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September 17, 2002

A Good Day’s Hand Wringing


From his piece in today’s New York Times Op-Ed pages, we learn that Richard R. Beeman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania is concerned about the effect of the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of undergraduate programs at American colleges—deeply concerned. And this isn’t just sour grapes; U Penn is a top ten school again this year.

But all is not well in UPennville. Beeman spends “most of every day working to improve the quality of educational opportunity that we offer our undergraduates, and I know that my counterparts at other research universities do the same.” But do Beeman’s students appreciate the Dean working his fingers to the bone (apparently, 7-days-a-week, 365-days-year) on their behalf? (Perhaps the Dean meant to say he spent most of every working day improving the quality of educational opportunity--those Times editors are pretty sloppy.) Apparently, the students are not nearly appreciative enough:

[T]he rankings further exacerbate the rampant consumerism that is now so prevalent among entering students and their parents, encouraging an attitude that admission (and payment of tuition) to one of the ‘top 10 schools’ is somehow a guarantee of a ‘top 10 education.’ [emphasis added]

He confides that

…the most frustrating aspect of my work is seeing students respond passively, treating their education at Penn as something that is given to them rather than as something they must aggressively fashion for themselves.

I mean, what do these kids expect for their measly annual tuition and fees of $38,830? Just because they could buy themselves a new Audi A6 ($35,700 MSRP) or Volvo S80 ($38,450 MSRP) every year for that kind of dough, they’ve got a lot of nerve expecting the college to actually, you know, do something for them.

Don’t these students understand how low on the list of the University of Pennsylvania’s real priorities their education is, anyway? A quick look at the figures would set them straight. During the twelve month period ended June 30, 2001, the University recorded revenue of almost $3.2 billion—of which only a modest $531.8 million came from tuition and fees. In other words, the Trustees are running a big, multisector business here, and education only amounts to 16% of it (and not a particularly profitable part, either). The real bucks in the academic sector came from what the FY 2001 report refers to as “sponsored programs (primarily sponsored research)” which fortunately increased “in excess of 8.2%.” I mean, no wonder Dean Wormer, I mean Beeman, refers to U Penn as a research university--that's where the action is. The education business is really pretty much a loss leader for U Penn!

Fortunately for those ungrateful undergraduate brats, Dean Beeman is on the job, working hard to keep that Top Ten rating. Why does he bother, you may ask? “I have found," he admits, "the task of keeping alumni and donors [read donors and donors] happy about Penn’s status has been made much easier by our rise to prominence in those rankings.”

Undergraduates at U Penn will be delighted to hear that in FY 2001, the University reported $168.8 million of such "alumni and donor" donations—enough to offset the University’s losses in the stock market and in venture capital funds over the past few years. Think how high tuition would have to go if the Annual Giving campaign would falter!

Dean Beeman has saved their undeserving asses AGAIN!



posted by Friedrich at September 17, 2002


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