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letters overline The aftermath of Superblock, investing in West Philly, preventing homelessness

The author of "The Master Builders" ["Gazetteer," December 1996] reveals a regrettable ignorance of the history of the West Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding the campus. The University, we are told, "is considering building some low-rise residences in the Superblock area, tentatively called 'Hamilton Village.'"
Can history be that easily forgotten, indeed inverted? The area in question is and always has been called "Hamilton Village." It was and is, of course, named after that Hamilton whose mansion still sits in the middle of what is now Woodland Cemetery and whose parish church is still St. Mary's Church, Hamilton Village (opposite High Rise North). It is only since the early 1970s, when the University committed itself to what is now at last being acknowledged as the grave mistake of building a set of undergraduate high-rise dormitories, that anyone designated the area by the dreadful name of "Superblock."
It is not a little ironic that, now that the University's "planning process" of earlier decades has succeeded in destroying the local community of Hamilton Village to which the University attached itself in the nineteenth century, attempts are now to be made to use its name for some type of new community that will rise over its ruins. To this reader at least, this mistake symbolizes much of what has been and is wrong with the University's relationship with its West Philadelphia neighborhood.
St. Mary's Episcopal Church
Hamilton Village

In the December 1996 "Letters," Scott Hawley, C/W'92, suggested a "Marshall-type plan to revitalize the community" of West Philadelphia. The particulars of Mr. Hawley's plan, however, make it sound as if the neighborhood must be destroyed to be saved.
One of his suggestions was that Penn should buy "old, boarded-up properties in the West Philadelphia community and demolish them." In fact, there are few such properties in the University City part of West Philly, and no more than a handful in the entire Cedar Park, Squirrel Hill, Spruce Hill, and Garden Court area. The residential neighborhoods of West Philadelphia are not in need of an "open space agenda." Just look at the windswept wastelands of Superblock and the Grad Towers plaza for examples of the failure of this concept.
Here's my contribution to the debate: All Penn employees in upper administrative levels or in jobs requiring expertise in community relations should live within the city limits. The City of Philadelphia requires all its employees to do so. As Philadelphia's second-largest employer and landowner, ensuring that some of its highest-paid brains and spokesmen contribute to the city's tax base through their property taxes seems the least that Penn could do.

In her February cover story about homelessness in Philadelphia, "Three Degrees of Separation," Meg Egan reports that I think "community-based prevention efforts are too idealistic and expensive," and that I favor, instead, "creating jobs and sustained income streams." She also reports that while I don't "entirely discount the worth" of Dennis Culhane's research on shelter users, I nonetheless "question the validity" of his findings. For the record, this is what I believe:
The sort of community-based prevention advocated by Culhane, the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness, and the Philadelphia Homelessness Prevention and Housing Stabilization Task Force (of which Dennis and I are both members), makes a great deal of sense. Even so, its impact is inevitably limited by the absence of living-wage work for unskilled laborers and by the draconian welfare retrenchment now playing out. Put another way, a strategy of social services, education, and skills training cannot hope to succeed in the face of a depleted material resource base for poor people. Therefore, the creation of "sustained income streams" is vital to the prevention of homelessness, Alas, I fear that the creation of living-wage jobs by the deployment of public capital and a roll-back of recent public assistance policy, may be "too idealistic and expensive"that is to say, politically unfeasible. Please note that this is exactly the opposite of the point Ms. Egan attributes to me.
As to Culhane's research, let me put the matter simply: It is enormously useful and I would be proud to have done it myself. As I told Ms. Egan, institutional data have some inherent limitations (as Dennis would be the first to admit), but in this case they also have unique advantages, and Culhane has exploited these with admirable skill. He is a first-rate scholar with the uncommon ability to bring the results of research immediately to bear on public policy and the development of human services. I am quite distressed that Ms. Egan took out of context my attempt to explain to her the technical meaning of validity, choosing to characterize what I plainly stated to be cavils as a substantial dismissal of the value of Culhane's work.
Finally, two small points: First, I am not the author of Homelessness in America, as Ms. Egan reports. I am the editor of that volume, a 1996 benefit book for the National Coalition for the Homeless (Oryx Press) and the joint product of over fifty people. Second, my name is Jim, not James.
JIM BAUMOHL, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Social Work & Social Research,
Bryn Mawr College

This alumnus finds it shocking that Dr. Manning Marable, professor of history at Columbia University and director of Columbia's Institute for Research in African-American Studies, finds a "leadership vacuum" in the African-American community, but then dismisses various diverse black figures including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. ["Gazetteer," February].
I find Prof. Marable's comments closeminded and typical of the fear, displayed by liberal blacks, of answering the cogent, thoughtful arguments of black conservatives. Only when the black community gives up its use of racist preferences (disguised as so-called "affirmative action") as a vicious weapon against the white community will progress be made ending the bitter hostility (exemplified by the acquittal of O.J. Simpson of murder) between the races in America.
Potomac, Md.

Kudos to the Gazette for its heartwarming article on lightweight football in the February issue. The message in it needs to be broadcast nationwide. In my yearbook, the team was referred to as "150-pound," so the present 165-pound limit apparently allows for some growth in girth over the decades. While we treasure the strictly amateur status of the game, the 5-1 record does look good. My yearbook reported two years of no victories!
Centreville, Va.

I found the November cover story, "The Road Not Taken," extremely interesting and applaud the Gazette for speaking to issues of institutional identity and purpose. Richard Farnum worked extensively in the primary sources of Penn's history to produce this article, but I disagree with some of his conclusions and would caution your readers on two points.
The principal response of the provost (then the University's CEO) and the Trustees to the June 1926 offer by Henry Woolman, W1896, of a new campus at Valley Forge is missing from Farnum's account. The Trustees immediately re-engaged Frederick J. Kelly, the University of Minnesota dean and consultant who had prepared Penn's first comprehensive institutional plan, the Educational Survey of 1924, to examine the proposal and report on the options it presented the University. Kelly conducted his study in the fall of 1926 and submitted his recommendations to the Trustees on 1 December. The students, faculty, and administration, Kelly concluded, were united in opposition. The majority of students, with considerable justification, were angry with the alumni for suggesting that the collegians and the College itself were inferior to their counterparts of twenty years earlier. John Frazer, dean of the Towne Scientific School, spoke for most in the faculty when he argued "that many advantages result in carrying graduate and research work within the confines of a large city [and that] to remove... undergraduate instruction [to Valley Forge] would not only necessitate to a large extent duplication of faculty, but would deprive the undergraduate work of that valuable inspiration which comes from being in the atmosphere of research activities of a higher order." Asa Don Dickinson, the University librarian, estimated that a satellite library at Valley Forge would cost $1 million to build and equip and nearly double the library's annual maintenance costs. Said to be critical of the plan from its inception, Provost Penniman was sufficiently confident of the Trustees' views to make his opposition public several weeks before Kelly's report was released. As they negotiated with the alumni, the Trustees surely left no doubts as to their own position as they continued to direct a huge building boom on the West Philadelphia campus through the mid- and late-1920s: Irvine Auditorium; the Moore School of Electrical Engineering; the Palestra and Hutchinson Gymnasium; four new dormitory houses in the South Quad; the Educational Wing at the University Museum; the Anatomy-Chemistry Wing at the School of Medicine's Medical Laboratories building; and the Maloney Clinic at HUP.
Kelly himself concluded "that separating the group of undergraduate schools and colleges from the Graduate School is very costly, permanently embarrassing and contrary to well-recognized trends in modern education." If the undergraduate schools were to go to Valley Forge, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences would have to go with them, and that would be extremely expensive. In the minds of the Trustees, the Valley Forge proposal was finished right then and there. The proposal to move all, or even part, of the University to Valley Forge would never be a serious option unless, perhaps, the alumni were willing to raise the $25 million projected as the minimum requirement for a new campus.
The second point is that in interpreting the Valley Forge proposal and its long-term outcome, historians should be very clear about changing values in American society and take care not to impose the values of their own time on an earlier era. At no time in the debate over Valley Forge did the faculty, administration, or Trustees suggest, much less explicitly state that they were defending "universalistic principles when faced by forces seeking to deny or restrict opportunities to those of unfashionable class and ethnic background." The idea that Penn's leaders resisted Valley Forge because they envisioned what has become our contemporary model of egalitarianism is laughable. Penniman and the Trustees were not "blazing a trail that others would later follow;" they were doing their best to manage an institution with far less financial and physical plant resources than their principal competitors. That their actions also tended to move Penn towards institutional policies of open admissions and curricular reform were not salient among the issues at stake in 1926. Opposition to the Valley Forge proposal was rooted in the faculty and administration's belief in the advantages inherent in the organization of the modern research university and in the Trustees' recognition that the Valley Forge proposal, if accepted, risked financial disaster, a prudent view which was amply confirmed by the national economic crisis of less than five years later.
Director, University Archives
and Records Center

Richard Farnum responds: Mark Lloyd has offered some interesting amendments to my reconstruction of Penn's behavior during the Valley Forge episode of the 1920s. First, he has supplied some welcome detail on the administrative response, one aspect of which was the study conducted by the University of Minnesota dean, Frederick Kelly. Second, Mr. Lloyd has suggested that Penn's rejection of the Valley Forge proposal is better understood in terms of financial exigency and commitment to the research ideal than the defense of universalistic principles.
The reminder of Penn's difficult economic circumstances is a useful corrective to any interpretation which relies too exclusively on values, ideals, or institutional identity to understand the behavior of universities. (At the same time, of course, it diminishes any pride that an institution might otherwise feel for the steadfast pursuit of unpopular policies subsequently vindicated by history.) As for the research ideal, it embodied precisely those universalistic principles that Mr. Lloyd seems so intent on construing as anachronistic. Allied with the educational ideal of utility, its institutionalization altered both the social composition of the student body and the undergraduate curriculum.
At the risk of dampening Mr. Lloyd's mirth, nowhere did I claim that Penn's administration "envisioned our contemporary model of egalitarianism," nor, needless to say, should universalism be confounded with egalitarianism. I am also perplexed by his invocation of "open admissions" surely a concept far more responsive to the charge of anachronism than universalism, which was hardly invented yesterday.
The Valley Forge matter at Penn, along with selective admissions and other curricular and extracurricular issues at elite colleges and universities in the 1920s were all in one way or another concerned with the problem of universalism and the rise of a meritocracythat is, with the question of who should lead the society. As early as 1922, Provost Penniman had clearly come down on the side of universalism: "The limitation of students must be based on some principle consistent with the recognition of what are called the 'rights of citizens.' A racial or religious limitation would be inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the U.S., and the denial of an opportunity to a boy who is of good character and who satisfies the entrance requirements would be inconsistent with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence which expresses clearly the thought that equality of opportunity should not arbitrarily be denied to men."

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