In a recent episode of AMC’s Mad Men, Peggy — a daring young woman in 1960s New York City — is seen arguing with her friend, Abe — a radical, anti-corporate young man. Abe attacks Peggy’s advertising agency for representing a company that won’t hire blacks, to which she tries to avoid blame by saying she’s “not political.”
“You’re political whether you like it or not,” Abe retorts.
Well, whether the University likes it or not, it is inherently political. Despite distaste for appearing partisan, Penn’s administration does not — and should not — excuse itself from the political process.
Like any company or interest group, Penn aggressively lobbies elected officials to ensure its needs are met. In most years, the relative shift between who controls the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate would not make an enormous difference to Penn — merely affecting the focus of lobbying efforts. After all, Penn graduates are both Republicans and Democrats, and the University also has deep connections to both pro-business and socially liberal policies.
But the past several years have been exceptionally good to Penn. The University has flourished under Obama Administration policies that have increased research spending. President Barack Obama’s controversial stimulus bill has allocated more than $163 million to Penn for research.
Nonbiased, peer-reviewed committees — not congressmen or lobbying groups — determine which grant applicants get approved. But Penn has a “high quality of research” which enables it to outshine most of its competition, according to Bill Andresen, the associate vice president of Penn’s Office of Federal Relations.
Basically, the school sells itself.
Even at the statewide level, Penn receives fiscal appropriations that facilitate projects and expansions on campus, like at the School of Veterinary Medicine. Despite efforts to cut some of these appropriations in recent years, Penn has benefited from having an alumnus — Ed Rendell — in the governor’s mansion.
But these good times might be coming to an end very soon.
With increasing likelihood, Republicans are poised to gain control of the House in November’s congressional elections. In the Senate, Democrats might retain a slim majority.
Normally, Penn could sustain such changes. But one of the top priorities of next year’s Congress, if it is led by fiscally conservative Republicans and Tea Party candidates, will likely be dramatic cuts in federal spending to alleviate the deficit — and that “could have a significant impact on Penn,” Andresen said.
Moreover, it’s likely that fewer Penn alumni will be serving in major state and national elected positions than at any point in recent history. Rendell’s term will end in January, removing our outsized influence in state politics.
For now, Penn has wisely touted the benefits of Obama’s stimulus effort. Last week, Penn President Amy Gutmann sat to the left of Vice President Joe Biden and proclaimed stimulus spending on campus had created 1,100 new jobs, including 700 in research and 400 in construction.
“The stimulus funding has created new knowledge and new jobs that are truly life saving and life improving,” Gutmann said during the event.
Still, Andresen noted he was “very concerned” about the next two years.
“Once the elections are over, our major priority will be to knock on doors [on Capitol Hill] to inform them about Penn and what our priorities are,” Andresen said, referring to the possibility of six new Pennsylvania representatives.
Fortunately, Andresen and Gutmann seem prepared to fight for our interests despite the perilous circumstances. The University must continue to tout the importance of the stimulus bill, and distinguish between wasteful government spending and spending that enables the United States to compete in a global economy.
“Not all spending is created equal,” Andresen said. “Research grants are not just an expense. They’re an investment.”
In the coming years, Penn must focus on who we know to facilitate what we know.
Colin Kavanaugh is a College senior from Tulsa, Okla. He is a former regional coordinator for Students for Specter. His e-mail address is kavanaugh@theDP.com. The Sooner, The Better appears on Mondays.Comments powered by Disqus
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