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A sign at the edge of High Rise field near 40th and Walnut streets accused Penn of "stealing from the city of Philadelphia for years."

Credit: Mona Lee

Five identical signs condemning Penn President Amy Gutmann for the University of Pennsylvania's avoidance of making Payments in Lieu of Taxes peppered the perimeter of High Rise Field on Monday afternoon.  

"Amy Gutmann, hands off!" the signs read. "Stop gutting our city of its resources."

PILOTs are payments that nonprofits, like Penn, voluntarily make to local governments since they are exempt from paying property taxes. Most of the Ivy League schools pay PILOTs, with the exception of Columbia University and Penn, the latter of which covers 299 acres of taxable land in University City.

"This land has historically belonged to black and brown West Philadelphians who continue to be systemically forced out of their homes," the signs stated. "Before that, this was the land of the Lenape tribe, forcibly removed through the genocidal history of U.S. colonialism that is still present today."

The signs also referenced the mounting debt burdening the Philadelphia School District. 

In the past, Penn has cited the economic benefits it gives the city, such as adding jobs to the local economy and contributing to the University City District, as a reason for not participating in PILOT agreements.

Penn Vice President for University Communications Stephen MacCarthy was not immediately available upon request for comment. 

The messages appeared almost a year after Penn announced the impending construction of New College House West on 40th and Walnut streets, on high rise field.

The signs also shared a link to a recently created Twitter page, which has a number of posts criticizing Gutmann and the University as a whole. 

The issue of PILOTs has resurfaced in recent years as a key issue in conversation on campus.

In December 2014 members of Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation and the Student Labor Action Project led a "die-in" at Gutmann's annual holiday party in which the students laid on the ground for four and a half minutes in memory of Michael Brown, the black teenager from Ferguson, Mo. who was fatally shot by a white police officer earlier that year. Protesters linked the Ferguson grand jury's decision not to indict the officer to issues of racial disparities throughout the nation — including those in the struggling Philadelphia School District, which primarily serves students of color. 

“Selective disinvestment in black and brown communities is racism,” said 2016 graduate Gina Dukes, who was a member of SOUL and a College junior at the time. “Every day that Penn lobbies against PILOTs, it writes a new page in this country’s legacy of racial justice.”

Last March, a PILOTs protest disrupted the end of a University Council meeting on research and renovation. 

Gutmann left the room without comment soon after the protestors arrived. The students then continued their rally after the dissolution of the meeting, with students, parents, and teachers of the Philadelphia School District giving speeches in front of College Hall. 

Penn was previously a part of a PILOT agreement from 1995 to 2000 during the administration of former Mayor Ed Rendell. The University paid the city $1.93 million annually, but the agreement was not renewed in 2000. 

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