I've got a secret: I know why Penn will never be the number one school in America. Ben Franklin knew it. You probably know it, too. In fact, I bet the only people who don't know it are the ones running this University. Good old Ben founded a school -- an institution of learning. People like Joseph Wharton, the Annenbergs, the Leidys and plenty of others saw that school and decided to contribute to it, allowing it to expand and teach more. Even today, George Weiss and Ron Perelman and dozens of others see the purpose of the University, and want to enhance the lives and opportunities of its students. But somewhere along the line, as the school evolved, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania (those people whom our checks go to every month) forgot that this is an institution of learning, not a corporation. They forgot that their job description includes directing an academic entity, not acquiring various Philadelphia businesses, schools and hospitals. And they forgot that the people they should be answering to are the 20,000 students who are here to learn. True, we don't have much to complain about. Few of us could find more or better academic opportunities elsewhere. There are thousands of people employed by Penn whose jobs are solely to provide for our academic, social and living needs. For the most part, we get our money's worth. But when the Trustees are busy planing to administer a public school in West Philadelphia instead of addressing financial aid concerns, and when housing and dining projects are delayed because a Health System isn't pulling in what it should be, what does that say for our academic University? It says that the people who run this school never really learned to prioritize all that well. Penn seems to be all over Philadelphia these days. We're building a school in West Philly -- unfortunately, we're not employing a thoroughly fair process in choosing which students get to attend. And in the process, we're displacing another school that already serves that market. Now those kids have to find someplace else to go. Penn is also administering an $1.9 billion money pit called the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Of course, aside from HUP -- which serves the Medical School and the immediate area -- the Health System includes three other hospitals throughout the city that have little to do with the University's students or faculty. Meanwhile, as the busy Trustees work to magically cure all the social and financial ills of the Delaware Valley, all is not happy in Pennland. Our Trustees' peers at Harvard and Princeton are increasing their efforts to provide greater financial aid to their students. And despite alum George Weiss' large contribution (which, I might add, the University made quite an effort to publicize), Penn comes up empty handed when it comes to an across-the-board commitment to increase student aid. Let's not forget the huge housing-and-dining renewal that Penn announced a few years ago. When they announced the plan, it was going to take 10 years. Between a less-than-expected return on the endowment, and the financial black hole created by the Health System, the housing project and Freshgrocer are now in a race to see which one will finish before my grandkids graduate college. The Trustees are busy people, so I'll spell it out for them. The Health System and the Penn-assisted school? These don't fit in to Penn's mission as an institution of academia. Building new dorms and increasing financial aid? These do fit into that mission. Over the past two decades, Penn has grown out from being a university and become some sort of mini-government that tries to provide all sorts of services to the Philadelphia community. But all too often -- despite everything that Penn tries to do -- the community doesn't want Penn's interference. And our beloved alma matter doesn't seem to do any of its intervention all that well anyway. The people in charge of this University have to realize that they are not here to be Philly's saviors. They are here to determine the future of an academic institution that serves young people who are here to learn. Whatever else Penn might endeavor to do, it must come second to serving the students. One day -- when Penn starts devoting itself to its students -- that's when we'll see this University closer to number one.Comments powered by Disqus
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