There are stickers all over Philadelphia - political stickers, advertising stickers, bumper stickers and artsy stickers with mice on them that say "Glue." They're stuck on lampposts, parking meters and subway stops.
On Baltimore Avenue at 47th Street, there are two stuck right next to each other, both with little logos that look like biohazard warnings. One says, "This is West Philadelphia. University City is a marketing scheme;" the other, "This is Lenapehoking. West Philadelphia is colonialism."
Names are just words. But words make history. What we call something shows how we perceive it, and equally important, how we want others to perceive it. And perception and history belong to the community that has lived that history, not to the highest bidder or to the most ruthless.
Billionaire alumnus Ron Perelman's recent decision to rename Logan Hall as Claudia Cohen Hall - and Penn's earlier decision to give Perelman naming rights - is nothing but selling out University history.
There's nothing wrong with naming a building after a donor or a person of the donor's choice, per se. But the community who uses the building every day must have input into the naming process. Those who fund history's infrastructure at Penn and those who are currently creating University history by living, working and learning in the infrastructure must collaborate.
Perelman, Penn's sugar daddy, was given the option to rename Logan Hall in 1995 as part of his $20 million donation to renovate what is now known as Perelman Quadrangle. He chose not to exercise the option at the time. But Cohen, the famous Page Six gossip columnist, Penn alumna and ex-wife and friend of Perelman, sadly passed away from cancer in June 2007, at which point Perelman decided to call in his favor and rename Logan Hall.
The name change has gotten a tepid reception. Alumni and national media have paid more attention to the issue than students have, probably because the official name change occurred in June when most people weren't on campus. Some students interviewed at the end of the school year, after the announcement, were dissatisfied. Others just didn't care.
But apathy is worse than dissatisfaction. Because we know our opinion doesn't matter anyway, why waste our time and energy getting worked up about major campus decisions? Alumni, who know they have financial clout with the University, wrote angry letters to the DP.
The New York Times interviewed several professors, one of whom has since become notorious for calling the decision "totally idiotic" because he felt the choice of name was not sufficiently academic. But the administration doesn't listen to its professors much more than it listens to its students.
Claudia Cohen was no Andrea Mitchell, but there's no intrinsic reason that one of the preeminent gossip columnists in the country shouldn't be honored with a building at her alma mater. Many different kinds of successful people come out of Penn, and it's arrogant to say that the University should only honor certain types of success.
The real problem here is that Penn's figurehead wealthy alumnus can have his way with a University that belongs to a vast community extending far beyond himself.
If the Penn community had decided to rename Logan Hall to Claudia Cohen Hall or just about anything else, through an open and transparent process that sought input from students, faculty, staff and alumni, that would be positive change, affirming the University as a dynamic community that constantly reinvents itself while respecting its heritage.
But Daddy Warbucks paying a personal tribute to a close friend? Not OK on one of Penn's central, most historic buildings.
The administration made a mistake in 1995. President Gutmann should, in collaboration with students, faculty, staff and alumni, develop guidelines for including community input in future naming decisions. At face value, Claudia Cohen Hall is no better or worse a namethan Logan Hall.
But the building's become much more than a tribute to Cohen. It's become a monument to our University's mercenary spirit.
Meredith Aska McBride is a College junior from Wauwatosa, Wis. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Radical Chic appears every Tuesday.Comments powered by Disqus
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