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.

The Penn Slavery Project


Students at the University of Pennsylvania have been exploring the university’s connection to slavery through the Penn Slavery Project.  The Daily Pennsylvanian reports on how things are going.

Here is a taste of Giovanna Paz’s piece, “New findings from Penn Slavery Project show how U. benefited financially from enslaved labor“:

The students unearthed evidence that implicated several leading figures, such as Robert Smith, a prominent architect for the Academy and a slaveholder, as having substantial involvement in the slave trade. There is also significant evidence that the University had considerable knowledge of the connections, which included a campaign soliciting funds from a number of wealthy donors, many of whom owned slaves. 

Perhaps the most explicit evidence that Penn documented and was aware of connections to the slave trade involved Ebenezer Kinnersley, an early professor of the Academy who worked alongside Penn founder Benjamin Franklin. Kinnersley was reimbursed by the University from 1757 to 1770 for the work done by his enslaved person on campus.

“These funds are coming directly from people who are benefiting from the slave labor and the exploitation of enslaved bodies and the University was aware,” College senior and PSP member Caitlin Doolittle said during the presentation. “None of this is happening in a vacuum. They are not ignorant to the fact that these people are slaveowners.”

For two semesters, a group of undergraduate students has explored Penn’s ties to the slavery and the slave trade. Throughout the process, the students used material from local, online, and University archives. 

Read the entire piece here.  Also check out this recent piece at The Progressive.

Rick Beeman, R.I.P.

beemanWe lost another esteemed member of the early American history community last week.  After an extended illness, Richard Beeman, the John Welsh Centennial Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, passed away.  I learned about Rick’s passing from Dan Richter‘s e-mail to the McNeil Center for Early American Studies community.

Here is a taste of that e-mail:

I have the sad responsibility to report that my colleague Richard Beeman, John Welsh Centennial Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, has passed away after a long illness. Rick taught wildly popular courses at Penn for more than forty years and was Dean of the College for over a decade. The impressive body of scholarship he left us includes, among many other works, The Evolution of the Southern Backcountry (1984) and The Varieties of Political Experience in Eighteenth-Century America (Early American Studies series, 2004). More recently he gained a wide general readership for Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (2009); and Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776 (2013). The McNeil Center community owes him a particular debt of gratitude for his key role in our institution’s early years, including the period during the 1980s when he served as Director. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

I didn’t know Rick Beeman well.  We often exchanged pleasantries during the couple of years I spent at the McNeil Center and he was always kind to me as a young scholar.  A few years ago we chatted at Mount Vernon during the George Washington Book Prize gala.  Rick was on the jury and I am grateful that he saw fit to select my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? as one of the three finalists for that award.

I think I read The Evolution of the Southern Backcountry two or three times during my dissertation research.  I was writing about rural hinterlands in the mid-Atlantic and found Rick’s treatment of a small region in early America to be a helpful model for my own work on southern New Jersey.  And then there was the time Rick was invited on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to debunk the erroneous claims of David Barton.

Those who came through the history graduate program at Penn knew him well.  Over at Historiann, historian Wayne Bodle shares some reflections:

Rick came to Penn in the fabled fall of 1968, straight out of the U. of Chicago.  He genially, and not confrontationally, recognized himself to be a traditionalist of a certain order.  When Mike Zuckerman was reading chapters of my Valley Forge project (as an in-progress National Park Service report), and telling me it could be a dissertation, he ran one chapter by Rick one summer.  (Rick was a summer Maine vacationer, as you doubtless know).  The feedback, via Mike, was that it was not how Rick would have done, or advised, it, but yeah, he could be a second or third reader.  He ended up being a second reader.

When I went to see him (up in the old Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies building at 38th and Walnut, long before it became the McNeil Center) about this I said what does it need? He said what do *you* think it needs?  I said a historiographical introductory chapter.  He said that’s what I think, now go do it.  So I went and did it, although the first sentence said that the historiography of Valley Forge begins with the fact that there really was no historiography, per se, of Valley Forge.

Rick loaned me his seminar at Penn in the fall of 1991 (again from Maine, when his deanship came to him from out of the blue).  He said “I’ve ordered about six books–” (this was in mid-August), “you don’t have to use any of them, but if you do, you’ll need to order some more.”  He pointed out that his take on the Revolution was old-school high politics, and he more than welcomed my approaching it differently, which I did.  He even acknowledged that military history was out of his bailiwick.

By this time I had met and actually worked with Linda Kerber, so I began the syllabus with her essay ‘the Revolutionary Generation’.  I tried to use ‘generation’ as an analytic theme for the course.

Rick later, as a member of the committee, made a real effort to get me a major book prize for The Valley Forge Winter (2002), all the time warning that it was an outside shot, as his fellow committeemen were even more traditionalist than he was, and he was coming around, at least on the military part.

It was a generous prize, but his effort meant even more. He wrote a bunch of letters for me.  I never had him for an actual class.

Franklin, Whitefield, and the University of Pennsylvania

Over at The Anxious Bench, Thomas Kidd reminds us of the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield.  The two giants of the eighteenth century worked together in establishing the academy that would eventually become the University of Pennsylvania.  Here is a taste:

One of the most fascinating exchanges between them came in 1750, when Whitefield replied to Franklin’s plans for the Philadelphia Academy, the forerunner to the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin and the academy trustees had recently acquired the “New Building,” a spacious venue which Whitefield’s supporters had originally erected for the itinerant’s preaching. Now Franklin sent Whitefield a copy of his Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania (1749), which made a powerful case for liberal arts education in a time when the colonies still only had four colleges (Harvard, Yale, the College of New Jersey, and William and Mary), and Philadelphia had none. Whitefield was delighted with the plan, and happy to have the New Building put to such a use (especially if it remained available for preaching).

The main problem Whitefield had with Franklin’s proposals – a problem that reflected the fundamental spiritual divide between the men – was that Christianity seemed to be an afterthought. Franklin did note that students would receive instruction in the value of public and private religion, “and the excellency of the CHRISTIAN RELIGION above all others.” But this brief reference came only on page 22 of a 32 page document, and to Whitefield, this was not enough. In the excerpts below from the itinerant’s lengthy letter to Franklin in February 1750, Whitefield cast his own vision for Christian liberal arts education. But Franklin was more concerned with nonsectarianism than evangelicalism, and his vision ultimately won out, making Penn America’s first university with no denominational commitment.

In addition to their work together on the University of Pennsylvania, Franklin and Whitefield also envisioned the establishment of a colony in Ohio Territory.

I am looking forward to Kidd’s forthcoming biography of George Whitefield.