Contact Us

Drexel University
A University with a Difference:
The Unique Vision of Anthony J. Drexel


Co-op Education
Distance Education
Health Sciences
Math Forum
News and Information
Prospective Students
Student Life

History of the Main Building
The Drexel Collection

by Dr. Constantine Papadakis

This address, dealing with the history of Drexel University, was delivered at a 2001 Greater Delaware Valley meeting of
the Newcomen Society of the United States held in Philadelphia when
Drexel University was honored on December 6, 2001.

Members of the Newcomen Society and Guests:

As you look around this room tonight you may recognize some of today's leading figures in education, in business, in government, in philanthropy, in arts and culture and all manner of good works. This is indeed an impressive group — nearly as impressive, in fact, as a gathering that took place on this very campus 110 years ago almost to the day: December 17, 1891, to be precise.

That occasion was attended by more than 2,000 guests whose names, the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin commented, "are household words the civilized world over." I would add that many of them are still household names. The guest list included Thomas Edison, J. Pierpont Morgan, Andrew Carnegie; the vice president of the United States, Levi P. Morton; three members of President Benjamin Harrison's Cabinet; the governor of Pennsylvania; the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; U.S. Senator Chauncey M. Depew of New York; the mayor of Philadelphia; the presidents of the Pennsylvania, the Reading and the Lehigh Valley railroads; and the Episcopal bishop of New York City.

This Who's Who of American notables were the friends, business associates and admirers of one of the great financiers of the 19th century, Anthony J. Drexel. And they had journeyed to Philadelphia for the crowning moment of Anthony Drexel's career: the dedication of a unique and revolutionary institution, then known as the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry.

It was revolutionary because, at that time, college graduates accounted for less than 1% of the nation's population (as compared to 25% today). And even the very notion of "college" was concerned primarily with preparing young men from the upper classes for careers in the ministry, law, medicine or business. Even the public land-grant colleges of the 19th century sought mainly to fill the nation's need for better teachers and farmers.

But Anthony Drexel had a different purpose in mind: He hoped to empower young urban working-class men and women to improve their station in life. For that reason, his Drexel Institute was deliberately located within easy access to city rail and streetcar lines. It placed no restrictions on religion, race, gender or social class. It offered such unprecedented features as low tuition, night classes and free public lectures and concerts. Above all, it provided instruction in practical subjects that would help students find better jobs, like bookkeeping, chemistry, cooking, dressmaking, art and library science. [photo: typing class]

Those were remarkable notions when this school opened. And while Drexel University has vastly expanded its size and its mission in the 110 years since then, it has remained true to the innovative vision of its founder. So let me first tell you a little about that remarkable man.

The story of Drexel University really begins in Austria in 1809, long before Anthony Drexel's birth in 1826. That year a sensitive 17-year-old portrait painter's apprentice, desperate to escape conscription into Napoleon's army, fled his family's sleepy village in the Tyrol. Francis Martin Drexel spent the next five years as a ragged fugitive traipsing across Western Europe, suffering repeated fleecings by scam artists who exploited his naive faith in human goodness.

Even after he arrived in Philadelphia in 1817 and began to raise a family, Francis Drexel continued his restless travels, wandering the jungles of South America and Mexico in search of portrait commissions. He made a modest living as an artist, but in the course of his travels he developed a more valuable skill: an aptitude for currency fluctuations. So in 1837 Francis M. Drexel, by this time 45 years old, finally put away his bags and his painter's palette to open a currency trading house.

This business of Francis M. Drexel's was barely two years old, and his sons Francis A. and Anthony were only 15 and 13, when in 1839 the boys' formal education ended and they went to work as clerks in their father's office at what is now 48 South Third Street in Philadelphia. Both boys did the work of men from the day they started. They were expected to come to work early and stay late, to do everything they were asked and never complain. They often ate a cold dinner from a basket kept under the counter, and one or the other sometimes served as night watchman, sleeping under that same counter. But their father gave them plenty of responsibility too. For example, when Anthony was only 13, his father dispatched him by stagecoach to New Orleans to supervise the transfer of a large gold shipment.

Unlike the other famous dynastic founders of that age — like, say, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Marshall Field or John D. Rockefeller — Francis M. Drexel wasn't solely preoccupied with making money. After all, his first passion was art. So at the same time that he was putting his sons through their apprenticeship at his office, at home Francis also supervised their equally rigorous education in art, music and languages (his son Anthony spoke five tongues). By immersing his sons in the rough-and-tumble world of business while simultaneously exposing them to beauty and culture, Francis M. Drexel unwittingly established the unique educational philosophy that continues to characterize Drexel University to this very day.

Within ten years, that tiny currency brokerage on Third Street evolved into the great private bank of Drexel & Co., which under Francis M. Drexel's three sons helped finance the Mexican War, the Civil War and the construction of some of America's greatest railroads, including the Pennsylvania and the Reading. The eldest brother, Francis A. Drexel, became the firm's titular head. The youngest brother, Joseph, opened branches of the family bank in Chicago, Paris and New York.

But it was the middle brother, Anthony J. Drexel, whose enterprising financial mind catapulted the Drexel bank into international prominence. Most notably, in 1871 Anthony Drexel persuaded a sick and depressed young man named J. Pierpont Morgan to take charge of the Drexel bank's branch office in New York. With Anthony Drexel's financial and moral support, this confused underachiever suddenly blossomed into the confident titan who, more than any other individual, ushered America into the industrial age. The seven-story building that Drexel erected for Morgan at Broad and Wall Streets was the World Trade Center of its day, towering over its narrow Dickensian neighbors and forcing Wall Street's petty traders to think of themselves in broader, more global terms. Although that Drexel Building is gone today, its address — 23 Wall Street — remained the crossroads of the financial world throughout the 20th century.

In many of his business practices Anthony Drexel was generations ahead of his time. His policy of giving annual New Year's Day pay raises or dismissals can be seen as a forerunner of the year-end evaluations now routinely conducted at modern corporations. He was one of the first business owners to offer "sweat equity" to deserving employees who could not afford to buy shares in the company. His refusal to side with relatives when he considered them mistaken anticipated the modern business practice of basing decisions on merit rather than bloodlines. According to David Wright, corporate historian of J.P. Morgan, Chase & Co., "More than any other American of the 19th century, Anthony J. Drexel altered the course of American finance."

Yet for all his wealth and power, Anthony Drexel was a quiet, self-effacing, humble community pillar who actively sought to avoid fame, fortune and power. He kept no diaries or memoirs, left no letters, gave no interviews or speeches and declined an offer from his friend Ulysses S. Grant to become secretary of the U.S. Treasury. And with the notable exception of his pride and joy — this university — he made virtually all of his charitable gifts anonymously.

Perhaps because he had witnessed first-hand the struggles of his father, Anthony Drexel seems to have identified with the underdog even when he and his bank epitomized the power elite. (He once kept President Grant and two cabinet members waiting in his parlor while he spent ten minutes advising a young medical student who had knocked on his door for advice.) "I consider that wealth comes to a man by accident," he once remarked to a friend.

So even while Anthony Drexel and his brothers invested their energies and ingenuity in their business empire, they were building an equally innovative philanthropic network. In an age when the notion of empowering the poor was unheard of within America's ruling class, the 19th-century Drexels spent millions on revolutionary experiments in home ownership for workers, prison conditions, hospital sanitation and gender equality. Anthony Drexel also developed a utopian community in the Philadelphia suburb of Wayne (where, coincidentally, the residence of Drexel University's president is now located).

Anthony Drexel himself was above all a mentor who took his greatest pleasure from the successes he brought to others. Pierpont Morgan was merely the most famous of his protégés. With Anthony Drexel's support, an obscure banker named Jay Cooke became America's financial savior during the Civil War. With Drexel's support, his closest friend, George W. Childs, evolved from a penniless clerk into the celebrated proprietor of one of America's most respected newspapers, the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Drexel's former office boy, Henry Codman Potter, rose to become Episcopal bishop of New York, where he launched the construction of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the nation's largest church. Under Anthony Drexel's tutelage, his niece Katharine Drexel created a revolutionary network of schools for blacks and Native Americans — a network modeled, incidentally, after her uncle's banking network — and ultimately achieved sainthood.

We can safely surmise that Anthony Drexel was eager to extend similar benefits to hundreds or thousands of other young people whom he couldn't mentor personally. The challenge was: How to do it?

Like most American cities, Philadelphia in the 1880s already had a healthy variety of liberal arts colleges. But it had few facilities for practical, intensive, rapid training in the new business and industrial specialties then springing up: secretarial and office work, mechanics, commerce, home economics and crafts. Anthony Drexel spent the last 30 years of his life doggedly pursuing his revolutionary vision of a college that would serve the needs of working-class students in the same first-rate fashion that, say, schools like Harvard and Yale served the needs of the children of the rich.

Drexel approached this vision with the same combination of patience, intelligence and careful personal attention that characterized his financial transactions. First he dispatched advisors to other cities to scout potential models (his favorites were the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and Cooper Union in New York). Then he hired the noted Philadelphia architect Joseph M. Wilson, who had created the main building for Philadelphia's Centennial Exposition of 1876, as well as Drexel & Co.'s 11-story bank building downtown, then the tallest building in Philadelphia. Before Wilson could embark on the design phase, Drexel sent him abroad to study European institutions. Once the Drexel Institute's West Philadelphia site was chosen, Anthony Drexel visited it every day during his morning walk from his West Philadelphia mansion to his office downtown.

Ultimately Anthony Drexel donated more than $3 million to the Institute: $1 million for construction, furnishing and equipment and $2 million for endowment and operating expenses. This at a time when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had total assets of only $1.5 million, Purdue University had less than $1 million, and even the firmly established, 150- year-old University of Pennsylvania valued its grounds, building, library and scientific equipment all together at less than $3 million.

A member of the British Royal Commission on Technical Education who inspected the new Drexel Institute of Art, Science & Industry reported that he had never seen a building "so splendidly equipped," nor any school "which has mapped out such an intelligent and practical program for the supply of technical education." He concluded that "there is no branch of the Institute which is not at least one degree better than any corresponding department of any other school" that he had visited.

But Anthony Drexel understood that his students would need more than funds and facilities. "Education at Drexel should not only be good, but good for something," he remarked. This challenge he entrusted to the Drexel Institute's first president. James MacAlister was a native of Scotland who was raised in Wisconsin, where he subsequently became superintendent of Milwaukee's public schools. In 1883, when Philadelphia's public schools were removed from ward control and reorganized under a central authority, MacAlister was offered the top administrative post here. In that position he introduced scientific and technical training into the public school curriculum despite furious opposition from academic purists. His pragmatic educational philosophy, as well as his close ties to the Philadelphia public school system, seemed ideally suited to attract students to a novel school like the Drexel Institute.

Despite MacAlister's credentials and the new school's superb facilities, by January 1892 the Drexel Institute had received formal applications from only about 500 candidates — many of whom, President MacAlister reported to the board, were "persons wholly unacquainted with the nature and purposes of the Institute." Just 300 were registered as members of the first class. 173 students were enrolled in courses in chemistry, cooking, dressmaking and millinery. The business courses, with 60 students, and the art courses, with 80, began a few weeks later.

"It will take some time before the public becomes thoroughly acquainted with the character of the Institute and begin to avail themselves of its benefits," MacAlister concluded.

His fears turned out to be premature. The following October, the first evening classes began, and the Institute also absorbed students from the New Century Guild, a settlement house for working women. Consequently, enrollment soared to 1,570 for the Institute's first full academic year.

But MacAlister had put his finger on this institution's greatest distinction as well as its greatest frustration: its anomalous position within the ranks of American education. Because the Drexel Institute did not grant degrees at first, it was usually omitted from standard lists of American colleges. On the other hand, as President MacAlister correctly pointed out in response to one such list in 1900, "a good deal of the scientific and technical education [at Drexel] is higher than in some so-called colleges and universities."

Some faculty members, for example, carried the sort of real-world credentials that were the envy of other colleges. One of America's greatest book illustrators, Howard Pyle, created the Drexel Institute's School of Illustration in 1894 and remained on the faculty until his death in 1911. More than half a century later the Philadelphia historian Nathaniel Burt wrote that, at Drexel, Howard Pyle "founded a sort of dynasty of pupils, and pupils of pupils, and even children of pupils that goes right on to this day."

Within two years of the Drexel Institute's opening in 1891, Anthony Drexel was dead, of a heart attack at age 66 as he took the waters in the Bohemian spa resort of Carlsbad. His final blessing to his Institute was his refusal to impose his ideas upon it. "I know that the world is going to change," he remarked, "and therefore the Institute must change with it, and I do not want to tie it up."

The world and the Drexel Institute did indeed change rapidly, just as its founder foresaw. Within ten years of the school's opening, the Institute had outgrown its original space, and a second adjoining building, now known as Randell Hall, was erected in 1902 to double the original effective floor space.

More important than the bricks-and-mortar expansion were two innovations made during the World War I era. After President MacAlister retired due to failing health in 1913, the trustees commissioned Dr. Hollis Godfrey to study the institute and suggest changes. Like Anthony Drexel and James MacAlister before him, Godfrey was a man accustomed, as we would say today, to "thinking outside the box." He had taught engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and had written a book called The Man Who Ended War, in which he imagined weapons systems that had not yet been invented. Godfrey's report was apparently so well received by the trustees that Godfrey himself was appointed president of the Institute and set about converting his visions into realities.

For almost its first quarter-century the Drexel Institute had offered a broad range of useful classes but imposed no formal course requirements and granted no degrees. Its 18 departments functioned almost independently, each setting its own standards. All this changed in 1914 when, despite vocal opposition from faculty and department heads, Godfrey organized the 18 departments into four schools— Engineering, Domestic Science, Arts and Secretarial— which began conferring the bachelor of science degree. In effect this decision elevated the Institute into the ranks of what the world perceived as legitimate colleges.

Five years later, in 1919, the Institute introduced one of the nation's first co- operative education programs, requiring students to combine their full-time study with professional employment. The co-op program has distinguished Drexel's approach to education ever since: academic rigor on the one hand, and real-life professional rigor on the other.

Despite these long-range improvements, when Godfrey resigned in 1921 the Institute was suffering from declining enrollments, partly as a result of World War I. Consequently, in 1922 the board brought in as president Dr. Kenneth Gordon Matheson, the former president of what is now Georgia Institute of Technology, who enjoyed a reputation as a problem-solver. He saw his challenges as raising funds, increasing enrollment, upgrading the plant and promoting the school's image— challenges that most college presidents are still grappling with today. To a large extent, over his nine-year tenure Dr. Matheson succeeded. Among other things, his regime constructed the first student dormitories; created a dean of men's office to oversee student life on campus; opened an athletic field and student lounges; began developing alumni relations (encouraging the appointment of the first Drexel alumnus to the board of trustees in 1922); took the first steps toward graduate programs; and in 1928 landed a $600,000 donation from the publisher Cyrus Curtis for Curtis Hall, an engineering extension attached to the main building. This was the third construction on the Institute's campus (and the first of 60 buildings to be added over the next 62 years).

Matheson died in 1931 and was succeeded by another humanist in the Drexel tradition. Parke Kolbe was president of what was then called the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, but he was no stranger to Drexel. He had known both Godfrey and Matheson and, in fact, had spoken at the dedication of Drexel's Curtis Hall. Under his presidency over the next 10 years, the Institute developed advanced curricula in physics, chemistry and biology, and the School of Business strengthened its courses in economics, sociology, political science and history. And in 1936 the Institute changed its name to Drexel Institute of Technology, a title better suited to the potential dynamism of an industrialized nation.

Kolbe also advocated new buildings to house the library and gymnasium facilities, and he suggested substantial changes in the Institute's internal organization. Most of these plans remained on the drawing boards due to the shortage of funds caused by the Great Depression. But not all. At least some of the improvements were initiated from below, by Drexel's own self- reliant, street-smart students. Let me give you an example.

In the absence of any official student center, the students had long gathered informally in a room above a bar on Woodland Avenue, a major thoroughfare which at that time ran diagonally through both the Penn and Drexel campuses. The deans of the Institute frowned on this practice, and one day in the 1930s the dean of men sent his assistant, Professor Agnew Van Tine, to roust the students from this den of iniquity. Professor Van Tine had no real leverage to induce the students to leave, so as an enticement he took with him the key to a campus building that he suggested they use as a student union. The students were delighted with that idea, and since the Institute lacked any funds to maintain such a facility, the students volunteered to assess themselves five dollars a year to use the site. This was the first manifestation of the Institute's student activities fee, which continues to this day. I am pleased to tell you that the trustees were so impressed by this gesture that they contributed the necessary funds to create a student union. (Whether the students continued to frequent the Woodland Avenue watering hole after the student building opened— that I cannot tell you.)

It took the outbreak of World War II to unleash the full potential of America's industrial society, not to mention the role of a technologically oriented school like Drexel within such a society. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Philadelphia became known as the "Arsenal of America," receiving more than $1 billion in war orders. At the same time, Drexel was designated to run the government's Engineering Defense Training Program as well as classes for the Army Signal Corps and the Engineering, Science and Management War Training Program.

As a result, even though Drexel students and professors alike were departing in droves to join the military, the Institute's enrollment briefly hit an all-time high— nearly 5,000, including some 3,000 students at night. In a radical departure for those times, 17 women were admitted to Drexel's engineering program (during the war, women already comprised a majority in Drexel's schools of Business and Library Science). Because Drexel was training many regular Army men stationed in the area, for a while the Institute functioned on practically a 24-hour basis.

But these temporary government contracts expired by late 1943. Meanwhile, the persistence of wartime shortages and the draft meant declining enrollments— down to 2,624 by the war's end in 1945—and consequently the prospect of another financial crisis, because Drexel then relied on tuition income for 90% of its operating budget. President Kolbe had died in 1942, and now rumors circulated that the Drexel Institute might be forced to shut down for the duration of the war, if not permanently.

To confront this crisis, the trustees for the first time hired a president whose background was financial rather than educational: George Peters Rea, the first president of the American Stock Exchange. From the moment of his arrival on campus, there was no question that Rea was a different kind of president. At faculty meetings, he sat on a table at the front of the room rather than behind a desk. At mandatory assemblies he often led the students in singing songs like "Shine On Harvest Moon" and "I Want A Girl Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad." He broke a major taboo by serving liquor at receptions and beer at a faculty picnic. On his lunch break he often wandered into the auditorium and played the piano with abandon.

George Rea's casual style might have been a breath of fresh air for students and teachers, but his loose leadership seemed unsuited to the Institute's desperate need for new funds and increased enrollment. Rea resigned in April 1944 after just two years in the job, leaving the Institute leaderless at a critical moment. Five months later, however, the last of the founder's nine children, George Childs Drexel, died and left the school an endowment for operating expenses, thus assuring the school's survival at least until its next crisis. On such slender threads does the success or failure of great institutions sometimes hang.

The end of World War II brought Drexel a deluge of returning veterans, an expanding post-war economy and a new president in James Creese— a talented painter and poet, Phi Beta Kappa at Princeton and the former vice president of Stevens Institute of Technology. Most important, Creese had a reputation for fiscal problem-solving. Under Creese, Drexel's fundraising for the first time became a systematic business: Drexel opened its first permanent development office and expanded its fund-raising horizons to encompass all American business and industry, not just companies in the Philadelphia region.

Perhaps most important, in 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first successful space satellite. Suddenly Americans worried that the United States was suffering from a "technology gap" vis à vis the Russians. One year later, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, which put the federal government into the business of subsidizing higher education directly, rather than through government contracts for specific research. The act singled out two fields in particular as targets of public investment— science and foreign languages. "The security of the Nation requires the fullest development of the mental resources and technical skills of its young men and women," the act proclaimed. As had happened during World War II, suddenly Drexel found itself uniquely well positioned to fill a pressing national need.

Beginning in 1959, Drexel began accepting government aid, which in turn made the Institute eligible for low-cost housing loans. Before Creese arrived, the Institute had relied on tuition for 90% of its operating funds; by the end of Creese's tenure in 1963, that ratio fell to about 60%. And during the 18 years of Creese's administration, Drexel's physical plant doubled in size.

But as Creese's successor, William W. Hagerty, remarked shortly after his arrival, "No university has ever become great because of its plant, no matter how magnificent. It is the faculty that determines its contribution to educational leadership." Hagerty was a career academician who built on Creese's funding successes to raise faculty salaries by one-third and to add a doctoral degree program.

By the mid-1960s the Institute had the nation's largest private undergraduate engineering college, one of the largest graduate programs in library science and the largest private non-denominational home economics program. By the late 1960s the school added a College of Science and a College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Anthony Drexel's baby had evolved for all practical purposes into a genuine full-fledged university, and in 1969 it was formally granted university status by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Hagerty's most important innovation made Drexel the center for an entirely new kind of learning. Because of Drexel's focus on the real world beyond the academia's ivory towers, Hagerty was one of America's first educators to recognize how computers were transforming American business, science and government. Beginning with the entering class of 1983, Drexel became the first school in the nation to require access to personal computers for all students.

The arrival of this revolutionary learning tool produced an unexpected by- product: All over campus, software development teams began popping up to develop custom programs for every imaginable University need, from circuit design and dietary analysis to writing term papers and even writing music. As other schools began using computers in their curricula, many of these programs developed by Drexel faculty and students were marketed nationally.

By 1984, when Hagerty retired after more than two decades as president, the University had a campus of 34 buildings drawing students from 37 states and 55 countries. Its operating budget was $70 million, compared to $8 million in 1945.

His successor was William S. Gaither, who had founded the University of Delaware's highly regarded College of Marine Studies and nurtured it for 14 years as its dean. Gaither described himself as a "risk-taker," and during his three-year tenure at Drexel he established 11 new majors and brought the evening programs for the first time under the direct supervision of the University's academic departments. He introduced modern phone-a-thon techniques that increased alumni giving by 34% and took steps to recruit more minority students. By the time he left in 1987, Drexel accounted for one half of all black engineers receiving advanced degrees in Pennsylvania.

His successor in 1988 was Richard D. Breslin, who had been academic dean at Villanova and president of the University of Charleston in West Virginia. During Breslin's seven-year tenure Drexel expanded its honors program, merged two schools to form the College of Arts and Sciences, opened a $30 million state-of-the-art engineering building, and received a $2.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a model 21st-century undergraduate engineering curriculum. He also took major steps to define the campus as a user-friendly place, replacing commercial properties and installing bold blue Drexel logos on lampposts and railroad trestles.

But despite these improvements and honors, by the mid-1990s a shrinking nationwide pool of college-age students again posed a serious threat to Drexel's single largest revenue source: tuition income. Enrollment had been falling for 10 years. A strike by maintenance workers had disrupted the campus for 14 weeks during the 1992-93 school year. Government funding was decreasing even while an unstable national economy was causing declines in charitable contributions.

In effect the problem of low enrollment in 1995 was the same quandary that Drexel had confronted during both world wars, as well as when the Institute opened in 1892. But this time the basic fundamentals of a remarkable university seemed clearly in place, at least to those in the University's leadership. So instead of pulling in its horns or changing its basic vision, the University developed a strategic plan to promote Drexel's unique strengths. First there is our cooperative education program, which today employs Drexel students in more than 2,500 businesses and organizations in 27 states and 12 countries. Then there is our focus on technology, the driving force in today's global economy. And finally there are the rich resources and heritage of our Philadelphia location.

In our school's best tradition of emulating business models, we focused on increasing retention of our "customers" – our students. Instead of weeding out failing students, as many colleges do, we developed tracking systems to identify students at risk and give them the help they need to succeed. As a result, our freshman retention rate increased from 65% in the early 1990s to 86% for the class that entered in 2000.

At the same time, we have aggressively expanded the programs offered to our students. In addition to our six existing colleges — Arts and Sciences, Media Arts & Design, Engineering, the Richard C. Goodwin College of Evening and Professional Studies, and the Bennett S. LeBow College of Business — three new schools were established in 1997 to provide specialized studies: the School of Education; the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems; and the School of Environmental Science, Engineering and Policy. We have also embraced the potential of "distance learning," including the nation's first fully online master's degree in information systems and a technology-focused MBA. This means that a Drexel education is no longer limited by a student's geographical location or time constraints. And in November 1998, Drexel took perhaps the greatest leap of all when it assumed operation of MCP Hahnemann University, comprising the largest private medical school in the nation, the College of a Nursing and Health Professions and the School of Public Health, one of only two in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

To enhance its status as "Philadelphia's technological university," in November 2000 Drexel became the first major university to introduce a fully wireless "CyberCampus." Students, faculty and staff now enjoy convenient access to the Internet as well as our campus Intranet, called DragonNet, via laptop computers from any of our buildings as well as anywhere outdoors on campus.

Our marketing efforts also began celebrating our alumni who have achieved the greatest success of all: a rewarding and fulfilling life. Our graduates today include Albert Carnesale, chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles; Peter Liacouras, who retired last year after 18 years as president of Temple University; Peter Mafany Musonge, prime minister of Cameroon; Robert Hall, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News; Paul Baran, a founding father of the Internet; Joseph Woodland, inventor of the bar code technology; Bennett S. Lebow, maverick CEO of the Vector Group and broker of the landmark tobacco settlement by corporate subsidiary Liggett & Myers; and Douglas Briggs, president of QVC. Just as Anthony Drexel mentored some of the most influential people of the 19th century, his University continues to nurture industrial and technological leaders today.

This multifaceted strategy is working extremely well. Over the past five years, Drexel's freshman applications tripled, from 3,500 to more than 11,000. Full-time undergraduate enrollment nearly doubled, from 4,600 to 9,000. Drexel University now enrolls more than 13,000 full- and part-time students from 100 nations, up more than 40% from 9,000 in 1995. As the number of applications rises, Drexel is able to be more selective, too: The average SAT score of enrolling freshmen this past September was 1155, up from 1105 in 1994.

What was once a commuter school now has more than 3,200 students living in campus housing, up from barely 2,000 in 1996. And this expansion has reinforced Drexel's rich architectural heritage. The North Hall residence, designed by Michael Graves, will soon be joined by I. M. Pei's Edmund D. Bossone Research Enterprise Center as well as the Leonard Pearlstein Business Learning Center, designed by Philip Johnson. These designs will enhance a campus already distinguished by our original Main Building, built in 1891 by Joseph M. Wilson, whose firm designed Philadelphia's Reading Terminal; and the Paul Peck Alumni Center, originally designed by the preeminent 19th-century American architect Frank Furness and restored to its original glory by Cameron Mactavish, a Drexel alumnus. Soon those two venerable landmarks will bookend a pedestrian plaza by the renowned landscape architect George Hargreaves, which will form the gateway to Drexel's campus.

Drexel's ambitious marketing program has helped make prospective students more aware of the University, and our facilities provide an inspiring and state-of-the-art educational environment. But ultimately it is the quality of our faculty that attracts students to enroll and stay here. Drexel faculty members are recognized as dedicated and innovative teachers and leaders in their fields. The remarkable productivity of their research has more than doubled the University's annual research funding since 1997. During this time, Drexel's research efforts have focused on three overarching themes of national importance that represent core competencies of the University: "Learning and Working in the Global Information Age," "Engineering our Health" and "Building the Urban Infrastructure." New research contracts and grants awarded to our faculty last year exceeded $50 million.

In a world of constant change, most organizations survive and grow by adjusting their mission in the face of adversity. The Du Pont company evolved from a maker of gunpowder into a maker of nylon stockings and Teflon pots. Motorola went from radios to TV sets to semiconductors and cell phones. General Electric started out in household appliances and now runs financial services and a TV network. And Princeton and Yale are no longer preoccupied with preparing wealthy young men for the ministry. But Drexel University's central mission really hasn't changed in 110 years. Anthony Drexel's descendants have served actively on the University's board since its inception (including his great-great-grandson John R. Drexel IV today), which means that Drexel is one of only five American universities that are still connected to their founding families. (The other four schools, incidentally, are Brown, Vanderbilt, Duke and Rutgers— and all four of those founding families are related somehow to the Drexel family.)

But this is no time to bask in self-congratulation. If our first 110 years have taught us anything, it is that past success is no guarantee of future performance. In real life, unlike literature, there is no such thing as a final chapter.

Consider, for example, what ultimately became of the great institutions launched in the 19th century by Anthony Drexel. The Philadelphia banking house of Drexel & Co. underwent several incarnations in the 20th century before finally expiring in 1990, after 153 years, as Drexel Burnham Lambert, the investment bank that lived and died by junk bonds. Anthony Drexel's New York banking house of Drexel, Morgan & Co. survived through the 20th century as the legendary J.P. Morgan & Co., until it was subsumed last year, after 129 years of operation, into a merger with Chase Manhattan Bank. So of Anthony Drexel's three major creations, only Drexel University still survives.

That is a powerful legacy for those of us who have become today's keepers of the Drexel flame. But what drives us above all is this University's vital importance to today's world, as well as tomorrow's. In a recent survey of higher education published in the New York Review of Books, the scholar Louis Menand discussed what he called a wall between the liberal arts and the subjects that now attract many people to colleges and universities— subjects such as business, medicine, technology, social service, education and the law. "Maybe the liberal arts and these 'non-liberal' fields have something to contribute to each other," he concluded. "The world has changed. It's time to be relevant in a new way."

He could have been describing the model that we at Drexel University have fortuitously nurtured and refined over the past 110 years. He could have been repeating the central idea of our founder in the 19th century. In the best positive sense, Anthony Drexel is still looking over our shoulders today. So perhaps you can understand why so many of us - teachers, students, alumni, administrators and friends — have re-dedicated ourselves to strengthen this university's foundation to serve generations of Drexel students to come.

Thank you.

Dr. Constantine Papadakis


Modified: <% =dtm %>
Home Contents Index Contact Us Directories Feedback/Corrections