Speaking Out

Last week in Speaking Out, Dr. Louise Shoemaker called for a forum on community issues that have been newly emphasized during the recent wave of robberies in which a student was wounded. Dr. Teune's letter is in response to that call.

Beyond Campus, Beyond City

Current proposals on safety and security assume that the current problems are macro, long-term, and complex, requiring scientifically based information to avoid incident-driven decisions.

It is obvious that the campus and its near-environment must be an attractive, economically viable locality to facilitate student life. The objective is to make the area abundant with people and activities at least six days and evenings a week. Suggested components include retailing, entertainment, a conference center, and inexpensive parking. Efforts along these lines are underway, even if endangered by conflicting initiatives.

A competent, expert, rather than politically representative, body must have continuing responsibility for the campus and its environment. Expertise should be mobilized from the University independent of the group representation principle that dominates, in most cases appropriately, University governance. The complexity of this problem requires steadfast pursuit of goals with capacity to adjust to opportunities and new developments.

Information and analysis on the vitality of life on and around campus must be provided on a regular basis by an independent group. We must have more compressive and reliable data than that provided by police and media reports. We do not know whether recent criminal incidents are a trend, a statistical blip on a small numerical base, or the skill or impulse of one person or a few people.

We have to think regionally and globally rather than only of West Philadelphia or the City of Philadelphia. The University is the leading research institution and a potential cultural center in the Delaware Valley, and has international prominence. The University has become easier and cheaper to visit. That has to be communicated in a variety of ways, including cable television. We also should understand that industrial cities in wealthy countries have been in a state of economic decline for decades and that there is no ascendant national political base for huge transfers of resources to cities. Nonetheless, the University is big, complex, and productive enough to act as a local political entity both regionally and globally to attract private investments with government support.

We should be skeptical of simple, direct responses to these problems. There are many interests who gain and profit from politically comforting solutions to perceived threats.

Whatever the cost effectiveness of recent, comprehensive safety actions, a greater cost will come if and when those solutions are seen to have failed. Then what can be done?

-- Henry Teune, Professor of Political Science


Volume 43 Number 8
October 15, 1996

Return to Almanac's homepage.

Return to index for this issue.