1982-2002: In the decades leading up to the new millennium, the University finds itself embroiled in the culture wars, celebrates its 250th anniversary, elects its first woman president, and rises in the rankings.

1982 | Former Penn president Gaylord Harnwell Hon’53 dies. The Alumni Center, named for longtime head of development E. Craig Sweeten C’37, opens in the former Delta Tau Delta fraternity house at 3533 Locust Walk.

1983 | An alleged gang rape at Alpha Tau Omega fraternity leads to widespread public outcry and protests from all sides about the University’s response to the incident. After multiple hearings and litigation, the fraternity is temporarily suspended.

1984 | The Penn Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association (PennGALA) is established.

1985 | After animal-rights activists break into and wreck the Head Injury Clinical Research Laboratory in protest against experiments there, Penn suspends primate research at the clinic.

1986 | Responding to student protests, the University trustees vote in January to consider divesting from companies doing business in South Africa in 18 months without substantial progress on ending apartheid. Penn garners its fifth consecutive Ivy title in football, and its fifth undefeated season ever. Commencement moves outdoors to Franklin Field.

1987 | The Trustees Council of Penn Women is formed. Anniversaries include the Institute of Contemporary Art’s 20th, the Glee Club’s 1ooth, and Mask & Wig’s 125th. The trustees vote in favor of divestment.

1988 | The Gazette publishes a special report on AIDS. An exhibition of photos by Robert Mapplethorpe at the ICA sparks protests. Students also protest a ban on beer kegs by wearing CCCPenn T-shirts. Fran Dunphy joins Penn as assistant basketball coach, promoted to head coach the following year.

1989 | President Sheldon Hackney Hon’93 writes an essay responding to attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts by Senator Jesse Helms and his allies. The University launches the Campaign for Penn with a goal of $1 billion.

1990 | The University celebrates its 250th anniversary with fireworks and a big birthday bash featuring performances by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers and a speech by former President Ronald Reagan. The Gazette publishes a commemorative double issue in February-March 199o, including a capsule history of the University (which omits the magazine’s founding in 1902).

1991 | The Persian Gulf War prompts campus rallies. After protests, Smith Hall is demolished to provide a site for the Vagelos Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, completed in 1997.

1992 | Al Bagnoli is named Penn’s football coach. Dormitories for married students are opened to gay, lesbian, and unmarried heterosexual couples. 

1993 | President Hackney resigns to become head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. A pair of race-related events—the “water buffalo incident” and the destruction of 14,ooo copies of The Daily Pennsylvanian deemed offensive by a group originally signing itself “the Black Community”—puts the University at the center of the raging public debate over free speech vs. political correctness.

1994 | Yale provost and Penn alumna Dr. Judith Rodin CW’66 becomes the University’s—and the Ivy League’s—first woman president. The Penn Relays cross the century mark. The Campaign for Penn concludes with $1.3 billion.

1995 | After 25 years, Anthony A. Lyle C’61 retires as Gazette editor. The University launches a five-year strategic plan, titled “The Agenda for Excellence.” 

1996 | Houston Hall’s Centennial and the 50th anniversary of ENIAC are celebrated. John Prendergast C’80 is named editor of the Gazette. A campus crime wave —including robberies, shootings, and a murder—prompts new security measures and spurs efforts to improve neighborhood relations. Kelly Writers House opens at 3805 Locust Walk.

1997 | Penn cracks the top 10 in the US News & World Report rankings, tying with Dartmouth in seventh place. Alumnus Dr. Stanley Prusiner C’64 M’68 wins the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

1998 | Penn announces partnership with the school district and teachers union to create a pre-K-8 public school in West Philadelphia. The new University Bookstore opens in Sansom Common at 36th & Walnut, with the Inn at Penn hotel and retail and restaurants to follow. The 25th anniversary of Penn’s women’s studies program is celebrated. New undergraduate residential system of 12 “college houses” is inaugurated.

1999 | The death of Jesse Gelsinger, an 18-year old participant in an experimental gene-therapy trial, leads to the suspension of clinical trials at Penn’s Institute for Human Gene Therapy and an FDA investigation of IHGT head Dr. James Wilson. Alumnus Dr. Ahmed Zewail Gr’74 Hon’97 wins the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

2000 | Widespread worries about Y2K computer failures and other disasters prove unfounded. Chemistry Professor Alan MacDiarmid wins the Nobel Prize. Perelman Quadrangle, the renovation and construction project linking Houston, Logan, and Williams Halls and Irvine Auditorium around the new Wynn Commons, is opened.

2001 | Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon kill thousands, including 16 Penn alumni. The 125th Celebration of Women at Penn brings 1,2oo alumnae to campus for two days of events marking the century-and-a-quarter since the first women were admitted to a degree-granting program at the University.

2002 | Penn is fifth in the US News & World Report rankings. Milestones (other than the Gazette’s Centennial) include the 5oth anniversary of the veterinary school’s New Bolton Center, the 90th of the Association of Alumnae, and the 10th of the Center for Community Partnerships. Penn announces a new strategic plan, “Building on Excellence,” to solidify and extend the gains of recent years.

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