Penn admins encourage student involvement in Occupy Philadelphia
Along with several undergraduate deans, Penn President Amy Gutmann said she has been pleased to see students contributing to an ongoing dialogue on the nation's future
October 20, 2011, 11:13 pm · Updated October 21, 2011, 1:52 am·
Penn students involved with Occupy Philadelphia have found encouragement from the University’s administration.
Along with several undergraduate deans, Penn President Amy Gutmann said she has been pleased to see students participating in the Occupy Philadelphia protests — which began as an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street — and contributing to an ongoing dialogue on the future of the nation.
“I’ve always encouraged students to get involved in civic and political matters such as this … and it’s been good to see their participation,” she said. “I’m looking forward to our students telling me something about what they’re feeling and observing right now.”
She added that she views the protests as a manifestation of the various frustrations citizens across the country have felt in light of the economy and job market.
For Gutmann, however, it is still too early to say whether she supports the Occupy movement itself.
So far, the movement “has no real specific agenda, and therefore it’s very hard to comment on,” she said. “It’s another expression of building frustration — and people have every right to do it — but it’s still too soon to characterize it as a whole.”
Though Gutmann is encouraged by student engagement in the movement to date, she added that it would be “irresponsible of me to primarily feel that frustration [protesters are feeling] as opposed to remaining dedicated to the mission we have as a university.”
The Wharton School — which sends many of its graduates to jobs on Wall Street and is viewed by some as symbolic of the corporate world on campus — has been on the receiving end of some protesters’ ire over the past week.
Wharton administrators, however, echoed Gutmann’s sentiments on student participation.
“I support the right of our students to engage in healthy, respectful public discourse over matters that are of interest to the society in which they live,” Wharton Dean Thomas Robertson wrote in an email.
Georgette Chapman Phillips, vice dean of Wharton’s undergraduate division, agreed.
“It is crucial that our undergraduates at Wharton and at the University have the opportunity to participate in public debate on matters that affect them and their future,” Phillips wrote in an email.
Such a debate has already hit Wharton head-on.
On Friday afternoon, protesters are planning to march from Center City to Huntsman Hall to demonstrate outside a speech by House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). The speech, which was organized by the Wharton Leadership Lecture series and will begin at 4:30 p.m. in Huntsman, will focus on income inequality.
As of 11 p.m. Thursday, the Facebook event “Occupy Eric Cantor March” had 304 confirmed attendees.
Last week, College senior Alex Niculescu made a Facebook event entitled “Occupy Wharton.” Though the event’s description indicates that the page is currently “merely an initial call to see who is interested in organizing for an occupation,” many have reacted negatively to its creation.
While College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dennis DeTurck does not believe the criticism levied against Wharton has been fair, he said the general demands of the Occupy Philadelphia protesters are legitimate.
“I support what they’re asking for,” he said. “I think that most of their demands are very justifiable — not that the world owes them a living, but that society has a responsibility to help somebody when they’re in need.”
He added that “at the core [of this protest] is the uniquely American notion of social and economic mobility, which a lot of people have believed in for quite a while, and which now seems to be broken.”
Though he said casting blame on one particular facet of society “is not constructive,” he hopes Penn students will continue to make their voices heard “in as positive a way as possible.”
Student supporters of Occupy Philadelphia were, in general, pleased with the encouragement that has come from the administration.
“It’s good to know that the people who represent us on different levels are supportive,” said College sophomore Sarah Hendry, who attended the protests outside City Hall before fall break.
Regardless of how the Occupy movement plays out, Gutmann said the University’s mission remains unchanged.
“I think Penn represents one large institution that has weathered these [economic] times remarkably well,” she said, “and as a consequence, we as a university have a very strong obligation to do the best we can for this country and for the world.”