As I write this, shortly before the Gazette goes to press, it is almost exactly 17 years since Penn President Amy Gutmann—at her inauguration on October 15, 2004—first announced the Penn Compact.
Gutmann attributes the compact’s staying power to the fact that its goals of inclusion, innovation, and impact speak to something fundamental in the nature of the University and the Penn community. “The highest compliment that I have gotten is that ‘the Penn Compact isn’t yours, it’s ours,’” she says. “It has exceeded my highest expectations because it became so quickly ‘our Penn Compact.’”
We reported in the last issue on President Gutmann’s nomination as US ambassador to Germany, but how and when her Senate confirmation will play out remains uncertain. After emphasizing in a September interview that Gutmann remains “100 percent committed to the University” and is “doing the job with the same intensity and energy” as she always has, board of trustees chair Scott L. Bok added, “Because we know how Washington works, this is not going to be an overnight process, so we do have some more time with Amy at the helm and that’s terrific.”
Still, this issue seemed an appropriate time for a look back, if not yet a sendoff. The University has recently completed a highly successful fundraising effort, The Power of Penn: Advancing Knowledge for Good, which at $5.4 billion blew past its initial goal by $1.3 billion [“Gazetteer,” this issue]. That was a record-setting total, as was the $4.3 billion raised in the previous Making History campaign, completed in 2012. Universities don’t get to advance their priorities without resources, and Gutmann has raised in the neighborhood of $10 billion as president so far.
The latest campaign—and everything else—was of course profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic that struck in early 2020. Gutmann led the lockdown of the campus in March of that year, the shift to remote learning and teaching for students and faculty and to remote work for University staff, and the gradual resumption of normal(ish) operations as time went on. With vaccine mandates, indoor masking, and extensive testing protocols, Penn has so far managed to keep cases low, avoiding the outbreaks that have affected some other schools.
Our retrospective package includes “Compact Fulfilled,” highlighting some of the singular achievements and challenges of Gutmann’s tenure, and “Rational Exuberance,” an interview with the president, in which, among other things, she reflects on reopening the campus and greeting her final class of first-year students in September, what she’ll miss most about the University, and what the experience of leading Penn has meant to her.
Also in this issue, frequent contributor JoAnn Greco—who has been making something of a specialty writing articles for us that assess the effects of the coronavirus on different aspects of society (cities, the nursing profession, healthcare delivery via telemedicine)—takes a look at the tentative return of live theater after its pandemic-induced, year-and-a-half intermission.
For “Curtain Up!” JoAnn interviewed a cross-section of alumni involved in theater production—on and off Broadway in New York, as well as in Philadelphia and elsewhere. They described the scary, surreal moment when everything stopped and the frustrating uncertainty of planning for reopenings that failed to take place. They also talked about lessons learned through trying to create some kind of theater under the circumstances and making it through to resumption of live performances this fall, with COVID still very much a concern. To sum up, as JoAnn writes at one point: “Trepidation is there, but so is optimism.”
Also returning—to our pages—is the writer David Bradley C’72, who reviewed books for the Gazette in the 1980s and contributed a couple of award-winning essays in the mid-1990s. Bradley is best known, of course, for his novels South Street and especially The Chaneysville Incident, which came out in 1981, winning the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction the following year. The publisher is issuing a 40th anniversary edition of the novel, including a new foreword written by Bradley, reprinted here under the title “Things Look Different in Lamplight.”
A final note: We’re introducing a new category of essay into our rotation in “Views,” focusing on enthusiasms of various kinds and called “Rabbit Hole.” First up: Kombucha!
—John Prendergast C’80