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Credit: Zach Sheldon

The Wharton Public Policy Initiative will phase out funding for its student group and will let go of at least two staff members by the end of the academic year, administrators said, prompting frustration and uncertainty among students.

PPI oversees the Public Policy Research Scholars certificate program and a student group that focuses on public policy and economic education and research. PPI's student group currently receives money from Wharton, but will soon transition to become independent of PPI funds. 

Students in the Public Policy Research Scholars certificate program were informed of the change in a Nov. 18 email from Jonathan Katzenbach, managing director of the Wharton undergraduate division. 

Katzenbach wrote in the email that the "long-term footprint of the initiative will be decreased," but "these future moves will not impact current students." He wrote that the Wharton Undergraduate Division will maintain PPI's undergraduate programming for students currently involved in PPI programs.

At a Dec. 5 meeting of PPI research scholars, Katzenbach said this money will be available until current funds run out, said Alexa Breyfogle, a Wharton senior and Public Policy Research Scholar who attended the meeting. 

Katzenbach also said administrators who worked with the student organization will be let go, including Andrew Coopersmith, managing director of PPI, and Ben Schneider, associate director of student programs at PPI. Coopersmith will be let go on Feb. 1, 2020 while Schneider will stay on until June 1, 2020 to transition the program, Breyfogle said.

At the meeting, Katzenbach also said additional PPI administrators have already been laid off, but he did not say who nor how many. 

Katzenbach did not respond to request for comment. Peter Winicov, director of Wharton Media Relations, declined to comment on the rationale for the decision.

"No further information is available," Winicov wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Katzenbach said the decision was made at the dean’s level, and he did not receive an explanation, Breyfogle said.

Katzenbach also announced that Utsav Schurmans, director of research and scholars programs at Wharton, will oversee the program as one of several Wharton research programs after Schneider’s departure, Breyfogle said.

“People were asking about the rationale, and there was no answer provided at all,” Breyfogle said about the meeting.

“We were not looped in on the decision at all,” she said. “We didn't know that there was any risk of it being shut down until it happened.”

“I think it took everybody off guard,” said Shoshanna Israel, a Wharton senior and former president of Penn Public Policy Initiative Student Group.

Students currently in the Research Scholars Program will be able to continue their academic programs, including coursework to complete the certification, summer funding for internships in Washington, D.C., and a senior capstone research project, Katzenbach wrote in the email. In the past, PPI has also funded students outside the program taking public service unpaid internships in Washington, D.C.

“For people from lower-income backgrounds who wouldn't be able to take a summer off of earning money without having a sponsorship from Penn, it enforces the idea that only people coming from a place of privilege can go into public policy,” Breyfogle said.

Students at the meeting also expressed concern over the loss of support for pursuing public policy in Wharton. PPI had previously used connections with government agencies to place research scholars in internships in Washington, D.C., such as positions at the Securities and Exchange Commision, where PPI scholars have interned for the past two summers.

“Wharton has tried to talk about this relationship with public policy and show that it cared about government, but there's no real follow through on it,” Breyfogle said. “Most of Wharton advising is based on career paths like finance or consulting, so there doesn't exist a place within this school now to do that,” she added.

Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Jonathan Katzenbach by the incorrect first name and incorrectly referred to administrators as faculty members. The DP regrets the error.