Nearly 30 students protested the University’s investments in fossil fuels outside the Board of Trustees meeting last week.
“Penn Trustees, divest please,” the protesters chanted on Friday morning in front of the Inn at Penn. The protesters took turns giving speeches about the importance of divestment and climate change prevention. In the past, the University has rejected calls to divest in fossil fuels, and divestment was not on the agenda for last week’s meeting.
On the table at the Trustees meeting were updates on Penn’s recently announced Climate Action Plan 2.0 and a discussion about how University administrators have preempted calls for payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs.
Below are highlights from several of the committee meetings:
Local, National and Global Engagement
At Thursday’s early-morning meeting on local, national and global engagement, administrators outlined to trustees Penn’s strategy for communicating its economic impact.
As the Philadelphia School district has become increasingly financially strapped over the past several years, there has been some talk about requesting PILOTs from the University. In response, Penn and other colleges and universities in the city, which do not typically pay property taxes, commissioned an economic impact report last year touting the “Philadelphia model” of public-nonprofit cooperation.
David Glancey, director of special projects in the Office of Government and Community Affairs, said that administrators have lobbied Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia City Council members against instituting PILOTs. Partnerships with schools — including those with the Penn Alexander School and the Henry C. Lea School — replace direct payments to the city.
“We’re not a social service agency — we’re a university,” Vice President for Government and Community Affairs Jeff Cooper said . “Our capacities are limited by our mission and our own resources.”
At the same meeting, Penn Museum Director Julian Siggers presented a new initiative that would bring seventh-grade students from Philadelphia schools to the museum.
“We’ve always been very committed to getting schoolchildren exposed to the museum,” Siggers said. “But those kids that were coming into the museum were mostly from suburban schools or private schools. Hardly any of them were coming from Philadelphia itself.”
The museum, in partnership with Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite, intends to give all 10,000 seventh-graders the chance to come to the museum, Siggers said.
Facilities & Campus Planning
Members of Penn’s Board of Trustees discussed several new Penn projects at the Facilities & Planning Meeting, including the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics project and the Penn Wharton China Center, according to the meeting’s agenda.
At the meeting, Penn revealed the proposed design for the new Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics — an 111,000 square foot building at 36th and Walnut streets set to house the political science and economic departments, as well as other related departments. The proposed design adds an extension to the current concrete building at 36th and Walnut streets that looks similar to the design of the Singh Center for Nanotechnology. Development for the project is expected to begin in December 2015 and be completed in January 2018.
The Trustees also received a presentation on the Penn Wharton China Center, set to open in March 2015. The 25,000-foot center, located in the Beijing Central Business District, is designed to provide a central location for students studying abroad in China and to strengthen Wharton’s brand in China.
Trustees at the meeting were also updated about Penn’s Climate Action Plan 2.0, which aims to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2042 and increase faculty and student involvement in sustainability efforts. The plan was announced two weeks ago.
Stated Meeting of the Trustees
Penn’s Trustees approved two new degree programs and $6 million in funding for a preliminary design for a Hill College House renovation at its stated meeting on Friday.
Master’s programs in regulatory affairs and regulatory science were approved by the Board of Trustees to be offered at the Perelman School of Medicine.
Outside this final meeting, students part of a march organized by Fossil Free Penn — a student group founded on the momentum of the People’s Climate March in New York — protested Penn’s investments in fossil fuels.
“I hope the rally will incentivize the Board of Trustees Finance Committee to evaluate their investment decisions in light of what the student community wants,” said College sophomore Katherine McKay, the Undergraduate Assembly’s liaison to the Student Sustainability Association at Penn.
“We will work until Penn wields its institutional and moral clout to remove the social license from fossil fuel companies,” said Engineering sophomore Thomas Lee, one of Fossil Free Penn’s coordinators.
Enterprise Editor Will Marble and Staff Writers Corey Stern, Eunice Lim and Jessica Washington contributed reporting.
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