The University of Pennsylvania has been highly successful during the past decade in its efforts to create an excellent community public school, make area streets safer and cleaner, increase homeownership, and boost purchases from West Philadelphia businesses.
Penn's 269-acre campus is adjacent to University City, a diverse 2.2-square-mile neighborhood of about 50,000 residents within West Philadelphia. Penn and its health system employ nearly 23,000 people, making it the largest private employer in Philadelphia and the fourth largest in Pennsylvania.
Soon after Judith Rodin became Penn's president in 1994, Penn began to take an active role in tackling neighborhood problems and cultivated closer links to city and business leaders and its surrounding community-as well as among its 12 different schools.
The shining achievement of the Rodin administration may well be the creation of a model K-8 public school. The Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander-University of Pennsylvania Partnership School-the result of an unprecedented collaboration between the university, the School District of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers-is named for the first African- American woman in the nation to earn a doctorate in economics and the first African-American woman to join Pennsylvania's bar association.
Penn donated the land for the school and provided oversight for its design and construction. It also contributes a 10-year subsidy of $1,000 per child above school district funding in order to facilitate smaller class size. Penn's Graduate School of Education works closely with the school and helped develop the curriculum, select teachers, and provide for their professional development. The availability of an excellent public school has encouraged couples with children to buy houses in University City.
In one of its first initiatives, Penn and neighboring institutions founded the University City District (UCD), a special services district consisting of 40 uniformed unarmed officers who patrol University City streets and a 25-member team of uniformed cleaning personnel. Penn has also provided trees and created public gardens in a separate beautification program.
Meanwhile, Penn, which started a program in 1966 to guarantee mortgages of Penn employees who bought houses in West Philadelphia, enhanced the program in 1998 for University City buyers. The university increased the percentage of its mortgage guarantees, offering a $15,000 forgivable loan for down payments, closing costs, or home improvements, and provided existing Penn-affiliated homeowners with matching grants of $7,500 for exterior home improvements. Penn has guaranteed mortgages for over 500 households since 1966, including, says a Penn official, more than 400 employees who have used the enhanced program.
Penn has also increased its purchasing of goods and services from West Philadelphia vendors. Its purchases have totaled more than $307 million since 1997, including $66 million last year. Penn has spent $520 million on construction since 1998 and 25 percent of that business has gone to West Philadelphia firms owned by African Americans and women.
In addition, Penn faculty and students provide tangible service as part of teaching and research in West Philadelphia through Penn's academically based community service program. Penn has more than 140 courses with a strong service component and works closely with six public schools in West Philadelphia. "The schools identify the problems," says Ira Harkavy, Ph.D., associate vice president and director of Penn's Center for Community Partnerships, "and we connect the faculty and students and try to learn together."
Judith Rodin has announced that she will leave Penn in June 2004, and Princeton University provost Amy Gutmann has been named as Penn's next president.