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Prof describes black radio's history

(04/11/01 9:00am)

The academic myths that studying the media is for communications scholars and that history is all about dead white males were put to rest yesterday during a lecture by History Professor Barbara Savage. For more than an hour, Penn's leading media history scholar explained to about 30 students how African-American radio programs brought the important issue of racial injustice into American living rooms and public policy debates in the 1940s. The speech was the third in a series of forums sponsored by the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, which aims to introduce students to Penn professors' cutting-edge research. "The study of media is vital to the study of 20th century history," Savage said. "Just as the Gulf War became a television war, World War II was a radio war." Throughout the talk, Savage noted how studying both the message and the medium were important for placing ideas and events in historical context. In particular, she played clips from the a 1940s radio show called Freedom People, produced "by African Americans, for African Americans," and presented the historical and cultural contributions of blacks to a national audience. She asked members of the audience to consider how the radio broadcast "made race visible" and influenced the important public policy issues of the times, such as segregation in the military and society. But many students in the audience seemed to appreciate hearing about the frustrations and excitement Savage experienced while researching the topic of her speech, which evolved from a graduate school paper into her first book, Broadcasting Freedom. "The work itself is not unlike detective work or investigative reporting," Savage explained. "One thing led to another, one question led to another." She pointed out that the use of media such as radio required applying a number of different skills to analyze not only the content but how it was interpreted. "I could read a show in script form, but it was a totally different experience hearing it," she said. Most of the students said they were inspired by Savage's innovative work and thought the CURF forums were a great way to bring students and faculty together. "I really liked how [Savage] used the media as a lens for studying history," Wharton junior Aubrey Wise said. "Doing research based on audio documentation was pretty interesting." The CURF lecture series will host another event on April 19, when Marketing Professor Peter Fader will discuss his research on the Internet, focusing on "Patterns in CyberShopping."

Shops upset by Sundance deal's demise

(11/17/00 10:00am)

After yesterday's announcement that the Sundance Cinemas name may no longer anchor the shops along the 40th Street corridor, nearby retailers are disappointed but hopeful the University will salvage the project. University officials said their deal with the Robert Redford-backed movie theater chain fell apart 10 days ago when Sundance informed Penn it could no longer finance the entertainment complex at 40th and Walnut streets. Penn officials now say they expect to find another operator to run a similar movie theater within the next few months. But with no operator and construction just halfway completed, the project has experienced delay after delay since plans were announced in in the fall of 1998. And many local retailers are disappointed that it has been put on hold once again. "I would have loved to have seen it go in," Bitar's manager Rich Duggan said. "It would only boost our sales." Izzy and Zoe's owner Elissa Rivkind was also upset that the opening of the theater complex would be delayed. "It is a shame. We were hoping that [Sundance Cinemas] would build our dinner business," she said. "[Penn] is claiming they are going to get someone in there, but it might be two years." Tom Lussenhop, the University's top real estate official, maintained that Penn was still committed to a movie theater for the site, and the project's "time frame was a matter of months." Still, even if the entertainment complex were to open by May, it would be more than a year later than Penn officials originally planned. The prolonged absence of an anchor tenant like Sundance Cinemas could further set back Penn's plans to revitalize 40th Street and make West Philadelphia a destination spot. Although the University never guaranteed there would be a movie theater, officials used the Hollywood-backed entertainment complex to attract new retailers and restaurants. Indeed, many retailers said they hoped Sundance would generate foot-traffic -- especially during the summer months when students leave campus. However, some retailers didn't think the absence of a movie theater would impact their bottom line. "It's a great asset for the area, but not the reason I wanted to set up the grocery stops," said Pat Burns, the owner of the grocery store set to open across the street from the movie theater site in January. His project and the Sundance theater were to be the anchors of a new 40th Street corridor. Although many 40th Street retailers said they found out only yesterday that Sundance Cinemas had essentially backed out of its deal with Penn, rumors had been swirling for the past three weeks. Concerns swelled last month when Sundance's own financial partner, General Cinemas, filed for bankruptcy. Though Sundance told Penn they would secure another partner, they informed University officials about 10 days ago they were unable to do so. Penn officials, however, remain committed to having a movie theater in that location -- even if it means increasing the University's investment in the project to considerably more than the $15 million originally planned. Most of the 40th Street retailers and restaurants believe that Penn will make good on its word -- even if it will take a little longer than they had hoped. "I'm going to remain optimistic because it's going to be in the long-range interests of the University to have family-oriented businesses and a wide variety of restaurants on 40th Street," Duggan said.

Pogach proves crucial in role as manager

(11/16/00 10:00am)

Since Andy Pogach joined the Penn men's basketball team as a freshman, he has helped the Quakers capture two Ivy League titles and experience a pair of NCAA Tournament games. Pogach has been at nearly every practice, where he's typically one of the first to get there and one of the last to leave. And he's played an integral role in every game -- except the three he missed his first year on the squad. But Andy Pogach will never be a first team All-Ivy honoree. Princeton doesn't fear him. And despite being coach Fran Dunphy's go-to guy for everything, Pogach has never touched a Geoff Owens pass or set up a Ugonna Onyekwe dunk. In fact, Pogach knows the only Division I action he'll see this year -- his senior season -- is from the same Palestra pine where he's spent the past three seasons. After all, Pogach is the head manager of the men's basketball team. And he couldn't be more thrilled. "You get to sit behind the coaches during the games; you get to go to the locker room at the half," he says. "To top it off, you get to be part of a Penn team -- and one with such history." But Pogach's life is no fantasy camp. The position -- a volunteer job -- is hard work, plain and simple. And Dunphy considers Pogach an important contributor to the team. "I am reluctant to use Radar as an example, but that would be as much of an example as I could give," Dunphy said, referring to the clipboard-toting corporal on the television series M*A*S*H. "You tell him something to do and he's already three steps ahead of you." The players, of course, have their own analogies. "We like to refer to Andy as the Michael Jordan of managers," sophomore guard David Klatsky said. "He does it all." During Quakers practices, Pogach is responsible for doing everything except the team laundry. He makes sure the basketballs are out, the water and towels are available, the videotape is running -- all while overseeing a staff of four other undergraduate managers. And when unexpected problems inevitably arise, Dunphy puts him in charge of solving those, too. "[Dunphy] will come into the Palestra and say it's too hot or too cold, and then ask me to fix it," Pogach quips. "And I'll say OK -- even though I don't know how to fix the air conditioning." At games, Pogach is essentially Dunphy's lifeline -- the person the coach calls upon when the heat is on in the second half to find out how many fouls a player has or the number of timeouts remaining. Pogach even catches flak from players during the heat of battle. Somehow, Pogach says, he gets blamed when one of the players has seven turnovers by his name -- as if it's the manager's fault. All joking aside, what comes across loud and clear is the bond that Pogach shares with the rest of the team -- one formed over pregame chicken parmigiana meals at Smoke's and seven-hour bus rides to Dartmouth. And outside the Palestra, senior forward Josh Sanger has been his roommate for the past two years. But Pogach shares at least one more thing with the rest of the Quakers squad. "In a sense, you could say I met [Dunphy] at an AAU tournament and got recruited by him like every other player," he jokes. Indeed, Pogach was introduced to Dunphy by the basketball coach at his Newark, Del., high school as a senior. However, at a wiry 5'8", Pogach didn't play -- even then, he was a manager. When he arrived on campus his freshman year, Dunphy told him that a varsity manager position was available, and Pogach jumped at the chance. He's been the team's manager ever since, and the experience has spurred his interest in college athletics. In fact, Pogach, who is concentrating in Accounting at Wharton, says he hopes to someday become an athletic director. That may be so. But he already turned down his first job offer from another program. When former Penn assistant Steve Donahue left the Quakers to take the head job at Cornell earlier this fall, Donahue jokingly offered to pay Pogach to keep the Big Red's stats when they play at the Palestra. "He is tremendous with stats during practice and games," Donahue said. "We have no one up here [at Cornell] who can do even close to what he can do." But Pogach wouldn't even consider leaving the Quakers. "Are you kidding me?" Pogach says. "When [Donahue] comes, I'll be saying 'Good to see you and I hope we beat you.'"

Goal post 1, students 0

(11/13/00 10:00am)

Moments after a dramatic Homecoming comeback kept the Penn football team's Ivy League championship hopes alive, hundreds of Penn fans rushed onto Franklin Field in celebration. The fans had just watched as Harvard kicker Robbie Wright's field goal attempt fell short, securing a 36-35 victory for the Quakers. Penn can win the Ivy League title with a win over Cornell on Saturday. But even though Penn did not clinch anything this weekend, that did not stop the fans. They grabbed ahold of the west goalposts, rocking them back and forth in an attempt to tear them down -- but to no avail. Perhaps it was fate. Maybe it was just good, old-fashioned cement. But in the end, those wobbly uprights just wouldn't come loose. More than 300 Red and Blue faithful clustered around the end zone near Weightman Hall to remove those goalposts. The group -- which included current students and a smattering of alumni -- gathered around a dozen young diehards, who clung to the sturdy uprights for more than 30 minutes. Many alumni urged them on. Others in the crowd pumped their fists as they chanted "Bring it down! Bring it Down!" Yet, while the weight of several Penn students caused the uprights to slowly see-saw back and forth, there was just not enough force to topple them. "We got new goalposts, and they're just stronger than the old ones," Athletic Department spokeswoman Carla Shultzberg said. After numerous failed tries on the part of the goalpost-hungry throng, Franklin Field security -- directed by Penn Police -- brought the celebration to an end. They herded diehards down from the uprights and then pushed the entire crowd toward the exits. "It's cool that the fans stepped it up to try to tear the goalposts down," said Quakers fullback Adam Keslosky, an Engineering junior. "But we haven't won anything yet." By all accounts, the outpouring of support for the come-from-behind win was an exciting home finale for a Penn crowd that typically leaves once the toast is tossed at the end of the third quarter. But with an Ivy League championship still up for grabs when the Quakers head to Cornell next Saturday, the celebration paled in comparison to the emotional and highly charged drama that followed Penn's title-clinching victory over the Crimson in 1998. And at the end of this game, there was no confrontation with the Penn Police force. In 1998, thousands of fans stormed through a small army of riot-gear-clad guards. This year's incarnation also lacked the emotional celebration launching the uprights into the Schuylkill River. And instead of hailing a Penn tradition, many Penn students and alumni said that a celebration -- especially when Penn hadn't captured the Ivy League title and the goalposts didn't even fall -- was an embarrassment to the University. "This is a Penn tradition and it's being whored," College senior Josh Wilkenfeld said. "It's 10 guys who know nothing about Penn history tearing down the goalposts, and it's vandalism plain and simple." Another gray-haired alumnus called the bunch the "biggest bunch of foolish underclassmen I ever saw." Still, the game allowed some of the older fans to relive past Franklin Field memories and gave students like Wharton sophomore Matt Frohling their first chance to experience a big Penn football victory. "This is awesome," Frohling said. "I heard the stories about 1998 and was looking forward to throwing it into the Schuylkill." The Penn Athletic Department has not yet decided how to formally celebrate a Quakers title if Penn emerges from Ithaca, N.Y., victorious next weekend.

Committee focuses on recruiting

(11/03/00 10:00am)

An NCAA subcommittee of coaches and administrators set out this week on a difficult mission: to reform the way NCAA Division I men's basketball programs recruit players. After its first meeting on Monday, the subcommittee --which includes Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky -- expressed a desire to toughen the rules governing the player evaluation process. To that end, it proposed the idea of certifying the summer basketball camps that college coaches attend or, perhaps, having the NCAA sponsor camps of its own. "What we need to have is a clear commitment to a more credible summer evaluation program," said subcommittee chairman Kenneth "Buzz" Shaw, Syracuse University's chancellor. "It must be credible, or it won't continue." Bilsky, the Ivy League's only representative, joins a star-studded lineup of 15 other athletic leaders from Division I schools, including Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky head man Tubby Smith. The subcommittee was formed earlier this fall after the NCAA Board of Directors requested an expert panel to examine the critical issues facing Division I men's basketball, but the six-hour session in Chicago was the first time the group met. Besides recognizing the need to certify summer basketball camps, the committee acknowledged that the NCAA needs to address the growing influence of third parties in the recruitment process and build stronger ties with high school coaches, parents and prospective athletes. "We want to get the college coach and the high school coach more involved -- and others less involved," Shaw said. "We have a clear commitment to reduce the pressure on prospects during the period." The NCAA voted in April to reduce the number of summer evaluation days from 24 to 14 for 2001, and eliminate them beginning in 2002. That decision came after the NCAA suspended several players last season who reportedly received illicit financial support before they began attending college. The NCAA subcommittee hopes to devise a system under which its coaches could only attend summer basketball camps and tournament programs it certified -- a process that might include auditing financial statements and examining how the programs are run. Other proposals included restricting the distance players can travel to be on summer teams, limiting the number of events and possibly increasing interaction between coaches and prospective recruits during the athlete's junior year of high school. "We want to give students more control over the process, something as mundane as allowing them to make collect calls to institutions they want to have relationships with," Shaw said. The committee will meet again in early December and hopes to submit a draft of formal recommendations to the NCAA Management Council by January. It would then report back to the NCAA Board of Directors in April, although no final decisions will be made for at least a year. A separate Division I women's basketball committee is also meeting this fall.

Assoc. AD relives the joy of coaching

(10/26/00 9:00am)

Mary DiStanislao doesn't need to be the coach of the women's club rugby team. She already has a full-time job as Penn's associate athletic director, overseeing women's athletics and nearly half of all varsity sports, including the men's and women's basketball programs. DiStanislao doesn't need to pad her coaching resume, either. Somehow, women's club rugby probably doesn't look so impressive when its stacked up against a work experience list that includes more than a decade behind the bench of two different Division I women's basketball programs -- and two Big Ten championships to boot. No matter. Distanislao wouldn't miss her current sideline engagement for the world. "I'm really busy, and this just makes me busier. But I love it," she said. "It's teaching, it's sharing, it's a good time and doing something unique." Since the beginning of the semester, DiStanislao has been in charge of the women's rugby team -- a job she quickly agreed to take on when a few team members offered her the position last summer. Although DiStanislao had never coached rugby, she's been an avid player for more than 20 years and was excited to share her knowledge and enthusiasm for the game. It also provided her with somewhat of a challenge, since about 15 of the 20 girls on the Penn team had never even played before coming to college. But more than that, coaching rugby has allowed DiStanislao the opportunity to briefly step out of the pressure-cooker environment of Division I athletics and revisit her past love for coaching. A two-sport athlete at Rutgers University in basketball and field hockey, DiStanislao entered coaching almost as soon as she hung up her game jerseys. In 1976, she was named head coach at Northwestern University at the tender age of 23, where she took her team to two women's Big Ten championships in four years. She moved on to Notre Dame in 1980, where she took the Fighting Irish women's basketball program from Division III to a top-20 Division I program in seven years before leaving basketball altogether for the corporate world. She wound up in Weightman Hall last fall, after a brief stint as the associate director of the Wharton Career Management program. But while coaching in the high-stakes world of NCAA basketball was fun, DiStanislao says nothing is more fun than teaching young weekend warriors, who simply play for the love of the game. "The Division I level is just much more competitive," she said. "You travel with an entourage. Your time is heavily scheduled; you practice five times a week." "There are certain impromptu elements that are removed at the varsity level by necessity," she added. "The thing that is wonderful about rugby -- and I think any club sport -- is that it's run by the students." But if you think that means her team is less hungry to win, think again. "Club sport athletes are very serious about what they do," she cautioned, although in another breath she's quick to point out that "rugby is a social sport" that frequently ends with a party that allows the players to get to know their opponents off the field. "Our kids have it within their sights to win the Ivy Championship." And so does DiStanislao. To that end, she's been showing up for practice several times a week, running "her girls" through drills to improve their throwing and catching, encouraging them to run on their own -- and ensuring they have fun. "What's important is that when I turn out for practice, I give them my best and and they give me theirs," she said. Sometimes, that means her evenings are spent shuttling from rugby practice to Penn soccer games and crew practices for her full-time job. "I have some very busy weekends," she admits. But it's never a hassle. After all, DiStanislao says she has the best of all worlds: a great job in the Athletic Department, an enthusiastic rugby team and, most of all, another opportunity to coach.

Athlete gender gap continues

(10/25/00 9:00am)

The Penn Athletic Department released its statistics on gender equity this month, in a report that shows little change from the 1998-1999 numbers. Male athletes outnumbered female athletes by about 40 percent in 1999-2000 -- a negligible difference from last year. According to the 1999-2000 Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act report, 37.5 percent of Penn athletes are women, a slight decrease from 38.6 percent in the previous academic year. Athletic Director Steve Bilsky said the annual report showed "great gains but a disappointing blip" in female sports participation. The number of female athletes fell from 426 to 402 in 2000. Bilsky attributed the drop to roughly 20 athletes on the women's track team quitting throughout the course of the year. Penn's undergraduate population is currently divided at 50.6 percent male and 49.4 female. Teams like football and sprint football, with large rosters and no women's equivalent, skew the statistics.One hundred forty-nine of Penn's 670 male athletes played either football or sprint football in 1999-2000, accounting for almost 14 percent of all athletes. "Our goal institutionally is, over time, to reduce that gap [between women and men] and make it closer to the overall student population," Bilsky said, noting a target split of between 60-40 and 55-45. Penn's report was issued in accordance with the EADA, a 1995 law that requires most universities with intercollegiate athletic programs to provide information to the public upon request. The reports are meant to ensure compliance with federal Title IX requirements of equal funding for men's and women's sports. Title IX, imposed as part of the Educational Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and officially signed into law in 1972, mandates gender equity between sports programs. Penn's EADA report shows that the total expenses earmarked exclusively for men's sports are $3.8 million, 51.7 percent of total expenses -- down from 54.5 percent the year before. Women's sports account for $1.9 million or 26.2 percent of expenses. The remaining 22.1 percent is not gender-specific. But men's teams also accounted for more than three times as much revenue for the Athletic Department as did women's teams. According to Bilsky, the discrepancy in funding is distorted by one-time expenses such as last year's baseball team trip to Italy and men's lacrosse team trip to Britain. Some of the difference can also be attributed to the higher salaries commanded by experienced coaches of high-profile men's sports. The EADA report shows that the average male sports team head coach earned roughly $10,600 more than their counterparts leading women's teams. In 1998-1999, that discrepancy was about $11,871. There is also a disparity between the revenues generated by men's and women's teams. Male sports programs raked in about $2.8 million compared with women's programs, which brought in $905,000. While the men's figure represented a decline from last year, when teams brought in $3.2 million, the women's figure jumped significantly from the $372,000 in revenue of 1998-99. Bilsky said the EADA data would be used to shape the Athletic Department's strategy to ensure gender equity. For example, he said that the Athletic Department hopes to increase female sports participation by adding a women's junior varsity volleyball team next year, with the possibility of a similar program in women's basketball in the future. The number of women sports teams climbed from 15 to 16 last year with the addition of women's golf. There are currently 17 men's sports teams. Penn's Athletic Department has been under special pressure to work toward greater gender equity since settling a complaint filed against the University for Title IX infractions in 1995.

Students will be able to get up and cheer

(10/24/00 9:00am)

Penn Athletic Department officials have announced that they will once again permit standing in all student sections during basketball games at the Palestra, but will reconfigure the highly coveted student chairback section as part of a compromise with longtime season ticket holders. The new seating policy wedged out a corner of the 119-seat chairback section at center court, reassigning about 34 student seats to non-student season ticket holders who must remain seated for the entire game. Student season ticket holders, many of whom spent the weekend camped out in the ticket line in Hutchinson Gym, were able to purchase the remaining 85 seats -- the same number of chairbacks they had in the past -- and will be allowed to stand for the entire game. The new seat configuration no longer blocks the sightlines of the adult fans who sit near the student chairback section. But when students stand, a few upper-level rows of adult season ticketholders -- in sections 214 and 213 -- could miss some of the action in a small corner near the Penn basket. The new seating chart is intended to resolve the controversy surrounding last year's strict "No Standing" policy along the sidelines that was difficult to enforce and about as unpopular with most student fans as the Princeton Tigers. "It's a reasonable solution for a situation that isn't pefect," Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky explained. Bilsky said he hoped that the new seating arrangements put to rest longstanding tension between enthusastic students who stood for entire games and adult season ticket holders who didn't want to -- and in some cases -- were physically unable to stand. Although an advisory committee of student, faculty and alumni season ticket holders developed the "No Standing" policy in the mid-1990s, it was only loosely enforced by Palestra security guards -- until last season. As the Athletic Deparmtent fielded more complaints from adult fans, Palestra security started cracking down on standing students, even going so far as to remove fans from the Palestra. In response, Bilsky called in a new committee of students and adult season ticket-holders to hammer out a compromise this fall. Although the group considered creating student-only standing sections behind both baskets that would have eliminated the centercourt seats, they eventually settled on reconfiguring the existing chairback section. But while the new arrangement may help quell some of the conflicts, it may already have created some new ones -- especially among the die-hard student fans who waited in The Line. "I don't understand why they gave all the alumni the close seats," said College junior Nate Herr, who was among the first 10 groups in The Line. But most students seemed to think that the compromise was fair, preferring the solidarity of standing to a more choice seating location. "As long as students are able to stand," College sophomore Dan Simons said, "they'll be happy." And after years of complaining that students did not adhere to their pledge not to stand during games, 30-year season ticket holder Ted Hershberg says he is pleased with the new arrangement. "If they won't live up to their word, then this was the option left up to the ticket people," the Penn history and public policy professor said.

Perspective: Your name here

(10/10/00 9:00am)

College sophomore Vincent Chan knows he can expect a 9 am. wake-up call to his dormitory room several times a semester. And he doesn't even have to ask for it. That's because the free service is being provided by an MBNA telemarketer more than willing to extol the virtues of the Ben Franklin-faced Visa card that Chan doesn't want and certainly doesn't need. "I say thanks and then hang up," Chan explained. "It's kind of like 'I'm sleeping now -- leave me alone.'" Not likely.

Pod emerges as newest campus restaurant

(10/04/00 9:00am)

The spaceship-like pods in Stephen Starr's trendy new restaurant were lit in all their fluorescent glory last night, as the highly anticipated restaurant opened its doors for the first time. Pod's interactive, neon-lit cubicles and bar dazzled the eyes as much as the high-concept -- and high-priced -- Asian fusion menu. Some 19 strategically placed cameras flashed pulsating, MTV-like images on flat-screen monitors throughout the restaurant. They captured everything from the chattering customers to the sushi being slickly shipped along an elliptical conveyer belt. And a large waitstaff clad in Fembot-esque grey tunics ushered in a quasi-celebrity guest list of "friends of Stephen," University officials and suburbanites. In fact, the only thing missing at the Sansom Street premier of the Penn campus' new restaurant were droves of ordinary Penn students. Pod's opening night crowd skewed older and trendy -- drawing large numbers of turtleneck-and-jacket, Rittenhouse Square yuppies as well as groups of fiftysomething Center City professionals. Hovering around the neon yellow bar, they ordered $30 exotic sakes and wines while taking in the whitewashed $3.3 million surroundings. Besides the dozens of podlike units that orbit the 187-seat restaurant's perimeter, customers lounged on a fire-engine red, couchlike sculpture. "It's kind of futuristic looking, said Carmela DiMaria, a management consultant from Center City who came in for the restaurant opening. "The more I look at it, the more [Pod] looks like a spaceship." Dining for the first time in the upscale restaurant he wooed to campus, Executive Vice President John Fry said Starr's new eatery would draw more people like DiMaria to University City -- instead of having them head to Center City and the suburbs. Pod is the latest in a series of University-led initiatives that have brought high-end boutiques and restaurants to Sansom Common and Walnut Street. Robert Redford's Sundance Cinemas complex is scheduled to open on 40th Street this winter. "We want to bring this to Philadelphia and say, OHey, [Penn] is not just a bunch of academic institutions in University City,'" Fry explained. "It has some great retail and restaurants. We're accessible to everyone." But Starr said he didn't know if all students could afford Pod's menu -- although he said he tried to create a more youthful atmosphere with some reasonably priced offerings for the campus location. "[Penn] came to me for pizazz and punch to get people from the suburbs," he said. The highly successful restaurateur owns several of Philadelphia's top restaurants -- including Buddakan, Tangerine and the Continental. Starr's creations not only attract a high-profile clientele but have often revitalized retail in the surrounding area. Customers gave the food rave reviews for opening night but felt the price range catered more to Penn faculty and staff than to students; a full-course meal costs more than $30, without a bottle of wine. And of the 20 or so Penn students who showed up for Pod's first night, most said they doubted their classmates would be regular customers -- or even if the restaurant fit into college student budgets. "Some of the prices are expensive," College senior Kane Anderson said. "It's not Smokey Joe's -- you don't come here four times a week," added first year Wharton MBA student Ben Katz, who thought most students would still try Pod for dates and special occasions.

Sales flat for talk by NBA great

(09/29/00 9:00am)

Ticket sales for NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's speech next Wednesday have been as flat as a skyhooked brick. Although Connaissance organizers wouldn't say just how many tickets have been sold, judging from the lackluster lines and the extended sales period, Penn students just don't seem that interested.. The speech will take place at 8 p.m. in the 1,100-seat Irvine Auditorium, with Abdul-Jabbar recounting his experiences as an NBA center and social activist. "I expected there would be a lot of interest," Connaissance Co-Director Samantha Cohen said. "But [ticket sales] have been going slower for this speaker compared to the past." Indeed, tickets for the Penn Politically Incorrect program two weeks ago were gone within an hour on both days they were sold. Seats for former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos' speech went equally fast last spring. And last fall, demand was so intense for former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Connaisance lecture that some students bought scalped tickets for as much as $75 a seat when an online distribution lottery left them empty-handed. This year, however, students seem a lot less enthusiastic about the choice of Abdul-Jabbar. And much of that sentiment is impacting sales. "I am not really interested in what a basketball player has to say," said Engineering sophomore Robert Battle, who is not planning to buy a ticket. "It's not a sport I'm interested and I don't know much about [Abdul-Jabbar's] social outlook." College sophomore Katherine Smith said she isn't planning to attend the speech either. "I don't know much about him," she said, "and I have a lot of work coming up." And many students said they just haven't heard about the event. Still, the tepid response so far doesn't faze Cohen, who attributes the low sales to lousy weather and the large number of Penn students leaving campus for the Jewish holidays. She thinks that students will find Abdul-Jabbar's experiences, both as a professional basketball player and as an social activist, appealing. And she said she hopes his appearance will create healthy campus discussion about diversity and minority issues. Past Connaissance speakers such as Gloria Steinhem and Ellen DeGeneres, have brought the issues of feminism and homosexuality to the center of campus dialogue. Regardless, Cohen vows that Connaissance will be stationed along Locust Walk again next week, giving students additional opportunities to purchase the $5 tickets. "We're going to sell tickets until they're sold out," she said.

Mascot has big head, no ego

(09/25/00 9:00am)

It's game day and Rick Wetmore steps onto the Franklin Field turf like the other rookies suited up in a Quaker uniform. He's nervous. He's excited. He's hardly recognizable. Indeed, Wetmore, a Wharton junior, is a rookie all right. It's his first day as Penn's oxymoronic fighting mascot -- the life-size, bobbing-head caricature that's a cross between the giant Quaker Oats dude and Ben Franklin on an acid trip. "There are lots of things that could go wrong -- like the head falling off," Wetmore says. "Then everyone would know who I am." Leaving his Weightman Hall dressing room, he lets out an energetic "Here we go." But heading down the stairs to the field entrance, he gets those opening day jitters. He neurotically adjusts the styrofoam head, worried again that it might fall off. Wandering onto the field, Murphy's Law of first day performances holds almost true: His head remains fastened, but as with most anything else, what can go wrong does. With moist air and grey skies overhead, the Quaker can't go out on the field until the end of the first quarter and rain forces him to head back to the dressing room early. Water could ruin the costume. Plus, the wet weather -- which caused even some sure-footed fans to slip -- makes navigating the stands extremely difficult "when you can't see out of the face." Initially, the Quaker's performance is full of rookie blunders -- the types of mistakes brushed aside with experience but evident among first timers: As a group of freshman girls cheer him on like a boy-band lead singer, the Quaker gives a timid wave and a slight nod -- not an exaggerated hug. A few elderly alumni offer a loyal salute but the Quaker, ignorant of his surroundings, meanders on. And when the Penn cheerleaders get down for the requisite push-ups after a Red and Blue touchdown, the Quaker forgets to count. Even Wetmore is critical of his performance. "I have to lose a lot of inhibition," he says. "It's really hard to go out there and not care what anyone thinks. As with anything, it takes time." But building on the crowd's enthusiasm midway through the second quarter, Wetmore gains confidence and shows the crowd he's just as agreeable as star running back Kris Ryan. It's pure Red and Blue magic when the Quaker zeroes in on Connor Milhoan, a 4-year-old fan from Delaware. The boy's eyes light up when the mascot gives him a treat and a high-five to boot. And when the Quaker joins a line of shirtless freshmen -- who spell out UPENN on their chests -- he's able to pump up the rest of the crowd with a few rousing cheers. Such moments are what makes the experience -- even when difficult -- a labor of love for Wetmore. "The best thing is when people stand up and cheer," he explains. "When a fan points to you and says OYou're the man!' -- that's fun." Still, being Penn's Quaker can be grueling -- something Wetmore is only beginning to find out. Since Wetmore stepped into the mascot costume less than a week ago, he's had to learn some of the cheerleaders' dance routines and lifts in just a few short practices. And he spent some time with the Penn Band to ensure that he doesn't swing his arm on a wrong beat during the Red and Blue, like a freshman during orientation. "It looks bad for the school if the Quaker screws up the arm-waving thing for the song," Wetmore explains. And while Wetmore is excited to be a part of the great Quaker tradition, the mascot's appearance schedule is tight. Indeed, for more than 40 years, the Quaker mascot has appeared at every home football and basketball game. And Wetmore even plans to cheer on the less popular sports teams in uniform, as well as visit the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and other community organizations. But Wetmore realizes that if he is to fill the Quaker's large head, he'll have to improve. He says he'll contact 2000 College graduate Paul Manion, who wore the mascot's uniform since 1998, for lessons. And he'll ask the New Jersey Devil, with whom he vacationed last summer, for tips. He's even considering mascot camp to polish his skills. Indeed, Wetmore knows the responsibility he carries on his shoulders. "This right here is school spirit," the sweat-soaked mascot says as he lifts off the styrofoam head. "I'll be in this suit as much as I can -- or at least as much as I can tolerate the smell."

NCAA picks Bilsky for basketball committee

(09/20/00 9:00am)

Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky was recently named to a blue ribbon committee of NCAA coaches and athletic officials that will examine issues facing big-time college basketball. The 32-member committee will begin meeting this October to review a number of major concerns affecting Division I basketball. Recruiting and the growing number of athletes who turn pro before completing a degree will undoubtedly be hot topics of discussion. The panel will be divided into two 16-person bodies that will discuss concerns specific to the men's and women's games. The unified committee will present a report to the NCAA in January. The NCAA Board of Directors will then review the proposed recommendations and implement changes in October 2001. The committee will be chaired by Syracuse University Chancellor Kenneth "Buzz" Shaw. "College basketball is fraught with big-time problems," Bilsky said, noting how big money has changed the game since he was a standout guard for Penn in the early 1970s. He said that he felt honored as the only Ivy League representative on either panel. Bilsky will serve on the 16-member committee to discuss men's basketball. The elite group is comprised of representatives from 15 of the 31 Division I conferences and includes high-profile coaches such as Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky's Tubby Smith. A student-athlete will also be named to the review committee -- joining two university presidents, three conference commissioners, two other athletic directors and four head coaches. The committee examining issues facing women's basketball has a similar makeup, with one student, one university president, four conference commissioners, four athletic directors and five head coaches, including Tennessee's Pat Summitt. Reflecting the NCAA's commitment to diversity, there are a total of 17 men and 15 women on the committee -- along with 10 minority members, excluding the student athletes who have not yet been named. "An overriding concern for us was putting together a committee that fairly represented the basketball constituency of Division I," NCAA Board of Directors Chairman and Penn State University president Graham Spanier said in a press release. The NCAA authorized the committee in April as part of a package of measures to address growing concerns about the direction of Division I basketball. For the first two years, the committee will report to the Board of Directors and has been specifically charged with developing an alternative to the current summer recruiting system in men's basketball.

Knitting in the nude: A naked look at what constitutes art

(09/11/00 9:00am)

No doubt 1999 Penn graduate Jessica Scofield will have a yarn to spin. For the past three nights, she has been piecing together a slinky red dress in a small corner of the National Showroom in Olde City, drawing scores of ogling onlookers and all kinds of attention that Philly's most famous seamstress, Betsy Ross, probably never received. Then again, Ross may have sewed the first American flag, but she never knitted in the nude. In a performance art exhibition at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, the lean and school-girlish Scofield bobbed her knitting needles back and forth for about three hours each night, keeping much of the scarlet yarn strategically placed between her bare thighs while she weaved together the dress and then unraveled it back into string. Scofield, 27, hoped the show, called "The Undressed Project," would raise important questions about the female body image and provide thought-provoking humor, juxtaposing an old lady's hobby with a titillating striptease. But by all accounts, the mostly male audience seemed more interested in sizing up the "undressed" rack than intellectualizing about the "project." Indeed, most got up and left the tucked-away performance area as soon as Scofield put the completed dress on. That didn't seem to bother Scofield, who maintained the show was unabashedly artistic. "This is a way of getting my ideas across," she explained. "I admit there may be problems in the way I executed it, but I wasn't about to put on five-inch heels and start jiggling my stuff." In fact, Scofield said she found knitting in the buff was actually pretty boring; Scofield usually knits -- fully clothed, of course -- to keep occupied while watching television or talking with friends. Nonetheless, she said it was quite a revealing experience for her -- both emotionally and anatomically speaking. "I really hesitated," she said. "It wasn't this thing I was totally enthusiastic about doing because I was scared." But she thought the concept was too original to pass up. About two years ago, Scofield said she was at home knitting when she came up with the idea, thinking that her act would be an interesting concept to put on the Internet. Nervous, she approached classmates and professors at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts -- where she was taking a number of courses as part of a joint-program with Penn's College of General Studies -- who were supportive of her plans. But the small groups of portrait artists before whom she had posed didn't necessarily think she had the confidence to do it in public. "I can be somewhat sensitive in class, and they said, OThere is no way you can do this in front of the public eye: That's just not you,'" she recalled. "But I took this on as a personal challenge and I wanted to do it." In March, she applied on a whim to the Fringe Festival, but then didn't contact organizers to promote her selection because she still wasn't sure she wanted to do it. But over the summer, festival organizers convinced her that the nude act, if tastefully done, would make an important contribution to the Philadelphia arts community and perhaps advance her career. While Scofield has no plans to bare it all for the public again, she will continue knitting and she hopes to create other pieces of work that express her ideas of the female body image. In fact, she says the performance allowed her to grow as an artist, since being stared at by a largely male audience helped her internalize the scrutiny of the male gaze she only learned about in Penn Art History classes. And she also is looking to head to graduate school for a master's in fine arts at one of a number of top programs -- including the one at Penn. Wherever she goes, though, she'll be sure to capture the attention of the admissions committee. "I was videotaping this piece," she said of the Undressed Project performance, "and it will be part of my grad school applications.

Penn sports to air on CN8; no live TV options for students

(09/07/00 9:00am)

Local sports fans will be able to catch some Penn football and soccer games from the comfort of their own couches this fall. But most Penn students will have to head to the games if they want to see live Red and Blue action. For the fifth straight year, the Penn Athletic Department and local Comcast station CN8 have agreed to broadcast Quakers fall sporting events. This year's package will include three football games, two men's soccer games and a women's soccer match. Phillies announcer Scott Graham will do the play-by-play, flanked by color commentator Bill Bergey and sideline reporter Rob Brooks. "We were looking for visibility in more than just football and basketball," Penn Athletics' Director of Development Decker Uhlhorn said. "This obviously helps in recruiting and allows your fans to see the game." But while CN8 may have a regional viewing audience of more than 3.9 million, not one of those viewers will be located in University City residences. That's because CN8 -- a local sports and news channel separate from Comcast SportsNet -- is not carried by the Wade Cable company that serves off-campus students. And the University's ResNet does not carry the channel either. Instead, students wanting to take in Penn football from their living room will turn to student-run UTV-13's tape-delayed coverage of home games. In addition, Penn announcer Johnny Miller will team up with Hench Murray to call Penn football on radio, with broadcasts split between WVCH (740 AM) and WZZD (990 AM). As for CN8's coverage, the local station will broadcast the Quakers' football games against defending Ivy League champion Brown on October 28 and a November 4 match at Princeton. They'll also televise the Homecoming game on November 11 against Harvard. Soccer fans can tune in to CN8 for some key local rivalries. The station will carry a Penn-Drexel women's tilt on September 13. And it will broadcast the Penn men's games against Temple on September 26 and Rutgers on October 25. "It's one of the best products we can put on our station," CN8 Sports Director John Anderson said. "We have a real hard-core group of people interested in Penn.

Start date for gym renovation delayed

(08/31/00 9:00am)

Construction plans for the $20 million Pottruck Health and Fitness Center seem to be as flexible as a gymnast. Penn officials have pushed back the project's starting date for the third straight time, with the construction now expected to begin next May. The renovations are still expected to be completed in 2003. The new fitness facility will add more than 65,000 square feet to the existing complex at Gimbel Gymnasium, with plans for aerobic, dance and martial arts studios. It will also offer a juice bar, pro shop and climbing wall along with classroom and administrative areas. According to Vice President of Facilities Omar Blaik, the project will begin in late spring when preparation for demolishing the area containing the Katz Fitness Center begins. During construction, Blaik added, existing cardiovascular equipment will be moved to the basketball courts on Gimbel's second floor. That will allow current fitness center members to continue using the equipment, although the move will reduce the number of usable basketball courts. In addition, vendors that occupy the fresh air food plaza next to Gimbel will have to be relocated. Although the University has not settled on a final site, Penn officials say they are looking at areas along the 3700 block of Sansom Street. "The options will all be in the same vicinity so they won't lose their clientele," Blaik said, noting that the vendors will remain next door to Gimbel until demolition starts. University officials first addressed the need for better exercise facilities in 1996 when a consulting firm recommended that Penn add a massive amount of recreational and field space to its campus. As a result, Gimbel underwent $1.2 million renovations in 1998 to construct the Katz Fitness Center. But in April 1999, Penn Trustee David Pottruck, a 1970 College graduate, made a $10 million donation to build a larger facility. Still, the timeline has been tweaked frequently. Last October, University officials announced plans calling for an accelerated schedule that would have completed construction by 2002. However, they revised that date last spring when they found the shorter time-frame would mean closing down the entire site -- including Gimbel, Katz and Sheerr Pool. A minimal amount of "preparation work" on the site was supposed to begin this summer. But it was pushed back until this May, in part due to the tight labor market. In the meantime, officials expect the final blueprints to be approved this fall

Fifteen years in the making, Perelman Quad finally debuts

(08/31/00 9:00am)

It's no surprise that Penn officials have been anxiously awaiting the grand opening of Perelman Quad this fall. The $87.5 million project will restore the University's most historic buildings, linking Irvine Auditorium with College, Logan, Houston and Williams halls to create a center of student life on campus. What is surprising, though, is how long they've been waiting. Try 15 years. Even University President Judith Rodin concedes that her pet project has gone anything but smoothly. Since University Trustee and Revlon CEO Ronald Perelman signed on as the project's lead donor, the student life initiative has spanned two architectural firms, three University presidents, four provosts, multiple designs and redesigns and enough planning committees, financial setbacks and administrative delays to rival a Congressional filibuster. "The road to Perelman Quad has been windy at best," Rodin said in May. And at worst? "Rocky." The original conception for the Perelman Quadrangle dates to 1985, when a group of students who were dissatisfied with the services and spaces in Houston Hall -- the nation's oldest student union -- approached administrators with their concerns. After meeting with campus officials and other student leaders, those students eventually saw their idea incorporated into the Undergraduate Assembly's 1985 campus master plan, which outlined its vision for what Penn should look like by 1990. The idea gained steam as it made its way up the ranks of College Hall. But it would have to pass through four years of delays before it gained the Trustees' approval. A planning committee had to be charged, an architectural firm had to be hired, feasibility studies and architectural blueprints drawn up. And most challenging of all, funding had to be in place. "It takes a long time for a big project like this to work its way up," then-president Sheldon Hackney, now a History professor, explained. "A lot of it was finances." While the University's development office sought out a donor, in 1989, Hackney and then-Provost Michael Aiken charged a committee of students, faculty and staff to identify what Penn students wanted in a new facility. But with a laundry-list of University constituencies, that charge sounded a lot simpler than it was. Based on site visits to 12 universities, the committee drew up an ambitious wish list. It included additional space for student organizations and performing arts groups, a black-box theater and auditorium, a 24-hour study lounge, an art gallery, a game room and a food court. Despite the reservations of some administrators and Trustees, Penn hired an architectural firm and went ahead with the plans. The project was budgeted at roughly $60 million. A location for the new student center was identified at 36th and Walnut streets -- the current site of Sansom Common. But despite the blueprints, there still was no money on the table until 1990. That's when Hackney secured a $10 million gift from University Trustee Ronald Perelman, a 1965 Wharton graduate and MBA recipient. The new student union would be named the Revlon Center for the cosmetics company Perelman headed. But other donations were slow to trickle in. Besides Perelman's gift, just $1.5 million in additional funds were pledged for a project budgeted at about $65 million. Prospective donors were frustrated with the lack of progress and uncertain about the future of a project that had been slated for completion in 1994. Those fears only escalated with the interim leadership of Claire Fagin and Marvin Lazerson, who became president and provost when Hackney and Aiken resigned. Not wanting to nix the project altogether, the interim administration said they would not present the plan to the Trustees until additional funding was guaranteed. Meanwhile, the Trustees determined that the University could not afford such an expensive project. And in the fall of 1993, Fagin and Lazerson slashed the project's budget, dramatically reducing the student center's scale and scope. Once again, construction was delayed -- this time until 1995. Rodin's appointment as Penn's new president only slowed the process. In 1994, she brought the redesigned Revlon Center's plans to a halt. "It was very clear that many of the Trustees were dissatisfied with the size, with the design and with the fact that students would have to cross Walnut Street," Rodin said. After further review, Rodin commissioned a new architectural firm to make recommendations for a facility. Their findings, she said, underlie the current plans for Perelman Quadrangle: restore and connect the University's old, historic buildings to create a center of campus life. "They argued very forcefully that you put the student-centered activities where the student traffic patterns are," Rodin said. That meant when Rodin and then-Provost Stanley Chodorow announced their plans for a $69 million Perelman Quad in 1995, it would include most of the facilities originally slated for the Revlon Center. But it would be in a new location. The project called for the complete restoration of College Hall, and Logan Hall would be renovated to create an art gallery, multi-purpose auditorium and recital hall. Logan Hall would be connected to Williams Hall in two ways -- through an underground tunnel and through a two-story glass atrium containing a 24-hour study lounge. And Irvine Auditorium would receive a facelift and renovations. The centerpiece of the project, though, would be the remodeling of Houston Hall. The architects envisioned it becoming home to more than 250 student and performing arts organizations, study and lounge space, a music-listening center, card and copy shops, a video arcade and game room as well as a food court with a range of dining options. However there was still no commitment from the project's primary donor. That changed when Rodin met with Perelman, lobbying him for support of the new location. It worked: Not only did he remain committed to the project, he doubled his initial gift to $20 million. With Perelman's contribution solidified and construction plans in place, alumni responded to the project in growing numbers. More than $5 million was raised through alumni small class gifts. And others stepped forth with larger ones. University Trustee Stephen Wynn, a 1963 College graduate and casino mogul, donated $7.5 million for an open-air Wynn Common space. And University Trustee David Silfen, a 1966 College graduate and Goldman Sachs investment banker, donated $2 million for a 24-hour study lounge in Williams Hall. The University kicked in its own capital project funds, and a fundraising goal of $38 million was set, which was met two years ago. Construction on the project finally began in 1996, with University officials predicting completion by the end of 1999. But the plans, as always, were just a little too optimistic. Delays ranging from the removal of the old swimming pool in Houston Hall to the destruction of air conditioning units by Hurricane Floyd last fall pushed the grand opening back until this July. Still, while Rodin and others celebrate the grand opening this fall, they should be glowing with as much pure exuberance as utter relief. Indeed, when administrators spoke of Perelman Quad they said, "We had this gem, so why not polish it to make it serve student needs?