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Speaking Out

Reversing the Tide | Seeking Safety on Sidewalks

Reversing the Tide

I am writing to agree with Professor Summers' comments about the paucity of Friday classes for undergraduates at Penn. But the problem is even more severe than he suggests. In fact, the vast majority of undergraduate courses at Penn are offered Monday through Thursday, from 10:30 a.m. through 3 p.m., a situation which creates severe pressures on our classrooms and causes course scheduling conflicts that make it exceptionally difficult for students to construct intellectually challenging and interesting academic programs.

Although it may be the case that many faculty enjoy having their Fridays free in order to devote an entire day to their research activities, it is my belief that we have been brought to our present, unfortunate state not by faculty self-indulgence or sloth, but, rather, by an excessive solicitousness to our students' sleeping habits and to their afternoon sports practice needs. And I, and other deans, may be part of the problem as well, for faculty have become increasingly aware that administrators pay some attention to course enrollments, and therefore are reluctant to schedule their classes when students are sleeping or playing on the sporting fields.

Penn has become a university with a remarkably responsive "customer service" attitude toward its students, whether in the construction of cinema complexes, shopping malls and luxury fitness centers or in the manner in which we manage to fit our classes into the panoply of other student activities. I think we have perhaps gone too far in this direction. As one means of reversing a process in which I have been admittedly complicit, I have recently asked SAS departments to consider offering some of their large-enrollment, requirement-fulfilling courses at 9 a.m.

I suspect that something more than this may be necessary to reverse the tide, but I hope it will move us in the right direction.

-- Richard R. Beeman, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences


The following was sent to Chief of PoliceThomas Rambo and others, including Almanac.

Seeking Safety on Sidewalks

While the Penn Police are lauded by the Governor's Office for a Buckle-Up PA Grant Program, be assured I will actively work to rescind that award for your disinclination to enforce Commonwealth "black letter law."

Jerry Briggs has been ten years yammering away over bicycles on sidewalks (note that the date on Judith Rodin's letter promising support was October 3, 1994). Your glib October response (Almanac October 15, 2002) to Professor Ann Mayer is word for word what I received from you last May (Almanac May 7, 2002), so the Chief of Penn Police can hardly claim the community's strident calls for help are news (Almanac October 22, 2002, November 9, 1999), nor can he ask why didn't somebody bring crashes between legal foot-traffic and wheel-traffic illegally on sidewalks to his attention earlier (University of Pennsylvania Library Orrery, Volume 23, Number 1, January 20, 1995).

I've watched Tom Rambo careen from a hard-charging, go-ahead police officer to a stooge for the administration. Once a cop starts obeying some civilian kissy-faced memos issuant out of College Hall instead of his sworn oath to uphold and enforce the law his badge turns to tinfoil.

The same university leadership encouraging this do-nothing policy will deny it all and toss Chief Rambo to the wolves--all in the name of Ultimate Accountability--once someone on crutches gets killed because the victim couldn't scamper out of the way in time to avoid impact.

Many of us, including the University President, remember the days of Ted Barkus and the Campus Guards, a comedy troupe of Keystone Kops who dressed up but failed to act.

Speeding silently, bicyclists sporting protective gear operating on sidewalks, whacking pedestrians without warning, unite every segment on this campus: deans to dishwashers, surgeons to sophomores. We, all of us, are in the crosshairs. I've witnessed a dismounted bike-officer banged from the side waiting to cross the 34th & Walnut intersection. This packet of 24 photographs was snapped within eight minutes--check the shadows--of 9 a.m. one Thursday in early October: same spot an employee had her ankle broken and the Monday, November 4, collision between a bicycle and a pair of construction workers pushing a loaded wheelbarrow. I stand ready to submit much more: 10:30 a.m., just after noon, 3 and 5 p.m. are particularly hazardous times.

I am encouraging my union, Local 590, AFSCME to demand an accounting of how many citations your force has issued sidewalk-cyclists; special emphasis on the investigation of the April 1991 incident when that Van Pelt Library clerk was knocked to the ground by some miscreant charging downhill, frisky and free as the winds of spring.

I never saw police get the offender's name.

If common sense and victim payouts won't motivate you, there's always the embarrassment of public outcry. Either way, with the chief's support or despite it, the walking population is going to find safety on our footpaths.

You didn't do anything. Now they're an even bigger problem. What are you going to do?

Just standing on the steps of the Rhoads Pavilion, where HUP meets the Quad, you can observe student and bike-courier tiremarks on patients coming in and out for cancer treatment or liver transplants.

Try to conceal your personal shame at what cruel indignities the hale ‘n' hearty are working on the dying.

Can any humanist contain his outrage hearing, in place of ‘excuse me,' ‘get the f*** outta my way, oldhead'?

That brick pavement, by impressive iron gates--halfheartedly decorated with ‘Walk Bicycles' signs, is the very best location for a video crew from Fox News to film the dangers of strolling about the University of Pennsylvania's undisciplined multifunction sidewalks.

I'm going to suggest the reporter bring along a radar-gun to record the bikes' velocity. It's going to require a whole new set of prepackaged double-talk to dodge those eye-popping numbers.

-- Jerry Briggs, Van Pelt Library

Ed Note: Almanac is anticipating an article from the UPPD next month, about a Share the Road bicycle safety campaign to be launched in University City by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

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. 49, No. 13, November 19, 2002