The Record, Penn's official undergraduate yearbook, plans to donate a percentage of its profits from 2021 yearbooks sales to The School District of Philadelphia in response to Penn’s refusal to pay Payments in Lieu of Taxes, known as PILOTs.
While the exact donation amount is currently undecided, The Record Business Chair Ahmed Laban said the donation will be made to The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, a nonprofit that serves as an intermediary between donors and the district.
“We're excited to contribute some of our profits to the Philadelphia School District. We believe that this will not only help Philly students, but will also push other clubs to donate some of their profits, and will eventually push the administration to hopefully pay PILOTs,” Laban said.
As a nonprofit institution, Penn is exempt from paying property tax to the city of Philadelphia. But universities often voluntarily pay PILOTs to support city-funded services, including the public school system. Among all eight Ivy League schools, Penn and Columbia University are the only two who currently do not pay PILOTs.
Penn's refusal to make these payments — based on its claim that the University sufficiently supports the city by offering a number of academic programs to local schools — has prompted fervent condemnation and activism from both students and faculty.
In 2015, the Student Labor Action Project marched through campus, and in 2018, students interrupted a University Council meeting, both to demand that Penn pay PILOTs. Penn for PILOTs, an effort led by faculty and staff, has collected more than 1,100 signatures from University faculty and staff members urging Penn to pay PILOTs.
“It’s just awful that we’re not paying the taxes that we should that would go into funding under-funded areas," The Record Editor-in-Chief Keri Zhang said. "We definitely have to be accountable. I think the awareness has really increased a lot this year with #PennPayPilots and #DearDavidCohen, but it obviously has a way to go."
The Record’s decision to donate money to the Philadelphia school district is among other social initiatives and changes to the yearbook that the staff hopes to implement, including plans to provide financial aid to seniors who want to buy yearbooks. For the first time this year, The Record will provide seniors options to accessorize and personalize their yearbooks and purchase different bundles of memorabilia.
“We are the University of Pennsylvania's official undergraduate yearbook, and we have been around for a long time. We were founded in 1865. And since then, we've been continuing the legacy of making a yearbook and recording the Penn experience,” Zhang said. “I would say now, we're really trying to precipitate our renaissance and we're really striving to be better every single year with the book we make.”
Following the interest of many student groups pledging to match donations to bail funds and racial justice activist groups after May's police murder of George Floyd, the Office of Student Affairs changed their policy regarding charitable donations. Now, clubs may support nonprofit groups using up to 50% of the revenue earned separately from their Student Activities Council grant and other Penn resources.
Encouraged by the outpour of support and donations from Penn clubs to the Black Lives Matter movement, The Record hopes that other clubs will soon follow their lead to support this cause.
“It all started with one club, right? And then other clubs joined, and then the administration itself removed a statue of a slave owner on campus," Laban said. "It's our responsibility, and it's our duty as a club to lead those social initiatives so other clubs will follow, and then the administration will hopefully respond."