The University of Pennsylvania Goes Online


Penn will be the first Ivy League college to offer an online bachelor’s degree.  Here is a taste of Beth McMurtrie’s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Starting next fall, the University of Pennsylvania will offer what it says is the first online bachelor’s degree at an Ivy League college, an illustration of the growing credibility and popularity of online education.

Designed for adult learners, the program will confer a bachelor of applied arts and sciences, and will enroll students through the School of Arts and Sciences’ College of Liberal and Professional Studies, which serves working adults and other nontraditional students.

Nora E. Lewis, vice dean of professional and liberal education, said that while roughly 500 adults are earning bachelor’s degrees part time through the college, Penn realized it could do more to serve nontraditional students. Only 30 percent of adults over 25 hold a bachelor’s degree, she noted.

Read the entire piece here.

Where is Donald Trump at the University of Pennsylvania?

Wharton Opens New West Coast Campus in Search of Startup Appeal

The most famous member of the Class of 1968 is nowhere to be seen on Penn’s Philadelphia campus.  I wonder if the president will return for his 50th class reunion.

Here is Joe Pinsker at The Atlantic:

For 176 years, William Henry Harrison was the only president the University of Pennsylvania had any kind of claim on, and even then it was kind of a stretch. As a student, Harrison did a brief stint at Penn, but he didn’t stay long enough to get a degree. And he only lasted a month in office, dying of pneumonia in April of 1841. Ever since then, Penn has waited, as Harvard, Yale, and its other Ivy League peers sent alumnus after alumnus to the Oval Office.

Then, in November 2016, Penn’s fortunes changed, when Donald J. Trump, class of ’68, won the presidency. The university, though, has never formally celebrated this accomplishment. On Monday, Penn’s administration convened upward of 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students for commencement, and did what it has been doing for most of the past three years: not talk about Donald Trump. Other things it did not do include having Trump deliver a speech or giving him an honorary degree.

Penn’s officials have been mostly silent about Trump, perhaps because he is not necessarily beloved on campus. Michael Williams, a rising sophomore at Penn studying political science, told me, “All of the conversations, or most of the conversations that I’ve had, and that my peers are having, is, ‘This guy’s a mess.’” Another student I talked to, Eric Hoover, an undergraduate at Wharton who founded a campus pro-life group, said, “I know probably all the people on campus who are pro-Trump, or openly pro-Trump, and it’s not many.”

With the school’s officials reluctant to talk, unease about Penn’s Trump connection has revealed itself in limited but telling glimpses. Shortly before the Republican National Convention in 2016, nearly 4,000 Wharton students, graduates, and relatives signed a petition telling Trump, “You do not represent us.” And The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper, published a slide late last year that it said the student group responsible for giving tours had used in order to advise guides about navigating potentially fraught interactions with prospective students. The slide, titled “Trump Reminder,” anticipated eventualities such as “Visitor asks about his views” and “Visitor pushes further.” (A student tour guide I talked to told me that visitors had asked questions about Trump before, but that he hadn’t heard of any of those conversations turning sour.)

Read the rest here.

Think For Yourself


Fifteen Ivy League scholars have published a letter encouraging young people from the class of 2021 to think for themselves.  The letter appears on the website of Princeton University James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. Signers include Yale historian Carlos Eire, Princeton political scientist Robert George, Princeton humanities professor Joshua Katz, and Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon.

Here it is:

We are scholars and teachers at Princeton, Harvard, and Yale who have some thoughts to share and advice to offer students who are headed off to colleges around the country. Our advice can be distilled to three words:

Think for yourself.

Now, that might sound easy. But you will find—as you may have discovered already in high school—that thinking for yourself can be a challenge. It always demands self-discipline and these days can require courage.

In today’s climate, it’s all-too-easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion on your campus or in the broader academic culture. The danger any student—or faculty member—faces today is falling into the vice of conformism, yielding to groupthink.

At many colleges and universities what John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of public opinion” does more than merely discourage students from dissenting from prevailing views on moral, political, and other types of questions. It leads them to suppose that dominant views are so obviously correct that only a bigot or a crank could question them.

Since no one wants to be, or be thought of as, a bigot or a crank, the easy, lazy way to proceed is simply by falling into line with campus orthodoxies.

Don’t do that. Think for yourself.

Thinking for yourself means questioning dominant ideas even when others insist on their being treated as unquestionable. It means deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions—including arguments for positions that others revile and want to stigmatize and against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.

The love of truth and the desire to attain it should motivate you to think for yourself. The central point of a college education is to seek truth and to learn the skills and acquire the virtues necessary to be a lifelong truth-seeker. Open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate are essential to discovering the truth. Moreover, they are our best antidotes to bigotry. 

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of the word “bigot” is a person “who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.” The only people who need fear open-minded inquiry and robust debate are the actual bigots, including those on campuses or in the broader society who seek to protect the hegemony of their opinions by claiming that to question those opinions is itself bigotry.

So don’t be tyrannized by public opinion. Don’t get trapped in an echo chamber. Whether you in the end reject or embrace a view, make sure you decide where you stand by critically assessing the arguments for the competing positions.

Think for yourself.

Conor Friedersdorf has some context at The Atlantic.

Slavery in the Ivy Leagues

By Megan Piette:

Although slavery is a well-known part of America’s past, most people do not think of the connection between the “peculiar institution” and America’s top colleges and universities.  Craig S. Wilder‘s new book, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, explores the connection between colonial-era colleges and slavery.  David Walsh of the History News Network (HNN) conducted an interview with Wilder about his book that you can read here.  A taste:

To see that at Harvard in its earliest years, one of the residents of the campus was an enslaved man, or that the first eight presidents of Princeton – then the College of New Jersey – were slave owners, and enslaved people lived in the presidents’ houses and served the presidents and students. To see the evolution of the Harvard/Yale/Princeton faculties, and the founding moment of Yale, when the founding trustees gathered to plan out the organization and wrote the bylaws of the new school – they were actually accompanied by their slaves to that meeting.
So one of the things I found really interesting while researching the book was how intimate the relationship was between the academy and slavery in the colonial world, and how much these colonial institutions depended upon enslaved people, but also on the broader economy of the slave trade.

Do Not Saunter About the College Yard or You Will Receive Corporal Punishment!

Ben Franklin: 1st President of the College of Philadelphia

I was doing some reading last night in the eighteenth-century trustee minutes of the College of Philadelphia (which eventually became the University of Pennsylvania).  On March 19, 1761, the trustees unanimously approved its “Rules for the Discipline & Good Government of the Students and Scholars.”  Here is a taste:

If any Student or Scholar, without a reasonable Excuse, shall on the Lord’s day neglect attending divine worship in some one or other of the religious Societies in this City, he shall on proper Conviction thereof pay six Pence and moreover, if he perseveres in such Neglect after due admonition, he shall be chastised if under fourteen Years of Age, and if above that age be brought to publick Confession, degraded, subjected to some Exercise or presented to the Trustees as the Faculty shall think proper…

If any Students or Scholars shall be found guilty of fighting or quarreling both Parties shall be chastised for the first Offence, & if found to be notoriously quarrelsome or troublesome after due Admonition, they shall be presented to the Trustees...
In every School belonging to this Institution, there shall be a Monitor or Monitors appointed weekly at the Direction of the Professor or Master who has the Care of such School & it shall be the Business of such Monitors to note down and deliver into the Faculty after Prayers every Evening & before the Dismission of the Schools, the  Names of the Delinquents, as oft as ny of them shall be guilty of talking, whispering or behaving any wan indecently in the time of Prayer, reading the holy Scriptures, or calling the Roll; which Delinquents shall be immediately punished or fined as above directed, agreeable to the Nature of the Crime… 
“If any Student or Scholar shall saunter about the College or College Yard or go out without Leave, or make Use of another Book or Books without his Permission; he shall be subject to corporal Punishment, or a Fine not exceeding four pence for every such Transgression.”