Council's December Open Forum
The December 8 University Council Meeting began with the President's Report in which Dr. Judith Rodin discussed safety and security and the conundrum: overall crime is significantly lower on campus and in the surrounding areas than in the past three years but members of the community feel less safe. In order to address those concerns the following steps will be taken: the creation of a Crime Suppression Response Team, consisting of ten officers and a sergeant; an increase in Penn Walk staff and more Spectaguard staff; assistance from neighboring agencies, such as UCD and Philadelphia Police. She also noted Phase II of CCTV and the redesign of the Public Safety webpage. In anticipation of Y2K she gave assurances that all core services and mission-critical systems were Y2K compliant.
Provost Robert Barchi announced several initiatives including reorganizing the vice provost for research position, the formation of an IT Advisory Board, a Task Force on Academic Integrity and another on Genomics.
There were brief reports from GAPSA, the UA, and the A-3 Assembly, with PPSA foregoing a report to allow more time for the forum.
Vice President for Human Resources Jack Heuer reported on outsourcing, noting that in each of the six areas, there has been severance pay and programs to help the employees affected. The Bookstore was outsourced to Barnes & Noble in 1996; Facilities to Trammel Crow in 1997; Employee Assistance to Penn Friends in 1997; Health and Welfare Benefits to Hewitt in 1998; Public Safety dispatching to MCI in 1999 along with Dining to Bon Appetit in 1999. Vice President for Facilities Services Omar Blaik said there would be ongoing assessment and that "outsourcing is not a goal in itself."
The Open Forum included a half dozen speakers who voiced concerns on the following topics: licensing for Penn clothing, problems with policies on students with disabilities, women's safety; investment of the endowment, minority recruitment and retention and obtaining prayer space for Muslims.
University licensing for Penn clothes was the issue raised by students represented by Matthew Grove, from Students Against Sweatshops. They are concerned about human rights of sweatshop employees. The President said she was scheduled to meet with the group on December 13 to discuss the matter.
Sigrid Peterson, a graduate student from Penn Students with Disabilities, addressed problems facing students with disabilities including many suggestions she had raised at Council nearly two years ago that have not been resolved. She urged that buildings be audited for compliance with ADA regulations and non-compliant features be remedied immediately.
Women's Safety, a perennial topic, was addressed by Hema Saragapani, chair of Penn Women's Alliance (formerly known as NOW). She discussed the issue of panic alarms in bathrooms throughout campus and a need for an increased awareness of safety issues. Vice President for Public Safety Thomas Seamon replied that after doing a national survey, he found that no other school has panic alarms throughout their campus. Penn has put them in new buildings. He stressed that the first goal is to secure the perimeters of the buildings.
The relatively new group, Student Alliance to Reform Corporations (STARC), represented by Alisa Vaalderrama, urged Penn to be more socially responsible in investing its endowment. She plans to meet with a subcommittee of the Trustees in February as well as the UA and GAPSA to discuss using shareholders power rather than divesting.
Obtaining prayer space was the topic raised by Sinan Kutty, of the Muslim Student Association. She requested a centrally located place where Muslims could gather for prayer five times per day as well as a larger space for Friday afternoons when upwards of 100 could gather. Vice Provost for University Life offered the Hill House Upper East Lounge for Fridays and Provost Barchi said that the room they have used in the Christian Association will remain available to them.
Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 16, January 11, 2000