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The Netter Center for Community Partnerships received an anonymous donation to establish a faculty director position. Credit: Jesse Zhang

The Netter Center for Community Partnerships received an anonymous endowment to establish a new faculty director position.

1970 College graduate Ira Harkavy, who is the Center's founding director, will become the Barbara and Edward Netter Director, according to the Penn Almanac announcement. The title was named in honor of Barbara Netter and 1953 College graduate Edward Netter, who endowed the Center in 2007. The announcement did not disclose the amount of the anonymous donation.

The Netter Center, which recently celebrated its 30-year anniversary, was formed in 1992 to dedicate Penn’s resources to supporting West Philadelphia. The Center aims to promote civic engagement and develop community partnerships between Penn and the surrounding community. 

In 2007, the Netter Center was renamed following a $10 million gift from Edward Netter and his wife Barbara — for whom the new faculty director position is named. 

Harkavy, who holds a master's degree and Ph.D. from Penn, has served as director of the Netter Center since 1992. He also taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the School of Arts and Sciences, Perelman School of Medicine, Weitzman School of Design, and the Graduate School of Education. Throughout his professional career, he has written extensively on urban university-community-school partnerships and the civic missions of higher education. 

Under Harkavy’s leadership, the Netter Center has strengthened three initiatives for community engagement. These include Academically Based Community Service courses, which seek to connect Penn students and faculty to communities in West Philadelphia, and partnerships with public schools in alignment with the University-Assisted Community School model. The Center also aims to develop Penn's role as an anchor institution for the local community. 

Netter Center initiatives have served as blueprints for university-community partnerships at schools like Duke University and the University of California, Los Angeles. In this new role, Harkavy will continue to develop and implement “democratic, mutually transformative, place-based partnerships between Penn and West Philadelphia,” according to the announcement.

In previous interviews with The Pennsylvania Gazette, Harkavy has expressed a desire to continue expanding Netter Center initiatives to schools and communities beyond Penn and West Philadelphia. 

“You can’t bring change just in Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, and Penn; you need to, in fact, share those ideas and spread them to the rest of the country and around the world,” he said.

The donation comes amid ongoing struggles over affordable housing and displacement in West Philadelphia. The Daily Pennsylvanian has profiled the history of Black Bottom — a predominantly African-American community in University City — and Penn's role in the gentrification of the neighborhood.