Speaking Out

Supporting Postdocs

I read with interest the Interim Report of the University Council Committee on Research published in Almanac March 31. I am most pleased with the decision of the Committee to continue to work on postdoctoral issues. I would like to reemphasize a few points from Dr. Medoff-Cooper's comments.

The University Council Committee on Research is a faculty-based committee which appointed the ad hoc committee responsible for formulating the University-wide Policy on Postdoctoral Fellows, published in Almanac April 30, 1996. We strongly support reconvening this ad hoc committee so that it can continue to develop the existing policy. One of the most important items, as the March 31 report mentions, is that the University lacks a standardized grievance procedure for this group. Although the School of Medicine's Office of Postdoctoral Programs (OPP) has gained much experience working with its 650 postdocs, the University Council Committee must bring the necessary University-wide perspective to postdoc-related policy questions we all so desperately need.

The Office of Postdoctoral Programs also strongly agrees that we should strive to provide a fuller educational experience for all postdoctoral appointees. In fiscal year 1997, the School of Medicine ranked third nationally in NIH funding among academic medical centers, and second in the number of NIH training grants it receives. Under these training grants the postdoctoral training experience, over and beyond doing "bench science," is well planned. However, we are concerned that postdoctoral appointees are not being thoroughly prepared to succeed in a competitive job market. Issues concerning the successful "Practice of Art and Science" need to be taught e.g., handling peer-review, scientific writing, scientific presentation, and lab management skills to name but a few. In addition, there is a strong need to provide continuing educational experiences.

Our office works from the premise that postdoctoral scholars at the University are the backbone of our research enterprise and it is important to provide mechanisms through which these professional individuals can thrive and succeed.

--Trevor M. Penning, Associate Dean, Postdoctoral Research Training/Med

The Future of Vending?

As the reader may recall, our administration only negotiated its version of the vending ordinance one day, and broke most of the agreements the next day in what became ordinance #980022.

Unfortunately, despite overwhelming opposition, the Philadelphia City Council recently unanimously passed it. Disturbing is how easily the Council ignored the numerical superiority of the opposition and instead acted in favor of a few Penn administrators. This bias was best stated by the Council President himself: "If you don't think that I and the other members are conscious of all the economic benefits that flow from [Penn], you're wrong."

Thus the Penn administration, an economically interested party, has unilaterally crafted legislation, and used its influence with City Council to get it passed. This ordinance masquerades as reasonable regulation. In reality, it gives the administration tremendous long-term control over all vending on campus. This is the basis of the injunction that the UCVA will shortly be seeking. Also, this is why watchdog groups like the PCA and UCVA will find difficult their job of preventing or reducing misuse of this power.

The ordinance has three principle effects:

1) The ordinance seeks to discourage vending by simply being onerous. The generator ban (rather than a decibel limit set by location) makes it hard to refrigerate food, and the limitations on the content of signs vendors post on their carts/trucks are certainly unconstitutional, etc. These are dubious measures-Penn refuses to allow changes that meet the same stated goals but are less onerous. Watchdog groups should work to reduce the severity of these restrictions-by recourse to law if necessary.

2) The only vending locations in the interior of campus will be those "vendor plazas" which are built. Though these plazas are supposed to replace lost public vending space, they are not guaranteed by the ordinance. Even if the vendor plazas are built, the administration can at any time make them unavailable, permanently, by inventing a nearby construction project. A few years ago the Quaker-Shaker truck had its lease broken because of the abrupt decision to construct a flower garden nearby. Because Penn has complete control over who may vend from the plazas, I would be shocked if they allowed anyone there who offers competition for Penn retail. Furthermore, the plazas are designed to be small, in low traffic areas, and hold very few trucks (as opposed to carts). Watchdog groups need to insist all five plazas be built, monitor the procedure by which vendors are selected for the plazas, and cry foul if the plazas become unavailable.

3) The ordinance is designed to give Penn control over the public locations in perpetuity. The figure 103 is only a maximum (any location can be removed if a tree is planted nearby, for example). The minimum number of public locations is zero. Our administration steadfastly rejected amendments that would eliminate such loopholes-thus one can only assume they intend to use them. Licenses & Inspection allocates public sites. However, given the bias openly expressed by the City Council, one can expect the Penn administration's desires will be a substantial factor in who gets a given site. Watchdog groups need to watch for (and oppose) projects that result in a loss of public locations, and also should closely monitor allocation of vending locations for favoritism towards Penn retail plans.

Vending is important to students, staff and faculty of moderate means. Convenient availability of inexpensive, quality food is necessary for the academic well-being of our University. With retail development concerns dominant in how our administration treats vending , they cannot be trusted to preserve it. For this reason the work of the UCVA and PCA will have important, long-term purpose.

--Greg Huey, Graduate Student of Physics

Vending: Call to Rescind

The issues surrounding City Council's recent vending ordinance appear to have been resolved with passage of the bill; but the ethical, financial, and philosophical questions regarding the ordinance have not yet been adequately answered. We hope that the "Declaration of Principles" which follows contributes to the ongoing discussion of the University's highly controversial actions.

A Declaration of Principles

When, in the course of human events, a large and powerful institution attempts to squelch its economic competitors by force of legal fiat, it becomes necessary for those whose livelihoods are under attack, and those who depend upon them, to state the reasoning behind their case.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that American society has long been strengthened by the laissez-faire system advocated by Adam Smith; that the inadequacy of both command economies and crony capitalism has been demonstrated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Asia's economic setbacks; that free markets provide for better allocation of resources than do systems which foster excessive regulation; that movement of a single organization towards domination of a market is inherently unfair, if competition is a viable alternative; that the role of government in economic matters should be to level the playing field, rather to tilt it in favor of those who are most influential.

The history of the recent vending ordinance is replete with attempts by the administration of the University of Pennsylvania to usurp control of a market from the City of Philadelphia, its citizens and government.

Let these facts be submitted to a candid world:

The Penn administration has aimed to corral the vending carts, as its own officials have admitted, in order to enhance the value of Penn's own retail investment.

It has sought to compel vendors to pay the University in order to stay in business; though this fee is to be nominal at first, it will undoubtedly rise with time.

It has used the subterfuge of concerns about aesthetics, safety, health, and noise in an attempt to confine and enervate its competitors.

It has attempted to manipulate City Council members into doing its bidding by citing its already prodigious economic and political influence.

It has subverted the intentions of its founder, a longtime proponent of liberty in commerce as elsewhere.

In every stage of the legislative proceedings, students and employees of Penn (as well as other individuals) stated their opposition to this measure. These voices were largely drowned out by the concerted, well-rehearsed, and well-funded responses of the University.

Therefore, we call upon City Council, as a body which represents and is elected by the people, to rescind the recently passed vending ordinance. With a belief in the values of democratic liberty, with an affirmation of our embrace of the American economic system, we mutually pledge to each other our staunch opposition to this measure.

--Randolph Knarr,

--Hok-Tsan Lam,

--Anand Palkhiwala,

--Nicole Pellegrini,

--E. Steve Putna

--Scott Savitz,

Graduate Students of Chemical Engineering

Response on Vending

After hearing from all sides on the vending issue during a public hearing that lasted for more than nine hours over the course of two days, the City Council unanimously passed legislation regulating future vending activity on and around the University's campus.

The University is now working with the City's Department of Licenses & Inspections and the University City Vendors Alliance, among others, to ensure an orderly transition when this recently enacted legislation takes effect in late July of this year.

Via this process, all existing vendors will be accommodated within the 145 future vending locations that will be established along the streets and sidewalks, as well as the Fresh Air Food Plazas now under development.

Just as importantly, even after this transition is complete, vending will remain accessible to all of the University's faculty, staff and students, as no part of the campus will be more than a three minute walk from a future vending location.

--Jack Shannon, Managing Director for Economic Development

The Sound of Music

I was saddened to read of the death of Mark Allam (Almanac May 5), who was one of the great men of the University during my many years here. In addition to his fine leadership of the School of Veterinary Medicine, he was a man of great humanity and gentleness, and there is at least one of his little- known projects that probably will not make it into any of the accolades written about him but which demonstrates his scope of interests and offbeat approach to community.

Aware of the many beautiful vistas from the rear of the manor house at New Bolton Center and equally aware of the sensitivities of the neighbors surrounding the Center, Mark came to me one day and said that he wanted the farmers and livestock neighborhood to feel at home at New Bolton Center and to enjoy it in ways other than their expected medical and experimental uses.

To that end, he requested me to join him in preparing a series of outdoor recitals by chamber music groups from the Delaware Valley. On a regular basis, all of Penn's neighbors in Kennett Square were invited to bring blankets, picnic suppers and the whole family to the manor house for an evening of marvelous music on a late Sunday afternoon. Sometimes he even augmented their picnics with chicken which he personally cooked on a charcoal pit at the bottom of the hill. I would arrange for the chamber group and its transportation and introduce it and the music it would play and Mark would glow on the sidelines with that most infectious of pixie grins. Mozart and Debussy, Handel and Delius wafted through the clear spring and autumn air to the delight of dozens of rapt picnickers. I never determined for certain, but I'll wager that he paid the musicians out of his own pocket.

--Bruce Montgomery, Associate Director of Music


Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on niversity issues can be accepted up to noon on Thursday for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.--Ed.


Almanac, Vol. 44, No. 33, May 12, 1998

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