SAS Dean’s Blog

Dialogue and Discovery

Steven J. Fluharty

Steven J. Fluharty

Dean and Thomas S. Gates, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Pharmacology, and Neuroscience

It’s been just over three months—among the shortest months I’ve ever experienced—since I welcomed everyone to campus for the start of the 2013-2014 academic year. In many ways the semester has been a crash course for me, deepening my knowledge of the School and also confirming many things that I suspected before becoming dean. Among the latter is my appreciation for our tremendous faculty, notable not only for their scholarship but for their commitment to Penn and to our larger goals.

For confirmation of scholarly accomplishment, I need only look to the countless notices I get from our department chairs telling me about the prestigious honors awarded to their faculty, new grants received, and scholarly papers announcing major research findings. Just a week ago, Wei Guo of Biology, along with colleagues from the Perelman School of Medicine and China’s Hangzhou Normal University, reported on key steps that trigger the disintegration of cellular regulation that allows tumor cells to grow and spread throughout the body. We learned in late November that John Tresch of History and Sociology of Science is the recipient of the highest book prize in his field for The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon—a book that the award committee described as “imaginative and provocative,” and “a model of historical writing.” And just a few days before that, we learned that Philosophy’s Karen Detlefsen, along with colleagues at Monash University, was awarded an Australian Research Grant for a two-year project on conceptions of liberty in the philosophical and political writing of women in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Our faculty have also been hard at work this semester on our school-wide strategic planning initiative. The plan will be a tool for us to build on our existing foundation of excellence by articulating our academic priorities, with a focus on maximizing our impact. The process of assessing our strengths, brainstorming future research trajectories, and establishing appropriate academic priorities would be impossible without the involvement of our faculty, and I am happy to report that they are engaged participants in this effort. Since the beginning of November, 13 working groups involving 130 faculty have held wide-ranging discussions on such issues as innovation in scholarship and teaching, diversity, and a series of interdisciplinary academic themes. These conversations are critical to shaping our collective vision for the school’s future. I have been impressed with the substance of these discussions, and even more impressed by the commitment that the faculty are demonstrating in devoting themselves to this undertaking.

As we head out in just a few days for our semester break, I’ll continue to take stock of our work so far, and anticipate the highlights for this spring: supporting and celebrating our faculty’s contributions in teaching and research, continuing our progress toward a shared vision for the school’s future, and sharing those stories and developments with all of you. In the meantime, best wishes for a happy holiday.