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Time of Transition Blues
The best-laid plans...take too long.
By Randi Feigenbaum
A ll this talk about "urban parks" and revitalized neighborhoods, townhouses, and "collegiate residences" has excited many students on campus. Until, however, they realize something: they won't be here to see these plans, programs, and projects come to fruition. Unless they return for a tenth-year reunion or their kids come to Penn, the students currently on campus -- especially the upperclassmen -- will not see any of the end products now being discussed in plan form.
I find it frustrating that my four years at Penn seem to have been the "planning for the future" years. From the Perelman Quadrangle -- seemingly forever under construction -- to the new retail shops that will one day line Walnut and 40th streets, everything is currently pending. It seems that last semester was a particularly good one for plans and projects, all "preliminary," all to be completed long after every undergraduate student now attending the University is gone. Even our football and basketball teams -- great when we first came in and destined for more success after we leave -- are in transition.
Perhaps that's the way it always is. Perhaps a university is always planning for its future. Well, then what benefits have I reaped from the projects and programs announced years ago that were to affect the Class of 1997? Some came through, even after some heartache and headache, like the final version of the new judicial charter. (Revisions began after the "water buffalo" incident occurred in 1993, and it just went into effect this fall.) And academically, several new majors and minors, along with a few interdisciplinary programs, were approved and institutionalized. However, other projects and programs never made it.
The Revlon Center: Originally slated to be completed even before I arrived, this was the new student center to be built at 36th and Walnut streets, currently the site of a parking lot. Administrators were going to close off 36th Street between Walnut and Sansom streets to expand the "center" of campus to the north -- a project that was to be completed by fall 1996. (Instead, last semester administrators announced new plans to do the same thing.) Throughout my freshman year in 1993-94, finishing touches were put on a parking garage right down the street in order to allow for groundbreaking on the Revlon Center to occur later that year. A year ago January, though, the campus community learned about plans for the Perelman Quadrangle that would replace those for the Revlon Center. Doubling his original $10 million donation, Trustee Ronald O. Perelman, W'64, WG'66, decided to back the new project, which involves the renovating of Logan Hall, Williams Hall, Irvine Auditorium, and Houston Hall, along with the area inbetween. The University is currently on a schedule that anticipates work on that project to continue through at least 1998.
The Commission on Strengthening the Community: A short-lived organization and its report that came out in my freshman year would have instituted randomized housing for freshmen, postponed Greek rush until sophomore year, and expanded all sorts of other programs. Headed by Trustees Vice Chairperson Gloria Chisum and backed by then-Interim President Claire Fagin, many of the commission's recommendations were never executed or were completely overhauled.
The 21st Century Project:
In the fall of 1994, when University president Judith Rodin first arrived, she sat at her large, round table surrounded by press and announced the 21st Century Project for Undergraduate Education. It was to be the cornerstone of her administration. At the time, it was to first affect the Class of 2001 and be implemented in the fall of 1997. Now it has been pushed off even further. Parts of the plan have seen signs of implementation, such as the interdisciplinary program between Wharton and the Law School. But others, and the "project" as a whole, have been delayed, including the formation of collegiate communities/clusters/residences/houses (no one, it seems, can decide what to call them). Pilot collegiate communities were to be instituted this year to prepare for future expansion of academics in the residences. That didn't happen, and now much of the 21st Century Project will not really come to a stage of completion by its self-imposed deadline.
As a sophomore during that project's announcement, I remember thinking that we, the classes of the late twentieth century, were getting a raw deal, since everything being planned then would only be fully realized long after we were gone. The Class of 1997, along with those immediately preceding and following it, has lived through much transition, especially within the top levels of the administration -- which could be
part of the reason for a more planning-oriented four years, instead of institution and implementation. However, the focus on plans, projects, and programs may instead be a perennial problem experienced by every Penn class. With some turnover in administration, faculty, and students every year, maybe it's just too difficult to ever see anything substantial actually completed. Then again, the classes of the early 1970s saw the opening of Superblock (a project Rodin now hopes to demolish to return the area to its former glory), so perhaps change can occur.
If we're to be optimistic, then, the classes of the 21st century will see Sansom Commons, the demolishing of the high-rises, completely new "collegiate" residences, an Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, the Penn Inn, and the new $100 million Wharton complex. In the meantime, just as classes who came and went before and during the construction of Superblock, students at Penn today have to sit and listen at University Council meetings and special press conferences, and then wait -- until their reunions.
RANDI FEIGENBAUM, C'97, is a political science and English major and former assistant managing editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian.
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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 7/3/97