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defunding

The decision to defund the Public Policy Initiative comes at a complete surprise to the entire Penn community, especially students in the program.

Credit: Annie Luo

Last month, Penn announced the defunding of the Wharton Public Policy Initiative and its affiliated groups, such as the Public Policy Research Scholars certificate program and the Public Policy Initiative student group. Students in the Research Scholars Program were abruptly informed of this decision on Nov. 18, and noted the lack of transparency that was provided in announcing the reasoning for the decision. Current funds for the initiative will be available until they run out and already, administrators who worked with the student group have been let go

The decision to defund the Public Policy Initiative, or PPI, comes as a complete surprise to the entire Penn community — even for students in the program themselves. It was a decision made without the community’s input and severed future opportunities for Penn students that wanted to pursue public policy research and internships. By deciding to defund PPI, Penn not only devalued students’ opinions but also deemphasized the importance of public policy research. 

In the past, PPI has provided funding for students to pursue public policy research. This  group is an incredibly valuable initiative that opened doors for students. Typically public policy research or internships are unpaid. By providing funding for students with unpaid internships, PPI enabled students from lower-income backgrounds to pursue public policy research. 

It evened the playing field for those seeking careers in public policy. No Penn student should be limited in the opportunities they seek or receive because of financial constraints. Penn, with its $14.7 billion endowment, has no excuse for defunding a program that allows students to partake in an internship that they otherwise would have been blocked from because of financial constraints.

Students also expressed concerns over losing support from Wharton when it comes to public policy, particularly because PPI connects various government agencies with students looking for internships. Students that were a part of the PPI Research Scholars Program had the chance to partake in funded summer internships in D.C. and conduct senior capstone research projects in public policy. Now, future students won’t have the chance to partake in a program that encourages and supports public policy interest and research. Even prior to this decision being announced, Wharton had already significantly decreased the amount of students it will fund through PPI to conduct public policy research – from funding 63 interns in 2018 to only being able to fund roughy 20 students in 2019.  

By defunding PPI, Penn has sent a clear message to the community: Public policy research isn’t an area worth funding. The silence on Penn’s behalf  and lack of explanation as to why the program is now defunded doesn’t help Penn’s case either. If the University is to take away valuable opportunities from lower-income students, lay off employees, and abolish a student research group, the least Penn can do is provide an adequate explanation as to this sudden course of action. 

The complete lack of student representation in a decision that so intimately involves students and their career and interest fields is disheartening and unreasonable. Penn needs to be more transparent with its decisions. It’s time Penn gives students a larger say over these important decisions and re-evaluates what it finds important to spend money on. 

Credit: Alec Druggan

LARK YAN is a College sophomore from Toledo, Ohio studying Health and Societies. Her email address is larkyan@sas.upenn.edu

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