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Historical Review of the University of Pennsylvania

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5538 words Published: 27th Jul 2021

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A critical Bible teaching that ought to guide our every beginning is the teaching that Jesus is the greatest foundation upon which we all ought to anchor our beginnings. It is only by doing everything in the name and blood of Jesus that we are endowed with the grace to carry that which we have started to completion. Moreover, it is only by putting God first that can we do everything according to his plan. The history of the University of Pennsylvania is a great example of how making Jesus our foundation can lead to us achieving some of the greatest goals. The first stone that would lead to the establishment of one of the greatest institutes of higher learning was set in 1740 by George Whitefield (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). With a charity school and a center for worship and fellowship in mind, the evangelist is credited with having conceived the idea for the construction of the institution (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The school was found in Jesus as the rock and foundation, making it a necessary and critical depiction of the earlier alluded to benefit of having Jesus as the foundation before any beginning. However, given the milestones and developments that the institution has had since then, is its reality a reflection of the initial purpose of the founding?

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“According to the grace of God which was given unto me, like a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation, can no man can lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-11. It is not in doubt that anything can be done through Jesus Christ for it is in him that all men and women derive their strength. Despite the challenges that may be picked up along the way and the hurdles that one may have to jump and wade through, if all is done in Christ, then such challenges and hurdles only serve the purpose of increasing our faith and making us stronger beyond what we thought we were capable of doing or overcoming.

Such is the story of the University of Pennsylvania. The history of this institution reveals that faith grounded in Jesus Christ is all it takes to have a great course brought into fruition. Having conceived the idea of a charitable school and a place of fellowship, George Whitefield set out to lay the first stone (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). However, due to challenges, his dream could not be brought to life at the time. However, because the initiative had been started to glorify God, someone else picked up the noble idea and through several other efforts, led to the construction and development of the institution of higher learning (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).

The historical review analyses the establishment of the institution, the figures that were critical to its foundation and the extent to which its present image reflects the truth about the grace of having God as our beginning. By looking at some of the milestones and achievements that set this institution of higher learning apart from other institutions of higher learning in the United States, the glory and power of God are brought to life. It sets out to answer the question, what was the role of religion in the establishment of the University of Pennsylvania, and to what extent has the University lived up to fulfilling its purpose in spreading the word of God?


This section of the paper familiarizes the reader with important information about the institution. It is in this section that the journey through understanding the University of Pennsylvania begins. In any case, one can only appreciate the whole theme addressed in this paper if they have a good grip about the institution and all the necessary information pertaining to it generally.


Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania is a private university that has a niche for translating the notion of knowledge into action with a social mindset (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The University of Pennsylvania, as indicated earlier herein, was established in 1740 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The university also believes in diversity and promotes diversity at the institution because it is only through such promotion that the students can develop important perspectives and thrive. This belief is hinged upon the understanding that each student makes a significant contribution through their religious beliefs, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, and cultural identities (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Below are some significant facts about the University of Pennsylvania.

It is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the United States. The University of Pennsylvania is the fourth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States behind Yale University (1701), College of William and Mary (1693) and Harvard University (1636). It is also among the colonial institutions of higher learning in the country because it was established before the declaration of independence of the United States (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Notwithstanding, the University of Pennsylvania is also the first institution of higher learning to adopt the name university having adopted the name in 1779 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). It is primarily a research institute, and the section on courses offered at the university will be descriptive of this assertion.

The motto of the University of Pennsylvania speaks volumes about the foundation of the institution. The motto is “Leges sine moribus vanae” which is Latin for “Laws without morals are useless” (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Morality is often attributed to religion, in the sense that what is mostly considered moral is that which conforms to the teachings of religion. The initial religion of the institution was Christianity owing to the fact that Whitefield was an evangelist. To that extent, the motto of the university reflects the fact that all the policies and all that is done at the institution is that which is moral and ethically acceptable. In a way, the motto also gives leeway for people to disobey laws, rules or policies provided that they are not morally justifiable. To that extent, one could argue that indeed, where such rules and policies do not conform to the teachings of God, then they are ineffective and impossible to implement.


The University of Pennsylvania prides itself on the fact that its founding dates back to 1740 as has been indicated earlier (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). George Whitefield, a prominent evangelist, conceived the idea of the university, albeit under the guise of another name. He wanted to build a charitable school which would also be used as a place of worship and fellowship for the individuals who followed his teaching (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). However, he did not conceive how expensive the construction of such an institution would be. Therefore, as construction was still on-going, it dawned on him that the resources available to him were not enough for the project (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). As such, for a decade, the project was left incomplete (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).

In 1749, Benjamin Franklin published an essay called “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania” published in Philadelphia. It is this essay that undoubtedly led to the establishment of the Academy of Philadelphia that would, later on, adopt the name University of Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). It is prudent, however, to address some of the key features of the proposals fronted by Benjamin Franklin. It is noteworthy from the foregoing that his proposals were somewhat novel in the sense that they aimed at upsetting the status quo in the Education sector at the time. Stated differently, they were proposing a curriculum that would go completely against the norm in the education sector (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Ideally, the colleges in Colonial America were training students (many, if not all of them men) in the Christian Ministry (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). However, Franklin’s proposal was aimed at training the students for leadership in areas such as business, public service, and government (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). His proposed program of study resembles what is currently considered the liberal arts (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).

After the publication of the essay, Benjamin Franklin circulated the essay among some of Philadelphia’s most elite citizens (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). He later organized 24 trustees to establish an institution of higher learning which would be based on the proposals (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Convinced, the 24 trustees went ahead and bought George Whitefield’s building that he had begun construction of his charity school but later stopped due to inadequate resources (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). As a result, in 1751, the Academy and Charitable School of in the province of Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania, 2019) became operational. The academy became open to the children whose parents belonged to the gentry as well as children whose parents belonged to the working class (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).

After the establishment of the institution of higher learning, it received its collegiate charter in the year 1755 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Moreover, its first class went on to graduate in the year 1757(University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Since then, this institution went ahead to make significant milestones such as established the first medical school particularly in the American Colonies (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). By around 1802, the institution had grown significantly to the extent of expanding into a new campus (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). As a result of this growth, the trustees built another campus in West Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).


As earlier indicated, the University of Pennsylvania is majorly a research institute. It has four schools; the school of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, Wharton, and School of engineering and applied sciences (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). All these schools offer graduate and undergraduate programs (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Some of the programs offered at the institution include; Accounting, Anatomy, Biochemistry, Bioethics, Criminology, Cinema and Media Studies, Design, Data Analytics, Design, Education, Epidemiology and so on (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The programs offered at the institution add up to a total of 90 majors (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Notwithstanding, the institution also offers dual degree options, in the sense that it enables students to pursue more than one degree that runs concurrently with another degree (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Dual degree programs are often opted into because they enable the student to take less time in completing their degrees.


This section of the paper looks at some of the figures that made significant contributions to the establishment of the institution. 


He was an Anglican Minister who was prominent in the 18th Century (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). He was very instrumental in the founding of the University of Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Originally from England, Whitefield traveled to North America while spreading the Great Awakening Evangelical Movement (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). He established a Charity School in 1740 that served as the forerunner to the University of Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). He served as the trustee to the school (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The school offered free instruction to children from low-income families (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). At the school, what was majorly taught was the Christian religion as well as useful literature (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).

Aside from being the idea behind where the University of Pennsylvania sits, he has been instrumental in other areas leading to the development of Penn. For instance, he was the one who solicited the initial contributions and donations towards the University of Pennsylvania Library (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Notwithstanding, he was also instrumental in the establishment of other institutions of higher learning such as Princeton University originally as Log College and Dartmouth College (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).


Given the fact that he is the founding father of the United States, it will be impossible to capture all his deeds and achievements in this section. To that extent, this section will only capture details that link him directly to the University of Pennsylvania. Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706 in Boston Massachusetts and died in 1790 in Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). He was the primary figure in the founding and shaping of the university (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). His involvement directly begins when he published the Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania because they formed the basis for the establishment of the Academy and Charitable School in the province of Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The academy opened two years after he published his proposals. The details of how the proposals translated to the establishment of the academy have already been addressed earlier on in the paper. Benjamin served as the trustee of the institution from 1749 up until his death in 1790 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Notwithstanding, he also served as the president of the board of trustees from 1749-56, and then from 1789-90 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).

It is noteworthy that Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield were great friends (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). He also attended one of Whitefield’s revival crusades that prompted him to publish some of Whitefield’s teachings (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). However, it is also noteworthy that the two parted in ideal as far as the curriculum was concerned. While Whitefield held the conservative approach of teaching Christian religion at the Charity School, Benjamin Franklin opted for the liberal approach of modern-day liberal arts.


He was born in 1727 and died in the year 1803 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). He has a rich history and connection at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first Provost of the University of Pennsylvania having been appointed by Benjamin Franklin in 1955 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). He served as the Provost from 1755-79 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). He was the professor of Ethics at the institution from 1954-91 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Moreover, he also served as the secretary of the board of trustees from 1764-90 and the president in 1790-91 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).

It should be noted that despite having been appointed by Benjamin Franklin, Smith’s vision of the institution of higher learning run parallel to Benjamin Franklin’s. His vision was similar to most of the colonial colleges at the time, which is to teach the students about the Christian religion (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). While provost, which is synonymous with the present-day president, Smith reorganized the curriculum to revert it to the classical teaching (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). This left him at odds with Franklin. As a matter of fact, the two disagreed on a lot of other issues such as the control of provincial military forces (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The dispute is what led to the replacement of Benjamin as president of the board of trustees in 1756 by Richard Peters only to reprise the role in 1789, three decades later (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).


The principles of the University are founded in one of Benjamin Franklin’s maxim, that “well done is better than well said.” It is the maxim that has been instrumental in the generation of a pragmatic culture rooted in the three ‘I’s; Inclusion, Innovation, and Impact.


Inclusiveness refers to the policies that allow the institution to provide graduate and undergraduate programs in an environment that fosters an inclusive intermingling of different cultures. These include;

  • Scholarship and Learning

The admission of students along with the faculty describes the diversity at the institution. It boasts of the fact that every state in the United States, as well as about 100 countries, are represented at the institution (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).

  • Access and Affordability

The university ensures that it replaces loans with grants, hence alleviating the rising concern over unsustainable costs of education in the country. The means that admission (or lack thereof) of the students will not be dependent on financial capabilities for students who are residents of the United States, Mexico or Canada (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). This gives students who come from humble financial backgrounds to have access to education. As a result, its financial aid budget has grown by over 161% in recent years.

  • Dynamic and Diverse Community

This not only refers to having a diverse community of students, but also a diverse community of staff and scholars (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The idea is to have the overall university community to reflect the reality of diversity in the world at large. To that end, in 2011, the university established an action plan that would see a significant increase in diversity (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). As a result, there was a 16% increase in female faculty as well as a 35% increase in the minority faculty (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). As of now, close half of the students at the university self-identify as students of color, 12% are international students whereas more than half of them are female students (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).


The institution’s innovation work is anchored on two principles; integrated knowledge and research discovery. The institution had a research budget of $928 million! (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). This shows the institution’s commitment to solving the complex problems of today through integrated knowledge that crosses previously set traditional boundaries. The institution also has a program called the Penn Integrates Knowledge that serves the sole purpose of bringing together renowned scholars that have interdisciplinary works and provide them with a platform to thrive in multidisciplinary fields (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).

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Addresses the effect that the University has in the community that forms its environment. It engages in community service through its program, Netter Center for Community Partnerships (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The university’s students and faculty, which total to about 13,000 participate in community volunteer and community service programs annually (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Notwithstanding, the university boasts of maintaining a friendly physical environment where it is situated. It has an exceptionally beautiful campus that has college greens and multiple recreational spaces. To that end, the impact area sort of serves as what is termed in business as corporate social responsibility.


The University has a lot of milestones that set it apart from other institutions. Aside from the fact that it is the first institution in the United States to be called a University, it has other milestones. For instance, it is the first institution of higher learning to host the first student’s union in the United States and it is also the first to have a double-decker college football stadium (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). However, below are some of the greatest milestones that the university has set.


It is the world’s first collegiate business school. It was established in the year in 1881 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The name of the collegiate school derives from the founder of the institution Joseph Wharton who brought it to the fruition of part of Benjamin Franklin’s vision of the institution of higher education when setting it up (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). It was a somewhat radical idea in the sense that it went against the norm because it basically called for a school within a school (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Despite its novelty, Joseph Wharton’s idea revolutionized higher education as well as in business practice.

It has three main goals; to incubate ideas that transform the business world, to drive insights to reinvent the art of decision-making and to create leaders that will go on to change the world (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). It basically changes the way business is done around the world through the generation of great ideas that are aimed at feeding the deficiencies or gaps in the existing state of the world (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). It not only fosters the generation of great ideas but also backs those ideas with insightful analysis and eventually transform them into realistic solutions (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). In so doing, through one trained leader at a time, the school drives economic growth on a global scale (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).


It is an acronym for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer which is an electronic, large-scale, general-purpose digital computer (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). It was established in the year 1946 by John W. Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert Jr (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The computer was constructed and later operated at the Moore School of Engineering which currently forms Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).

The ENIAC was the first general-purpose electronic computer and was revolutionary in its day (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). It is difficult to fully appreciate what this landmark milestone means for the world unless we put into context all that has been achieved as a result of the ENIAC discovery. The truth is that the idea of all the modern-day electronic devices was born at the University of Pennsylvania. In other words, there would be no laptops, smartphones, automobiles, planes, medical equipment and so on had the idea not been conceived (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).


The University of Pennsylvania prides itself on the fact that it is the first Ivy League institution of higher learning to have a female president (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). She was appointed the President in the year 1994 and served in that capacity up until 2004 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). This is a milestone because it paints a positive picture of the diversity and inclusivity principle of the institution. Moreover, the successor of the president, the current president Amy Gutmann, is also the first woman to succeed a female president as at an Ivy League institution of higher learning (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).


This refers to some of the most strategic initiatives that the University has in place so as to live up to Benjamin Franklin’s maxim, well done is better than well said.


It was launched by the current president of the University of Pennsylvania, Amy Gutmann (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). This initiative builds on the three principles of Inclusiveness, Innovation, and Impact. It is essentially vision 2020, which shows the university’s vision of diversity at the institution (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). As such, in terms of impact, the compact 2020 aims at providing and supporting knowledge, intending to address local (issues restricted to the community of Pennsylvania), national as well as global issues (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Through this initiative, the institution aims at helping a lot of people by providing solutions to these issues. It generally builds on the institution’s long tradition of civic-mindedness (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Such support and assistance include the support offered to Penn Alexander School, the growth of green spaces, and the Upenn Health System among other programs that look at improving the healthcare of the community (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).


This is an award that is offered to the senior students of the institution of higher learning for taking on projects within the first year of their graduation (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). It is a competitive award that is offered on an annual basis (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The projects undertaken may be local, national or even global (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). In any case, the institution envisions training leaders to take on issues that affect the global society at large. To that extent, the prize is directly linked to the Penn 2020 compact impact plan, in that it rewards those who positively impact the society either on a local, national or global scale (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).


It was created by the current president of the institution, Amy Gutmann as part of the way of strengthening the Penn compact 2020 initiative (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). This award specifically addresses the innovation section of the compact plan. Ideally, the award is given to the seniors who undertake to provide an innovative and commercial venture that has the capacity to bring a significant positive change to the world (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The award is usually given to individuals or groups of individuals (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). It is usually money to the tune of 100,000 with an additional $50, 000 living stipend for each individual or each member of the winning team (University of Pennsylvania, 2019).



Charity has always formed part and parcel of the University of Pennsylvania. For instance, George Whitefield provided free instruction after establishing the Charity School in 1740 (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Moreover, when the University was established by Benjamin Franklin, the institution had the word ‘charity’ in its name. To that extent, charity, or otherwise helping the needy was at its heart. It would be a great injustice if the institution did not make access to its facilities affordable.

The institution provides financial aid to students who cannot afford to meet the cost of education at the institution. Stated differently, the institution helps those students who come from humble financial backgrounds to have a chance to study at the institution (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The aid is provided in two ways; grants and work-study jobs (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Notably, for students who do not come from the United States, Mexico or Canada, admission is based on their ability to sustain themselves at the university (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Therefore, such students need to apply for financial aid to be able to study there.


Religion was at the core of the founding of the institution as indicated earlier. George Whitefield had the vision of his charity school doubling as a center of worship and fellowship (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Moreover, given the context in which the institution was established, Christianity was its peak and was practically what was taught in schools (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). This is evidenced by William Smith’s move to change the curriculum of the university that had been set by Benjamin Franklin. It is therefore evident that spiritual and religious development was part of the original purpose of the institution. To that end, to gauge whether the institution has conformed to that purpose, it is important to do an analysis based on the realities of today.

The enactment of the first amendment makes it impossible for the institution to promote Christianity alone. Therefore, it can be deduced that the institution lives up to its purpose if it promotes religious diversity, in the sense that all students, regardless of their religious, get an opportunity to grow and develop spiritually. At the University of Pennsylvania, there are many religious organizations to that effect. These include; PRISM interfaith group that promotes the interaction between the different religions, the New Spirit of Penn Gospel Choir that conducts musical performances around the university and Penn Cru that is focused on Bible study (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Other include; Penn Newman Catholic Center; Muslim Student’s Association; Penn Catholic Student Association; Intervarsity Christian Fellowship which is an evangelical mission; Lubavitch House at Penn, and Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania for students professing the Jewish Religion; Hindu Students Council/Young Jains of America; and the Christian Association (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). Therefore, it is pretty evident that the institution is living up to its purpose on this end.


Benjamin’s vision for the university was to train the students to become leaders in areas of public service, business and government (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). However, given the expansion of the university to offer different courses, the fields expanded. The notable from the institution who have gone ahead and become leaders would be evidence of the institution living up to the expectation of Benjamin Franklin.

Some of the notable alumni that ended up taking on leadership positions in their relevant fields or areas of expertise include the Current President of the United States Donald Trump, Tory Burch who is the CEO of Tory Burch LLC, the ninth president of the US William Henry Harrison, Kwame Nkrumah, the first PM and President of Ghana, Safra Catz, the Co-CEO of Oracle Corporation, as well as Elon Musk who is the CEO of Space-x. This shows that the alumni of the institution develop to become leaders in different areas. Moreover, as of 2014, the University of Pennsylvania was ranked at the university that produced most billionaires in the world, with the record at the time being 21 billionaires (Wealth-X, 2014). To that extent. The success rate is admirable.


This historical review of the University of Pennsylvania has been instrumental in showing that a great journey ought, to begin with, God. That where something is founded in Jesus Christ as the rock, then it is not bound to fail. The founders of the institution knew this hence established the institution as a way of continuing the growth and development of, originally, Christianity. However, from a biblical world point of view, it would be wrong to impose this religion on everybody. In any case, while individuals may not profess Christianity, provided that they are worshipping God nonetheless, then it will be unjust to rule out their faith and religion. As such, the university carries on the purpose of its founding fathers by creating an enabling environment for the development of different religions, providing quality education and training that shapes the students to become future leaders, and providing financial aid to the needy students which reflects the image of a charity school.



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