About a year ago, students disrupted the annual holiday study break at Penn President Amy Gutmann’s house with a protest. This year, the event will be held on Tuesday at the Annenberg Center instead of its traditional location at Gutmann’s house on 38th and Walnut streets.
When the event was held a year ago, it was protested by the Student Labor Action Project and Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation. The two groups held a die-in to bring attention to the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. last year. The groups demanded that Penn pay $6.6 million in payments in lieu of taxes — also known as PILOTs — to the School District of Philadelphia.
University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an email that the change was made for logistical reasons. “Last year, [attendance] exceeded the fire code limit, so we needed to find a larger venue,” he wrote.
In August, Gutmann’s annual welcome back picnic for sophomores and juniors was held in Wynn Commons rather than her house as it had been in previous years. At the time, the Office of the President said the change was due to the ongoing construction of the Perry World House nearby. Over Family Weekend this October, Gutmann hosted a gathering at her house, including students and alumni.
Gutmann’s house has become a popular protest spot recently. The #WeArePhilly protest in November, which criticized the perceived lack of support for minority students at higher education institutions across the country, ended in front of Gutmann’s house, where students from SOUL read a list of demands for the administration.
Though Gutmann participated in the four and a half minute die-in for Michael Brown last December, she has yet to meet with members of SLAP to discuss the issue of PILOTs and called the protest an “ambush.” President of the Penn Police Association Eric J. Rohrback wrote a guest column for The Daily Pennsylvanian criticizing Gutmann for her participation in the die-in, saying it showed a lack of support for the police system she oversees. Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush later sent a message to members of her police department — that was later published in the DP — addressing the guest column and showing her support for Gutmann.
Despite the lack of movement by the University on the issue of PILOTs, SLAP members have continued their fight. Last March, SLAP member and College junior Devan Spear addressed Philadelphia City Hall about the proposal.
Following her speech, the Philadelphia City Council approved a non-binding resolution calling on Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration to ask large nonprofits in the city to pay PILOTs. Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, however, ran on a platform supporting PILOTs, so the issue is likely to come up on the city level next year.Comments powered by Disqus
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