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“An appropriate epithet to characterize Claire Fagin’s brief but high-impact presidency would be ‘The Healer.’”

Article Neglected a Critical Part of Penn’s Story


I read with great interest John Prendergast’s article, “Building Blocks” [Nov|Dec], on the new book Becoming Penn: The Pragmatic American University, 1950-2000]. Regrettably, the story is incomplete. In examining the legacies of past Penn presidents, School of Nursing Professor and Dean Emerita Claire Fagin Hon’94’s time as interim president of the University is a critical part of the story. She not only paved the way for future women leaders of Ivy League institutions, but also laid the groundwork for the lineage of Penn presidents who followed.

Dubbed “The Year of Coming Together,” (The Uncommon Community, President’s Report, The University of Pennsylvania, 1993-1994), Dr. Fagin inherited a community fractured by accusations of racism and stifling free speech. She put forth a detailed plan for the immediate implementation of the recommendations made by the Commission on Strengthening the Community, many of which serve as the foundation for our policies today. Additionally, she created numerous opportunities for open dialogue—from Town Meetings to nationally televised debates—and thoughtfully fostered a culture here at Penn that placed a high value on freedom of expression, respect, and inclusion.

Dr. Fagin could have easily assumed the role of caretaker, but her role as interim president should never be dismissed as such. Rather, an appropriate epithet to characterize her brief but high-impact presidency would be “The Healer” (Wagner Magazine, Fall 2011). The strategies she employed are a lesson in how to bring people together to discuss their differences and discover their similarities—something still relevant on campuses today. She should be celebrated and credited with rebuilding the Penn community and keeping the University on the path to a greater understanding of the core values and principles that continue to guide our diverse community. For someone who valiantly championed the value of respect at Penn, it’s both critical and appropriate for us to give her ours.

Antonia M. Villarruel GNu’82 Professor and Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing

Of necessity, there was a lot of history that got left out of the article on Becoming Penn , but it was thoughtless not to include Dr. Fagin’s presidency. We’re happy—with Dean Villarruel’s help—to rectify that omission here. —Ed.

And What Happened to the 1940s?

Enjoyed the story about the new history Becoming Penn, but did I miss any comment about what happened between 1940 and 1950? Seems strange to have one history cover the years between 1740 and 1940 and its sequel start in 1950 without an explanation of the missing decade.

The years 1940-1950 were not uneventful ones for the University: first a flood of V-12s and other officer-candidate potentials, then the huge mass of us returning veterans that totally changed undergraduate life. The role of women began to change, too.

“We got back a little late, Pennsylvania ’48” meant something to many of us. But not to Penn?

William A. Mehler Jr. C’48 Lancaster, PA

Ben Franklin Would Have Been Appalled

“Building Blocks” might well have described a real-estate development with hardly a hint that Penn is a university. The fleeting reference to “the Water Buffalo incident … well known, of course” makes supererogatory that “Ben Franklin’s University,” as Penn likes to call itself, proclaims that it is not bound to obey the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech because it is “private,” even though it is dependent on substantial public aid, without which it could not exist. Ben Franklin would have been appalled! Punishing student speech was involved in the Water Buffalo Case, a scandal that circled the globe. When I lectured in Australia and New Zealand on freedom of speech on behalf of the United States government, I was confronted as a Penn graduate, with the question: “What happened to Penn?”

Nor was Water Buffalo an isolated incident. When the Penn Law School threatened to punish editors of a student publication for a “roast” of a professor, President Judith Rodin refused to condemn the law faculty, claiming that it apologized and that was assurance that Penn would not again punish speech. There was no apology. Nor was that the last of Penn’s violation of student speech. What a pity that a university does not protect freedom of speech as a matter of education, even if there were no First Amendment.

I attempted to meet with Penn presidents to discuss freedom of speech and was rebuffed. Penn’s refusal to obey the First Amendment was far more important to discuss in “the University’s development” in the Gazette review than all the real estate that Penn has acquired.

Burton Caine C’49 Philadelphia

The writer is a professor at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. —Ed.

Building Memories

I am a 1959 graduate of the College of the University of Pennsylvania. My time at this great school is still fondly remembered as a huge part of my then young life even now 56 years later. This is why I am so very thankful that you keep sending me copies of The Pennsylvania Gazette every time you publish a new edition.

Whenever I get another issue, I am always very impressed with the quality of writing and the significance of the articles in it. Surely this publication is equal to any of the finest journals printed.

Specifically, I must comment on the article “Building Blocks,” because this filled me in on the history of how the physical part of the school has been constantly growing both before I got there and afterwards.

So please keep up all the good written work you have been doing; it surely helps strengthen our fond memories of dear old Penn.

Steve Bland C’59 Lexington, TN

Return the Sphinx!

You feature the University Museum’s 15-ton red granite sphinx of Ramses II in your Nov|Dec 2015 issue [“Gazetteer”]. But all ancient artifacts, such as the Elgin Marbles, should be returned to their place of origin, from which they were taken without permission of the people or the government there.

What is so important about having this sphinx in the University Museum? Does it convey wisdom? Does it solve the problems of the world and our country? Does it tell us what the future may bring?

There is even the danger that the past becomes a deadening weight on forward movement! Yes, the past is important, but what truly counts is the present for which the past barely if at all ekes out direction. The past is no longer here. It is to the future that we must look!

Look at this sphinx and you see a vast sculpture stripped of its provenance! A lone and forlorn object removed from its homeland. No matter how fine the scholarly descriptions there can be no real sense of what this sphinx once was in those desert wastes so far distant in time and space from the University Museum!

Josef W. Wegner, associate curator in the museum’s Egyptian Section [and coauthor of The Sphinx That Traveled to America, which was the subject of the story], admits as much when the book quotes from a newspaper’s fictional interview with this sphinx! “What are these fragile buildings—not a pyramid I see. Where’s the palace, where’s the temple, where’s a home for such as me?”

Dr. Wegner says that people have fun with the Sphinx of Ramses II. But this sphinx, in the words of the University Museum, “represents the Egyptian king as a protector of his people and conqueror of the enemies of Egypt.” What would we think of people having fun with the Jefferson Memorial or the Lincoln Memorial?

In short, there is cuteness to the article that belies the essential importance of the sphinx in the ancient Egyptian world!

Stephen Schoeman L’67 Westfield, NJ

Who’s Responsible?

Re “Sleeper Squad,” on new men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue [“Sports,” Nov|Dec]: in 2010, when then-athletic director Steve Bilsky W’71 appointed Jerome Allen W’09 as coach, after firing Glen Miller in midseason, he stated that Jerome was the only person for the job at that point. Surely he meant for the rest of that season. Allen had no coaching experience. What happened instead was, in my opinion, hardly the first choice of the AD, himself a Penn basketball great.

The result was predictable. This season, men’s basketball is twice on the “B” half of a Palestra doubleheader, the women’s team taking its place (against Duke and Princeton). Whether planned or not, the buck stops at the President’s office. Jerome coached his last game before a few thousand at the Palestra in a 20-point loss to Princeton last March, is marked down as a failure, while the responsibility of the decision-makers goes unmentioned. To say that stinks is not a reflection on the writer of the article.

Jay A. Gertzman Ed’61 Gr’72 Edgewater, NJ

Win and Found

As if Penn’s dramatic football victory over Princeton on Homecoming Weekend was not enough, I can report the following wonderful postscript:

I had celebrated Penn’s victory rather enthusiastically (as usual), and I noticed after the game that my Penn class ring was gone.

I realized that it must have flown off my hand during the celebration, but a search of our section was unsuccessful. I called the ticket office on Monday, and the staff member said, “You are in luck. The gentleman who found it just called,” and gave me his telephone number.

I want to thank Tom Curtiss C’66 WG’68, who found the ring in Franklin Field—and who cared enough to take it home, contact the ticket office, and send it (insured) back to me. It is a nice story to add to the victory over Princeton, and a testament to the bond among Penn Alumni. Thanks again, Tom!

Steve Sokolow C’77 New York


I haven’t seen Penn play as thrilling a game as in the victory over Harvard for at least 67 years—or since the 1948 “150s” beat both Princeton and Villanova.

Sidney Filderman W’49 Westport, CT

For more on the football team’s late season surge, see this issue’s “Sports.”  —Ed.

Obsessed with Moderation

I enjoyed reading Rachel Buff’s prose ode to Sweden [“Notes from the Undergrad,” Nov|Dec]. I, too, had an early interest in Sweden because my grandmother was born in Gothenburg.

There was another element, though: as a German-Swedish-American youngster in the 1960s, shocked when I first heard of the Holocaust, I chose with childhood logic to focus more on my Swedish than my German roots, inspired partly by Raoul Wallenberg’s anti-Holocaust efforts. (Only years later did I find out that the country as a whole had a spottier WWII record, such as doing brisk iron-ore business with the German munitions industries and allowing use of their tracks by German trains during the occupation of Norway, long resented by Norwegians.)

I was not aware, even after classes in Swedish at Penn with a Swedish teacher, of their focus on lagom. I agree with Rachel Buff, though, that Swedes don’t mind the contrast of her “obsession.” My personal “take” on Swedes, ethnically, is that they—or we—have a deep need of something to be intense about. Their whole-hearted adoption of the lagom concept, and their cradle-to-grave socialism (and resulting taxation), among other things, seem to bear that out.

To my mind, this in fact lies at the root of all that “moderation”: their public figures may point out that “the times of the Vikings are long past,” but as you grow up you find that the Viking genes are still there. The Swedish hockey team has sometimes been called “chicken Swedes” for not liking to start fights—but they know what fighting can cost and don’t do it lightly. We don’t like what it brings out in us. You need tighter controls on a nuclear reactor than on a wood stove.

Ken Rumbarger C’78 Trooper, PA

Pass-Along Power

I want to share a story about the worldwide reach of The Pennsylvania Gazette. This past July I received an email from a Mary Watkins in Massillon, Ohio, telling me she had just read my article, “Return to Kirchberg” [“Alumni Voices,” Gazette, Mar|Apr 2014], about my husband’s return to Luxembourg 40 years after he had been briefly housed by a local family during the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two. She had received the article from Michel Lamesch, an 85-year-old Luxembourg resident who was the son in a family that had welcomed her father at about the same time, and whom she had contacted after finding a photo of Michel with her father on the website

Michel had received my article from his brother, Fernand, who lives in Manhattan, where I now live, and who had received it from John Krieger W ’85 WG’90, who had sent it to several friends with ties to Luxembourg. Michel tracked down Maria, the only survivor from my husband’s Luxembourg “family,” now 90 years old. I began a correspondence with both Michel and Maria.

Then, this past November, my daughter and a friend, who live in Germany, visited Luxembourg, where they were warmly welcomed by Maria’s family and by Michel, and again received thanks for the bravery and help given to this little country by American forces.

Most recently, I attended, at Fernand’s invitation, a moving event in New York sponsored by the Luxembourg American Chamber of Commerce honoring “Bulge” veterans and introducing Benjamin Patton, General George Patton’s grandson, who has just written a book about his military family. There I met John Krieger in person. The next chapter in this saga will be written the next time I go to Europe to visit my daughter and her family and we all “return to Kirchberg.”

Sally Wendkos Olds CW ’55 New York

Sally shares another piece of her personal history in this issue’s “Alumni Voices” essay. —Ed.

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