SAS Dean’s Blog

Foundations and Frontiers

Steven J. Fluharty

Steven J. Fluharty

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

For over a year now, I’ve been pursuing an agenda with colleagues across the School and beyond, working to better organize the efforts of the many individuals and units that make up Penn Arts and Sciences. The culmination of this process is our new School-wide strategic plan, which has been shared broadly with the Penn community.

The title of this plan, “Foundations and Frontiers,” speaks to the equal emphasis that we have placed on vision and to the solid structures upon which vision must be established. For Penn Arts and Sciences, the foundation is the excellence of our faculty and educational programs. The School’s success in all aspects of its mission rests unquestionably on its ability to attract and retain faculty of the highest caliber. Our plan includes strategies to ensure that we make the most out of every opportunity we have in hiring new faculty, as well as strategies to provide appropriate support, incentives, and mentorship for all our faculty, at all stages of their careers. As the home of liberal arts education at Penn—enrolling approximately half of Penn’s student body, and with responsibilities for providing liberal arts courses across Penn’s schools—we have given equal attention to strategies that will assure the excellence and relevance of a Penn education for all our talented students, from undergraduate, to doctoral, to professional master’s and beyond.

By assuring the strength of our faculty and educational programs, we are well-positioned to explore new horizons. In our plan, we discuss two sets of academic opportunities: those that capitalize on our distinctive strengths, and those that engage with emerging areas of knowledge. Included in the first category are four broad areas where the School and University already possess considerable resources, but have the potential to realize far greater impact. These four areas are Arts and Culture, Global Inquiries, Public Policy and Social Impact, and Quantitative Explorations of Evolving Systems. Through a combination of enhanced coordination of research and teaching agendas, improved organization, and more focused investment of resources, we seek to strengthen overall academic impact, institutional visibility, and efficiency in these areas.

The second category calls for strategic investments in four targeted areas of interdisciplinary inquiry. These four—identified in the plan as our Advancing Integrated Knowledge initiatives—represent compelling and far-reaching opportunities to define our presence in the next several years. They include initiatives in Diversity, Inequality, and Human Well-being; Energy, Sustainability, and Environment; Humanities in the Digital Age; and Mapping the Mind. Each one of these new initiatives holds the promise of accelerating the pace of discovery and promoting pedagogical innovation, and each both draws upon and will benefit the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, as well as other parts of Penn.

Also part of the plan is a realistic assessment of the resources required for successful implementation of all that we envision. We know that investments in information technology and staff must be made. Facilities are another area of need, and I’m happy to say that in this regard, we are off to a strong start. Thanks to generous supporters, we are moving forward with key projects such as the Neural and Behavioral Sciences Building and the Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics. The plan also outlines specific center and programmatic support. Funding for faculty support, undergraduate financial aid, and graduate fellowships are other areas that remain critical to the strength of our foundation.

With our planning process complete, I know that we’ll have many exciting stories to share with you. I hope you’ll find some opportunities to keep in touch with the exciting new frontiers that are part of the daily life of the school.

You can view the full “Foundations and Frontiers” strategic plan here: