COUNCIL 1999-2000 Year-End Committee Reports

Community Relations

September 3, 2000

Discussed at Council on April 26, 2000


The University Council Committee on Community Relations met eight times during the 1999-2000 academic year to hear reports and conduct discussions within the framework of the following charge:


Over the past several years, the University has developed, with community input, a number of initiatives that seek to strengthen its relationship with its neighbors. Continue to maintain oversight of the University's impact on the community, giving special attention to real estate developments and transactions, the planned preK-8 school at the Divinity School, and the Center for Community Partnerships. Conduct meetings with selected neighborhood organizations and their leaders and other residents to determine their perception of the University's relationship with the community.

Expand the scope of the Committee's review to include the University's overall relationship with the City of Philadelphia.


At the beginning of each year this committee faces the challenge of ensuring that its members are adequately informed on the University's various programs and activities before it can usefully address its mandate--possibly a greater challenge than for other committees because of the sheer number and diversity of the University's relations with the community and the complexity of its history. The challenge is made more difficult by the fact that many of the members of the committee, representing (as they should) the interests of residents of different specific neighborhoods of West Philadelphia, have to balance their personal interests with the larger concern of the committee. In order to meet this challenge the committee usually spends a significant proportion of its time listening to briefings, leaving most of its information--gathering in the community to informal sampling of members. The existence of "Penn Faculty and Staff for Neighborhood Issues" (PFSNI), with its active listserv, while providing a welcome source of information, makes it more difficult for the Committee assess public opinion at large in the community.

Organization of Work

After discussing the charge the committee decided that since issues relating to University City and West Philadelphia were more immediate and information about them more accessible, and since much time would necessarily be taken up by briefing there would not be sufficient time to deal with the second paragraph. Briefings were organized in order to inform the members of the Committee on the following subjects:

  • Programs of the Office of City and Community Relations (Glenn Bryan, Director)
  • Programs of the Center for Community Partnerships (Professor Francis E. Johnston, Faculty Advisory Committee Co-chair)
  • Programs of the University City District (Paul Steinke, Executive Director)
  • Real estate programs (Leroy D. Nunery, Vice President, Business Services)
  • Proposed preK-8 Penn-assisted school (Nancy Streim, Associate Dean, GSE, and Ann Kreidle)
  • WXPN (Vinnie Curren, Manager)
  • University of Pennsylvania Museum for Archaeology and Anthropology (Brian Spooner, Curator)

Discussions arising from these briefings dealt with the following issues:

  • Where the boundaries should be drawn to limit the extent of the interests of the Committee and of several of the various interests and projects of the University. This was a contentious issue, on which a variety of opinions were expressed, which was not reducible to a consensus.
  • How to ensure the most useful and objective monitoring of perceptions in the community.
  • How to deal constructively with the contentious issues relating to the decision on the boundaries of the catchment area for the prospective preK-8 school.
  • How to diffuse the us-them image of the Penn Program for Public Service.
  • The importance of University support for the outreach efforts of the School of Dental Medicine and the School of Nursing.
  • How to capitalize on the success of WXPN (which is based on a careful definition of listening communities) by relating it more directly to the local community, as well as using it to promote the image of the University in the community through well designed programs publicizing the various services the University offers to the community.
  • The need to give the Office of Off-Campus Housing more direct input into the activities of school administrators working with new faculty and staff.
  • What to do about the serious increase in helicopter noise, especially after hours.
  • How to attract more attention to the state of West Philadelphia streets, especially those used for daily commuting through the community (since much improved).
  • How to ensure more useful consultation on the part of public services, such as Septa, in the scheduling of projects that have a major impact on local businesses as well as residential life.
  • How to promote safe bicycle use while protecting the rights of pedestrians.
  • How to provide more green space.

One subcommittee met at intervals through the year for the purpose of working out better ways to monitor perceptions beyond the opinions that were readily available in the local neighborhood press, the Inquirer and the Penn Faculty and Staff for Neighborhood Issues (PFSNI) listserv. The subcommittee addressed both the problem of perception of West Philadelphia in the University and in Center City, and the problem of perceptions of the University in West Philadelphia.

General Findings

Overall the Committee found that concern about crime and danger on the streets appears to have decreased markedly over recent years, specifically since the University program of investing in the community became known. Attention now is focused rather on what appears to be disregard of local interests on the part of both public services and business interests. Although these may have no relationship to the University, nevertheless the University's image tends to suffer, because of the general impression that the University is powerful enough to make a difference, and if it is not involved it should be. Although in many cases these may have nothing to do with the University, for understandable reasons the University tends to be implicated in local perceptions. Reasoning tends to follow the logic that even if the University is not behind a particular enterprise or project, since it is involved in so many things it could also take a hand in this for the better.


The Committee was not able to attain closure on all of these issues but wishes to offer the following recommendations:

  1. Efforts should be made to involve more Penn faculty and staff residing in West Philadelphia in the Penn Program for Public Service.
  2. In the same way that representatives of the University administration are included ex officio on the Committee, representatives from the Committee should be routinely invited to meetings in the Administration that relate to the Committee's work, especially any involving representatives of the Community.
  3. Since it is unlikely that future committees will have sufficient time to review the University's overall relations with the City of Philadelphia, it is recommended that this topic be referred to a separate committee.
  4. A special committee should be appointed to work out ways to capitalize on the success of the University's public radio station, WXPN, for improved communication between the University and the Community, and especially publication of the University's various services.
  5. There is a lack of good information in the Community about the University's policies, priorities, and activities. Next year's committee and perhaps other organs of the University should devote attention to devising ways to improve the interactive flow of information.
  6. The Committee should be provided with data on the distribution of Penn employees and graduate students living in West Philadelphia.
  7. In forming the committee attention should be given not only to including West Philadelphia residents, but also (where possible) to including residents from different areas of West Philadelphia.
  8. The Committee should develop a strategic plan for a term longer than the eight months of an academic year in order to obviate the needed comprehensive annual repetition of briefings.

--Brian Spooner, Chair

1999-2000 Council Committee on Community Relations

Chair: Brian Spooner, anthro; Faculty: Janet Abrahm, medicine; Peter Dodson, animal biology; Lois K. Evans, nursing; Klaus Krippendorff, communication; Christopher Looby, English; Lyn Harper Mozley, psychiatry; Richard Womer, pediatrics; Graduate/professional students: Kristina Baumli, GAS; Darin Toliver, SW; Undergraduate students: Paige Kollock, Col; Rashmi Bhat, Col; PPSA: Jody Kolodzey, Development and Alumni Relations; Karlene Burrell-McRae, Greenfield Intercultural Ctr; Namrata Narain, Population Studies Ctr.; Tchet Dereic Dorman, Educ Opportunity Ctr; A-3: Barbara Holmes, Off-Campus Living; Regina Cantave, ISC; Ex officio: Jeanne Arnold, African American Res Ctr; Glenn Bryan, community relations; Vinnie Curren, WXPN; Michael Diorka, recreation; Lee D. Nunery, bus svcs for exec vice president; Pam Robinson, College Houses; Michael Rose, Annenberg Center.

Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 5, September 26, 2000

| FRONT PAGE | CONTENTS | JOB-OPS | CRIMESTATS | BENCHMARKS: Electronic Privacy in Practice | 1999-2000 COUNCIL REPORTS: Admissions & Financial Aid, Pluralism, Communications, Community Relations, Personnel Benefits and Quality of Student Life | TALK ABOUT TEACHING ARCHIVE | BETWEEN ISSUES | OCTOBER at PENN |