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A local law center filed a long-awaited class action suit against the University yesterday, claiming the school has violated a city ordinance requiring it to provide scholarships to needy Philadelphia high schoolers. Three University groups have joined the suit, which alleges that the University does not provide enough "Mayor's Scholarships," which were established by a series of agreements with the city in exchange for nearly 47 acres of land. The suit, filed by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia in Common Pleas Court, demands the University adhere to a 1977 agreement with the city "to establish and forever maintain at least 125 four-year full tuition scholarships, or their equivalent." The University and PILCOP disagree over whether the 1977 statute requires the University to provide a total of 125 scholarships in any one year or 125 new four-year scholarships each year. According to University officials, there were 162 Mayor's Scholars enrolled at the University last year. The 50-page complaint states several alleged violations of the agreement besides the major point of contention. Among them, PILCOP claims the University gave some of the scholarships to schools that are not in the city. But Associate General Counsel Debra Fickler said yesterday that all of the scholarships were approved by a committee appointed by the mayor and that those recipients not in Philadelphia schools were residents of the city. Fickler, who is one of the lawyers currently handling the case for the University, declined to comment further on the suit. The complaint also alleges that the University is violating the ordinance since it is not allowing the mayor to choose the recipients. "[The University has] taken over the awarding whole cloth, allowing the mayor of the city only the hollow, formalistic ratification of decisions made entirely by the University," the complaint says. But President Sheldon Hackney said at a University Council meeting earlier this month that he had met with Mayor Wilson Goode in June "to review our implementation of these scholarships, and both the University and the city agree that we are meeting our commitments." PILCOP attorney Tom Gilhool disputed the University's assertion yesterday. "It is 125 four-year full tuition scholarships to be awarded annually," Gilhool said. "That means there should be 500 Mayor's Scholars walking around campus in any given period or their monetary equivalent." Gilhool added that the University has failed to publicize the scholarship. Gilhool said he was pleased that University groups -- the Black Student League, the Association Cultural de Estudiantes Latino Americanos and the African American Association of Faculty, Staff and Administrators -- had also joined the lawsuit. "I'm extremely happy," AAA Tri-Chairperson Thomas Henry said last night. "What makes me even happier is the community at large felt the need to enter into this as a complainant." Other charges in the complaint include: · The rental on the land the University got from the city would currently cost the University between $8.2 million and $20 million, "substantially more than the cost of full compliance with the ordinance." · The University has been giving the scholarships to "non-deserving students" instead of needy students. · The University does not provide the sufficient number of scholarships even by the University's definition of the ordinance. "Even with respect to this wrongfully limited number of scholarships, [the University has] fallen short," the complaint said. · Instead of complying with the ordinance, the University has acted to diminish the number of Philadelphia students. This charge includes a chart showing the University has reduced the number of students from Philadelphia schools from 14 percent in 1940 to less than two percent in 1991.

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