The Pennsylvania Gazette is today the name of my college
alumni magazine, although the name has a lineage that goes
back to 1729 when it was first published as a newspaper by
Benjamin Franklin. Lest the reader assume the name was
somehow inappropriately borrowed from such a distinguished
origin, I need to point out that my alma mater, the University
of Pennsylvania, was founded by Mr. Franklin himself in 1740.
Like so many other Ivy league alumni publications, The Gazette
is quite a lavish, thick, sophisticated and well-written effort,
and I do look forward to reading its bi-monthly issues. Perhaps
like most college graduates of a certain age, I usually find
myself going to the back of each issue to read about the news of
my classmates --- and the obituaries. Decades ago, my class
would list numerous short notes of those who had passed away,
but the miracle of modern medicine has so far kept that number
quite low. In fact, I am constantly amazed by the number of Penn
men and women who make it past 100.
This winter, the magazine faced a certain crisis (the publication
is usually set up a month or two in advance of printing) that
would not only be peculiar to Penn, but would have confronted
all other Ivy League universities and most, but not all, liberally
minded colleges and universities across the nation. Like all
institutions of higher learning, Penn is proud of its distinguished
graduates, and employs its alumni magazine to boast not a
little about them. In my class alone, there are numerous figures
who are today quite prominent and accomplished, including an
award-winning best-selling novelist, a famous Broadway/TV
series star, and a recipient of the Nobel Prize for medicine.
(28 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with Penn.)
There is a certain rivalry among Ivy League schools, especially
in their alumni who become cabinet officers and justices of the
U.S. supreme court. As we know, Harvard, Yale and Princeton
have dominated these posts for a very long time. Columbia and
Brown have fewer, and Penn (until recently) trailed, along with
Cornell, its fellow Ivy schools.
On November 8, 2016, however, Penn hit the alumnus jackpot.
One of its own was elected president of the United States.
Of course, Donald J. Trump then appeared on the cover of the
next issue of its alumni magazine, with a glowing story of his
life and his time at Penn (where he received a graduate degree
from its acclaimed Wharton School of Finance and Commerce).
I must report that The Pennsylvania Gazette barely noted Mr.
Trump’s achievement, in spite of him being the only Penn
graduate ever to be elected president, and then wrote about it
only with a certain waspish ambiguity.
I now have received the second issue since the election, and its
letters to the editor pages were dominated with correspondence
from Penn alumni expressing both indignation at the slight, or
In full disclosure, I attended Wharton as an undergraduate, but
after two years transferred to Penn’s College of Liberal Arts
where I received my B.A. degree. I received early journalism
experience there as a reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian
before reviving and editing its historic college humor magazine
under a new name. Penn today is usually rated in the top five or
ten universities in the U.S., but only its Wharton School and a
few of its graduate schools had such a high rating in those days.
(Nevertheless, it had then a distinguished faculty, including
preeminent guest professors. Economist Peter Drucker,
philosopher Arnold Toynbee, architect Louis Kahn, sociologist
E. Digby Baltzell and novelist Philip Roth taught there in my
I realize that most Penn alumni, many of them living on the
East Coast, did not vote for Donald Trump. I also know that
the Penn administration and faculty are overwhelmingly liberal.
I have been aware for some time that Penn, like most colleges
and universities in America, subscribes to what is usually
called “political correctness.” Penn President Amy Gutmann
recently affirmed the university as a “sanctuary” place (like a
“sanctuary city”). Readers can draw their own conclusions
about all of this, and should. It’s a free country.
Recently, at another East Coast institution of higher learning,
Middlebury College, one of America’s most distinguished
thinkers, Charles Murray, was prevented from speaking
because of his conservative views. It was only the latest
incident in an alarming epidemic of anti-free speech
demonstrations at colleges and universities across the nation.
In its current issue, The Gazette proudly announced the
appointment of former Vice President Joe Biden to the Penn
faculty. It should be proud about that.
But the editors of The Pennsylvania Gazette can only mumble a
few ambivalent words about the election of a Penn graduate as
president of the United States.
Ben Franklin would be ashamed of their lack of courtesy to the
man and to the office he now holds.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.