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Credit: Son Nguyen

While Penn faculty and students gathered in Houston Hall with the intention of learning about campus research and renovations at the University Council meeting Wednesday, the student and community protestors outside had a different idea.

The March 28 UC meeting lasted just over an hour before chants from protestors carrying signs called for Penn to join the Payments In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOTs) agreement, which involves nonprofits willingly making payments to local governments in lieu of any property tax. 

Across the Ivy League, Penn and Columbia University are the only two universities that do not take part in this practice.

As the meeting came to an end, chants from a protest outside Bodek Lounge focused on Penn President Amy Gutmann flooded the meeting, drowning out the speakers. 

The protestors had been gathered on College Green during the afternoon and was co-organized by Our City Our Schools and the Penn Chapter of Student Labor Action Project. The rally, before moving over to College Hall, included speeches from students, parents, and teachers of the Philadelphia public school system.

Credit: Max Cohen

The UC meeting soon ended and several members left before the protest entered the room, though Provost Wendell Pritchett and Gutmann were still present for a few moments. 

Gutmann left without comment soon after the protesters arrived while Pritchett engaged with a protester who trailed him as he left the Bodek Lounge.

Amy Roat, a Philadelphia school teacher and 1992 Graduate School of Education graduate said Penn needed to have a “come to Jesus moment,” and make the payments that would benefit the Philadelphia school system. 

On whether she thought the protest would be effective, Roat said, “only time will tell, and I think Dr. Gutmann needs to understand this is going to be an escalating campaign.”

The meeting was heavily populated by various student committees and Penn faculty involved in the meeting, including Gutmann and Pritchett. While the event was open to the rest of the Penn community, few attended. 

In the past, the UC has been unable to make policy resolutions because of turnouts lower than the 40 percent of the general body required, mostly due to sparse attendance from faculty and graduate students.

Credit: Son Nguyen

The meeting featured a series of presentations from the Penn Museum and interdisciplinary researchers.

Penn Museum offered an update about its building transformation project — the most extensive renovation in over 100 years — which launched in November of 2017. The museum's Williams Director Julian Siggers elaborated on the scope of the museum’s renovations during his presentation. 

Siggers also discussed the new Middle East Galleries scheduled to open in April. The museum is also planning to open a Mexico and Central America Gallery, as well as an Africa Gallery in September 2019. 

“By the end of this you will have a museum that you will be even more proud of,” said Siggers.

Vice Provost for Research Dawn Bonnell also gave a presentation, introducing two interdisciplinary researchers — assistant professor at the School of Engineering and Applied Science David Issadore and associate professor Emily Falk at the Annenberg School of Communications.

Bonnell detailed Penn’s history as an interdisciplinary institution, starting with the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, where experts across Engineering came together to form a new discipline in materials science.

Issadore followed up with his experience working at Penn Engineering and its proximity to Penn Medicine, which makes Penn “the perfect place to work” for engineers with interdisciplinary interests. His research involves developing small internal devices to listen in on “the body’s conversation.”

At Annenberg, Falk has been involved with research in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration to develop effective anti-smoking ads, combining the fields of communications, psychology, and marketing. Her research determined that ads that touch on the social nature of smoking are most effective, especially among a younger audience.

Gutmann expressed interest in Falk’s research on alcohol safety education, which dealt with the best ways to communicate the dangers of binge drinking.

The final UC meeting for the 2017-2018 academic year will be held on April 18.