however, with one of his assertions in the editorial: that the Haggadah and Milton's Paradise Lost have "little in common." While this may seem a small matter, I believe an essential part of the appreciation of rare books, and of all books, is an awareness of the deep connections shared by much of literature, sacred or secular. Aside from their obvious common status as priceless books, the two works share many common attributes. Paradise Lost and the Haggadah are deemed by many to be essential reading in their respective milieux. Both works have origins in one of the books of the Pentateuch, or Torah -- Paradise Lost in Genesis, the Haggadah in Exodus. Each commemorates humans passing -- or failing -- a trial, and each imparts a key event in the story of two faiths with common origins. And perhaps most importantly, both works reflect the struggle to understand the human relationship with the figure of God.

'DP' police report flawed

(11/30/00 10:00am)

To the Editor: After reading the article "Race issues divide men in blue," (The Daily Pennsylvanian, 11/17/00) I realized the dark cloud of controversy had once again appeared over our department as a result of disgruntled employees, former and current. And what good timing, during Unity Week and the search for a new vice president for Public Safety in which Chief Rush is a viable candidate. Well, once again, you are being used by people who refuse to accept the consequences of their actions and instead claim discrimination or hide behind anonymity. When the author of the article came to our department, she said that she was doing an article on "law enforcement from a minority perspective." She was provided with a list of officers on various shifts and in various divisions. Several officers that I supervise said after being interviewed that they felt the author was looking for only negative statements about the department. Some were upset because after making time for the interview, their statements, most of which were positive, were not printed. They were also upset, as was I, by the fact that what was reported occurred in the past. I refer to the article as regurgitated dirty laundry. Former Penn Police officers who filed discrimination complaints are people who often refuse to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences for the same. I also think of past complaints that may or may not have been substantiated and they are viewed as a way into the "deep pockets" of the University for an easy settlement. It appears that only ethnic officers were interviewed for this article, as opposed to minorities. With that said, I will tell you that as a female -- a minority, last I checked -- in the sergeant capacity, I make decisions every day that affect the officers, the department and the community. These decisions, whether positive or negative, reflect upon the department as a whole. To say that these decisions are not important is an insult and shows ignorance on the part of officers who think otherwise. The so-called "growing problems" the anonymous officer alludes to may have been evident in the past, but the department of today reflects quite a difference. As far as Chief Rush being the problem, I don't see it. Maureen Rush has done more for the development of minorities in this department than any past director, commissioner or chief. If there is any preferential treatment on her part, it is towards those people who go above the normal standards to do their job. I was disappointed in the article considering the fact that it was Unity Week. I think our department has made significant steps to prevent offensive behavior, harassment and discrimination toward fellow employees and those we serve. For those who have problems of this nature, it is important that they come forward and have the issue addressed and corrected. No one wins when such allegations are made in the form of anonymous statements to someone who is looking for sensationalism.

Snack around the clock

(11/29/00 10:00am)

Several years ago, the student body asked the University for an all-night campus diner offering affordable fare and a comfortable atmosphere. The administration responded with Eat at Joe's, and students soon learned to close their wallets to the ill-conceived and poorly executed exercise in corporatized kitsch. Now, however, it appears that Penn officials have learned from that mistake. And we -- and our stomachs -- hope to be very pleased by the end result. The new El Diner restaurant is scheduled to open in the teal-and-chrome vacancy at 3925 Walnut Street in mid-January. It promises to stay open 24 hours a day, offer a menu of inexpensive items and bring about the ultimate demise of Eat at Joe's faux '50s interior. Should it open on time -- hardly a given in light of the University's recent track record with retail -- and deliver on these counts, we will be very pleased. Indeed, if the reality lives up to the hype, El Diner will represent a clear case of the administration eventually listening to the concerns of the student body. As we again embark on a period of term paper deadlines and pre-exam cram sessions, the need for a place to get a cup of coffee at four in the morning will become all the more obvious to the student body. Here's to hoping for cheap, all-hours dining on campus at this time next semester.

No penalty too severe

(11/29/00 10:00am)

Four years ago, while on the staff of Harvard Medical School, Penn Ophthalmology Professor Evan Dreyer falsified data in a grant application to the National Institutes of Health. For that blatant act of misconduct, Dreyer agreed to a 10-year ban on federal research funding earlier this month, but that penalty is not sufficient. He should also lose his job at Penn. As the recent controversy in the University's beleaguered Institute for Human Gene Therapy demonstrates, a researcher's inclination to play fast and loose with protocol can have grave consequences. Penn needs to have a zero-tolerance policy on flagrant, willful research misconduct, and on that basis, Dreyer must go. We are further troubled by the fact that when Dreyer was hired by Penn in 1997, he was already the subject of a federal investigation over his NIH funding request. Health System spokeswoman Rebecca Harmon said that the University was unaware of the charges at the time. This, however, evidences the same kind of lax institutional oversight that we witnessed in the IHGT affair. Just as the Medical School's Institutional Review Board fail to readily observe the misconduct in Director James M. Wilson's gene therapy trials, so too did someone drop the ball by not thoroughly vetting a potential addition to the faculty. Researchers, especially in the field of medicine, hold the lives of patients in their hands, and no violation of this public trust can be condoned.