Click for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Forecast

Speaking Out

Bicyclists vs. Pedestrians

We may be thankful Sir Peter--Sir Peter Shepheard, a Visionary Landscape Architect and Planner--never saw Blanche Levy Park, his ‘pedestrian-oriented area', degrade into a high-speed bicycle raceway because our university hasn't the courage to insist on good social citizenship. Penn is quite likely the only school among the Ivy League wherein bicycle-riders deliberately plow into walkers with a hearty "get the hell out of my way!" And it ain't ‘hell' they're yellin'. I honestly believed that after that potential student's mother suffered a broken collarbone during a campus tour somebody in charge would wise up and take charge. But then I also thought we'd see some action after a co-worker had her ankle snapped on the Walnut Street sidewalk last April. Penn placed two nice green trashbins against the wall. Now we can slink to and from work. Like the lady says, "It isn't a family anymore, it's a business." Well it's bad business when employees and customers are laid up murmuring to lawyers.

--Jerry Briggs, Van Pelt Library

Response (to "Bicyclists vs. Pedestrians")

The University does have a Bicycle Policy that has been in effect since 1994. The Penn Police actively enforces the policy. A section of the policy reads as follows:

  • Bicycles may not be operated on Locust, Smith and Hamilton Walks between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Cyclists should dismount their bikes and walk their vehicles between the above-mentioned hours.

In addition to University policy, the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code and the Philadelphia Code prohibits any person above the age of twelve from riding a bicycle on any sidewalk or pedestrian pathway in a business district. The Penn campus area meets the definition of a business district. University Police are authorized to enforce both the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code and City of Philadelphia Ordinances. Consequently, those found in violation of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code would qualify for issuance of a Traffic Citation.

Penn Police officers on foot and on bicycles are aware of and share the safety concerns that pedestrians have relative to unsafe operation of bicycles on campus walkways. Officers are detailed to campus walkways every day to enforce appropriate ordinances. Through visible, proactive patrol, our officers will make the walkways of our campus safer for all members of our community.

If a member of the community should observe a bicycle operating in a manner inconsistent with University policy, I encourage you to bring the situation to the attention of the Penn Police by reporting this activity to the department. Walk to the nearest Blue Light emergency phone and report the activity to our Communications Center. An officer will be dispatched and the situation will be managed appropriate to the offense.

--Thomas A. Rambo, Chief of Police

Convenience vs. Confidentiality

I recently received e-mail notification of the new "U@Penn" system whereby faculty/staff payroll information will be web-accessible. I am writing to express my deep concern at the implementation of the this system. I do not see any compelling rationale for putting payroll/benefits information on the web, and the security exposure is substantial.

I take considerable effort to avoid putting personal information, such as home address, home telephone number, social security number, credit card numbers, etc., on any computer where they could be accessed from the outside even in principle. This system will make it possible for a malicious hacker to obtain even more sensitive information about me.

I am aware that ISC has gone to some lengths to ensure that the system is as secure as possible. However, the security relies entirely on the integrity of my PennNet password. This password has been stolen at least once in the past, probably by a sniffer program, and I have to anticipate that it will be stolen in the future. Even without the password vulnerability, however, history has shown that systems believed to be totally secure can have hidden weaknesses that come to light only when there is a major breach of security.

There is of course a tradeoff between convenience and security. For example, student records are also on the web via the PENN InIouch and other systems. That is a case where I would agree that the convenience of students and designated faculty and staff accessing the information outweighs the putative risk of its becoming public. Salary information is, I believe, in a different category. I have never needed to know my benefits status at 10 p.m. on a weekend--waiting until working hours to contact my business administrator or the Benefits Office has been perfectly acceptable up to now.

I hope that Penn will rethink the implementation of the U@Penn system.

--Paul A. Heiney, Professor of Physics

Response (to "Convenience vs. Confidentiality")

We are in complete agreement with Professor Heiney that the need to maintain the confidentiality of personal information is extremely important. We can assure him that we have given the matter careful attention with regard to U@Penn. This is a responsibility that we all take very seriously. We also recognize that the innovative use of technology may entail some risks, which must be balanced against opportunities to enhance service delivery and improve administrative efficiencies. We believe that, in this case, the appropriate safeguards have been taken to mitigate the risks while achieving some significant benefits.

U@Penn's ability to control data and content presented, along with the current state of access controls, will provide increased convenience to the Penn community through a fast, secure and easy to access web application. In an environment where administrative efficiency is a desired goal, U@Penn will reduce calls on business administrators' time as well as reduce the number of "back office" inquiries permitting focus on the more complex service needs of the faculty and staff. Due diligence has been performed to protect and secure the information in accordance with University security policy and best practices.

Personal information is not actually stored within the web application; it is only when an individual selects information on the U@Penn site that the information is retrieved from the personnel/payroll system and displayed. If the application is not accessed, the data remains secured in the existing payroll/personnel system. There is no "identifying information" presented on screens with the actual personal data. In addition, a time-out factor is employed so that if an individual fails to log out and/or respond within a predetermined period, the session is automatically logged off. The application verifies that an individual has a valid record on the personnel/payroll system and all activity to U@Penn is logged.

Over the last several years, increasingly more stringent requirements for passwords have been in place making it more difficult to "guess" passwords. The web security software in use does not permit the transmission of clear text passwords and encrypts them. The servers on which the applications operate are not general purpose machines, e.g. do not run e-mail, are located in a secure facility and operate behind "firewalls", which further reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

We believe that U@Penn will provide faculty and staff with a convenient means of accessing their information, but we also recognize that individuals may choose not to use this convenience. For the Penn community in general, U@Penn will be a fast, secure and flexible means of obtaining information that would otherwise require significant verbal or written communications.

-- Robin H. Beck, Vice President for Information Systems and Computing
-- Kenneth B. Campbell, Comptroller
-- John J. Heuer, Vice President for Human Resources

Ed Note: CLICK HERE for more information on the new U@Penn web-based service.

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues will be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated. --Eds

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 33, May 7, 2002


May 7, 2002
Volume 48 Number 33

A memorial gathering will be held at noon today, in remembrance of Shannon Shieber who was killed four years ago today.

This year's Perkins Award goes to a long-time member of the GSFA faculty.
The School of Veterinary Medicine awards to seven members of its faculty.
The Penn's Way 2002 campaign raised over $400,000.
Speaking Out on Bicyclists vs Pedestrians, and Convenience vs. Confidentiality.
Death of Dr. Frederic Roll, emeritus professor of civil engineering.
Reports from the Senate Committee on the Faculty as well as the Senate Committee on Administration, along with Procedures Regarding Misconduct in Research and Policy for Postdoctoral Fellows.
Two faculty are named to the National Academy of Sciences and one to AAAS.
The expanded PENNCard Policy covers emergency events.
The Three-Year Academic Calendar covers through 2004-2005.