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COUNCIL 2000-2001 Year-end Committee Reports

The following reports were presented at Council last spring.
Final reports for Community Relations, Facilities, Personnel Benefits, Pluralism, Quality of Student Life, and Safety and Security, were given to
Almanac recently for publication.

Report by the Subcommittee on Perceptions of the Community Relations Committee

May 4, 2001

(CLICK HERE for theCommunity Relations Committee report)

The Community Relations Committee/Perceptions Subcommittee, 1999-2000/2000-2001, consisted of: Karlene Burrell-McRae, Jody Kolodzey, Klaus Krippendorff and Brian Spooner.

Our focus has been on symbiotic perceptions. We have been concerned, that is, not just with how Penn is perceived by the West Philadelphia Community, but with how the West Philadelphia Community is perceived by Penn.

We have observed how certain practices and policies of the University serve to create perceptions by its students, faculty, and staff that the surrounding community is hostile and unsafe; at the same time, these and other University practices and policies foster perceptions by West Philadelphia residents and business owners that the University considers them a nuisance and an obstacle to its perceived notion of manifest destiny. There is mutual distrust, and mutual feeling that each regards the other as something of a "feeding ground."

Some of the things we looked at were concrete: i.e., the perceptions of people who walked their dogs on the site of the planned pre-K-8 school, and had come to consider themselves a "community" whose members looked out for and supported one another. This group of West Philadelphians further cemented its sense of communitas by banding together against a perceived enemy--not just to its habit of dog-walking, but to its actual existence as a community--and that enemy is Penn. The threat, as these people perceived it, was not just individual, but collective, and as such, it proved very motivating.

Other things we observed were more subtle and abstract: i.e., the perception that the subtext of the "Go West" campaign promoting Thursday night activities on campus indicated that the community was not welcome. For West Philadelphians, coming to campus means going East. The perceived implication was that only Center City residents were invited.


The idea for this subcommittee grew out of some remarks made at the first Community Relations Committee meeting of 1999-2000. At that time, a representative from Residential Life told the committee that her office had initiated van service to take students from the College Houses to the University Museum on Thursday evenings. Several of us immediately thought, "It's not very far. Why can't they walk?" A founding member of our subcommittee said she was reminded of the first apartment she looked at in University City when she initially came here as a graduate student. That apartment had bars on the windows. Rather than feeling more secure because of the bars, she was terrified: "My God," she wondered, "What are they keeping out?" Likewise, having such a van suggests it is not safe to walk three blocks here after dark. We recalled that a DP guest columnist had written in 1998 that the University's Escort Service was originally a walking service; the columnist noted that turning it into a van service not only increased the perception that the streets were unsafe, but actually contributed to making them unsafe by removing pedestrian traffic.

We were also intrigued by a comment made by a member of GAPSA --that ten years ago, 100% of Penn's grad students lived in West Philadelphia. Now, 70% of them live in Center City. Our subcommittee wanted to know: How is this fact related to the concept of perceptions? Do grad students perceive the West Philly neighborhood as undesirable? Do West Philly residents perceive grad students as undesirable neighbors? What role do Penn's own real estate and business practices in the community play in the grad students' perceptions of West Philadelphia as an undesirable place to live?

We decided it would be useful to offer a series of focus groups aimed at getting a handle on exactly what some of these perceptions are. One member of our subcommittee is very proficient and experienced in focus group design, organization, and management. The problem our subcommittee faced, however, was the same one that addles the Community Relations Committee as a whole and was discussed in our last couple of general committee meetings: not enough time or manpower. It was too much for us to do ourselves. We lost momentum. We lost heart.


We are uncomfortable with the perception that our role is to be cheerleaders and apologists for the University's expansion policies. Rather, as one member of our subcommittee put it, we "want to make sure that people who are not Penn staffers are not shafted."

We believe that perceptions are important and that more attempts should be made to examine and to heed them. They should never be dismissed as "wrong." They create their own reality.

--Jody Kolodzey

Report by the Subcommittee on Charges of the Committee on Community Relations

April 18, 2001

(CLICK HERE for theCommunity Relations Committee report)


In recent years the Committee on Community Relations has struggled to define a purpose or manageable task for each academic year. This struggle for definition was particularly difficult over the 2000-2001 year, and generated considerable discussion and analysis. From this we have concluded:

  1. The Committee lacks a specific purpose or role, in large part because it has been supplanted by other organizations and committees.
  2. There are serious, structural problems contained within the Charges to the Committee, that make it difficult for the Committee to perform effectively.
  3. There remain aspects of community relations and Penn-Community projects that are not adequately addressed by existing committees or organizations within the University.

We therefore recommend:

  1. That the presently formulated Committee on Community Relations, as defined by the Charges to that committee, be eliminated.
  2. That consideration be given to devising sharply focused committees or organizations to address issues not already addressed by other entities, with particular consideration for committees or organizations that would prospectively review/comment-on/react-to/evaluate Penn-Community projects before these projects are underway.
  3. That consideration be given to developing structures for evaluating the long-term "success" of major University/Community projects and relations, as well as the total integrated activity of the University with respect to the Community. Such an evaluation would require personnel with appropriate time, skills, and resources.

Finally, leaving aside the recommendations listed above, we draw your attention to some of the specific structural problems faced by the Committee, which severely limit its effectiveness:

  1. The charge to the Committee is vague. It speaks of assuring that "the University maintains a constructive relationship with the community", but does not specify what constitutes the "community". Nor does it specify what "constructive relationship" is.
  2. The charge to the Committee is overly broad. It includes issues such as housing, real estate development, economic development, beautification, safety, policing, health and wellness programs, educational programs for residents, and educational programs for University students. No committee with its attention so divided can be expected carry out its charge.
  3. The Committee does not have the expertise to carry out its charge. For instance, for the Specific Charges for 2000-2001 the Committee is called to "maintain oversight of the University's impact on the community, giving special attention to real estate developments and transactions, and the planned preK-8 school." Impact "assessment" is a job for experienced professionals -- with the requisite education, training, and resources--in this case, urban planners, sociologists, real estate specialists, and educational specialists. The University places a high value on excellence; the Committee should not be asked to render judgments it is unqualified to make.
  4. Three of the four Specific Charges for 2000-2001 deal with information sharing or making "contacts" and "relationships" with other organizations for unspecified goals and purposes. This suggests that the Committee no longer has a specific purpose, or that its original purpose has been supplanted by other organizations.

The Subcommittee consisted of Daniel Bogen, author of this report, Jeanne Arnold, and Richard Womer.

(CLICK HERE for theCommunity Relations Committee report)

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 6, October 2, 2001


October 2, 2001
Volume 48 Number 6

Dr. Lerman appointed associate director for Cancer Control and Population Science and director of the Tobacco Research program at the Leonard & Madlyn Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute
$2.1 million grant to introduce advanced security features into standard office PCs.
Dennis DeTurck, Srilata Gangulee and Alton Strange will serve the Colleges Houses this year.
The new director for public serves at the Library is Sandra Kerbel.
Wharton as appointed Steven Oliveira as associate dean for External Affairs.
UCD has announced it's new executive director.
Deadlines are announced for Pilot and Feasibility Grants, Trustees' Council Grants, Robert Bosch Fellowships and Luce Scholars Program
Year-end Council reports: Community Relations; Facilities; Personnel Benefits; Pluralism; Quality of Student Life; and Safety and Security.
A new Temporary Staffing Services has a new vendor; EHRS has Training for October and Annual Tuberculosis Screening is now available.
Steinhardt Hall, the new Hillel Center breaks ground.