To state the obvious, this has been an unusual issue of the Gazette to put together.
It’s early April as I write this. We were about halfway into our editorial cycle when the University announced the decision to have all but essential employees work remotely; sent the vast majority of students home from campus and shifted classes online for the remainder of the semester; and cancelled spring events, including Alumni Weekend and Commencement.
We have a story in “Gazetteer” by associate editor Dave Zeitlin C’03 detailing that sequence of events, and President Gutmann also offers a message to the alumni community in “From College Hall.” But most of the other content in these pages was conceived and largely executed in the days before the novel coronavirus reshaped our daily lives—which may make it seem woefully beside the point or a welcome relief (or both).
Our cover story, “Inequality Economics,” by senior editor Trey Popp, takes as its point of departure a moment from the distant past—September 2019, when “the US economy has just posted its 123rd consecutive month of growth, extending the longest expansion in the country’s history” and “the annual federal budget deficit also just crossed the $1 trillion mark.” But the issues raised in the story, which focuses on the work of Benjamin Lockwood, an assistant professor of business economics and public policy at the Wharton School, may be more relevant than ever as society wrestles with issues around taxation and wealth inequality going forward.
To my shame, I wasn’t part of the Daily Pennsylvanian during my student days, but I’m familiar with—not to say envious of—the devotion and sense of camaraderie former staffers feel for the institution. In “Paper Man,” Molly Petrilla C’06—a proud former editor of the Summer Pennsylvanian—profiles perhaps the one constant (aside from lack of sleep) in the DP experience: general manager Eric Jacobs EE’80, who is retiring after 40 years on the job.
Building on a temporary gig to introduce computers into the newsroom, Jacobs has spent his career helping generations of students get out the paper (and more recently, the blogs, podcasts, videos, social media posts, etc.); keep the lights on and the equipment running; and ensure that Penn’s independent student media organization weathered the successive upheavals that have threatened it over his tenure.
Among the most significant of those challenges has been the growth of the internet. In “Dotdash Rising” Alyson Krueger C’07 profiles Neil Vogel W’92, who has been working in digital media since the 1990s. Most recently, as the CEO of Dotdash, Vogel has succeeded in resuscitating the familiar but faded website About.com—its constituent parts, at least—thereby managing one of the few second acts in this notably unforgiving industry.
As we take our daily exercise warily on the lookout for heedless joggers and others careless about social distancing guidelines, photographer and community organizer JJ Tiziou C’02 reminds us of the loose, relaxed joy of going for a long walk with friends—though his excursion is more quirky and adventurousthan most. In “The Edge,” Tiziou writes about the latest iteration of his annual project of walking around the city of Philadelphia and also shares photographs of what he and his companions saw along the way.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was researching old issues of the magazine for the Gazette’s upcoming centennial in 2002 when the news came. I remember writing about how my wife and I took our daughter, released early from daycare, to the playground, and the recurring dread that an attack would happen again, suddenly, out of the blue sky.
The current crisis is different of course—a combination of terrifyingly rapid change and agonizing slow motion as we watch the case count and death toll rise and wait to learn whether the measures put in place will succeed in “flattening the curve.”
(As a historical side note, I only recall finding one article that mentioned the 1918 influenza pandemic in our archival searches, a relatively brief item about medical students and others helping care for the sick and keep hospital rooms clean.)
We should all know more by the time this Gazette reaches you. In that first issue after 9/11, we published a special section of the magazine compiling campus reactions to the attack, speculations about the future, and related experiences of alumni. We’ll hope to bring you something along those lines in Jul|Aug. In the meantime, best wishes and stay well.
—John Prendergast C’80