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West Philly story a welcome step, early wedders speak out...and more.

   "The West Philadelphia Story" in November's issue of the Gazette struck me as a welcome early step in the long process of Penn's finally coming to grips with its role in the stabilization and further development of West Philadelphia. In my view, it is essential that Penn alumni become engaged on this issue; their interest, focus -- and perhaps even their targeted donations -- are needed to help keep the administration's efforts honest, effective, and durable.
   The story struck me as commendable on the whole, but I thought there was inadequate attention to some of the subtle ironies involved. For example, it was Penn's refusal over the years to engage with West Philadelphia at all that made it justifiably vulnerable to charges of racism, and prevented it ever attending to its own interests in preserving a great asset: the multiracial, middle-class community of University City.
   Partly as a result, Penn stood by by while the blocks closest to campus deteriorated into an undergraduate slum of absentee-owned housing that is going to be very hard to fix. It was this deterioration -- and the crime and physical decay it brought -- that amplified the flow of graduate students out of the blocks west of 43rd Street. It is therefore particularly poignant that these outer blocks of Spruce Hill, Cedar Park, Garden Court, and Squirrel Hill remain safer to this day than much of Center City, and offer a residential quality of life far higher than is commonly perceived by undergraduates, by suburb-dwelling faculty and administrators, and by alumni.
   One very real significance of Dr. Rodin's stated commitment to engage West Philadelphia as a whole is the running room it should create for the University to tend to its own interests, in partnership with community leadership in University City, without as much fear of a broader backlash. Still, some real courage and management skills will be required. I encourage the Gazette to open its pages to a continuing dialogue on this matter so that the alumni can monitor the performance of Penn in helping to improve a community through which they all passed -- and about which one hopes they still harbor fond memories, as I do.
New York
   The writer -- whose wife was on the Penn medical faculty from 1989 to 1995 -- lived in University City during that time and served for two years as president of the Spruce Hill Community Association.

   I read with great interest the article by Justin Feil entitled, "Why Wait?" ["Notes From the Undergrad," October] Indeed, in response to the rhetorical question posed in the title, my wife and I did not wait. In fact, we didn't even wait as long as Mr. Feil and his fiancee.
Illustration by Polly Becker spacer

   My wife and I entered the University of Pennsylvania in the Fall of 1973 after our June nuptials. We each managed to earn our undergraduate and graduate degrees while simultaneously building a vibrant marriage (over 24 years long now and still going strong) and building friendships that in many cases are still active after almost a quarter century. Unfortunately, it is true that we were not able to fully experience all that college life has to offer; we made a tradeoff which I for one consider worthwhile.
   Our elder child is now a sophomore in the Class of 2000. She is not inclined to copy her parents and wishes to experience Penn life as a single. We understand and respect her choice (it is after all the more common one), but those who would look askance at married students are ignorant of a lifestyle alternative which has much to offer in exchange for what one (or rather two) gives up.
W'76, WG'77
New York

   I was very interested to read several articles in the October Gazette. I particularly liked Justin Feil's article about getting married. Like Justin, I met my fiance at Penn and we dated for five years before getting married. (The timeframe was a little different; we married four years after I graduated and three years after David did.)
   His article rang more than a few bells, though in our case it was not with the engagement but when I became pregnant in 1993 that I got the double-takes and inquiring glances. At the time, I was working at the University Museum, and had been around long enough to be familiar to many working there. One day in the business office I had a woman ask me why I "got pregnant." I think I blinked -- well, it isn't a question you get asked all that often! -- and then replied, "Well, someone has to keep the collective intelligence up!" Why, indeed! I suppose she thought I was going to say that I was responding to my biological clock or some such nonsense. The truth was that, like Justin and his fiancee, David and I felt the time was right to make this move, and although I had some vague doubts when infant Emily was getting us up every two hours, I now know we were right.
   A similar thing happened when, during my junior year, I started my portrait business. As a resident in Arts House, I was surrounded by wonderfully talented people, many of whom were appalled that I should be trying to make money with my artwork. I suppose that this demonstrates that even in academe, one cannot get away from a certain herd mentality.
Palo Alto, Pa.

   Thirty years after graduating from Penn, I received my first issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette. I was pleased and very interested in its contents. I read the editorial about "Who Gets the Gazette?" [October] It seems that I should fit one of the categories, being a regular contributor to the Graduate School of Fine Arts. In any case, I hope to continue receiving it since I like staying in touch with Penn. Two of my children also graduated from Penn.

   Your statement that in the aftermath of the Water Buffalo case "Penn's judicial system was soon reformed so that speech by itself could not be grounds for discipline" is wrong and does substantial harm to efforts to get Penn to stop punishing students for speech protected by the First Amendment ["Gazetteer," October]. In my opinion, the Gazette must surely know that it simply is not accurate.
   The only change in the Penn code was that speech will not be subject to punishment unless it runs afoul of "applicable laws or university regulations or policies" of which "hate speech, epithets and racial, ethnic, and religious slurs" are listed as examples. That means that another Water Buffalo case is quite possible. Even that cosmetic change resulted from Penn being widely ridiculed as what the Philadelphia Inquirer called "the nation's most politically correct campus."
   One would expect that universities above all would not hesitate to proclaim that speech protected by the Constitution of the United States shall not be punished. Benjamin Franklin was a member of the Constitutional Convention. Ben Franklin's University should be the first to cherish and obey that Charter of Liberty.
Professor of Law
Temple University School of Law
   A slightly more detailed description of the revamped judicial code, based on a statement from Shelley Green, Penn's general counsel, was condensed for reasons of space. Here is Green's original comment: "Today, the code of student conduct makes clear that the content of speech is not by itself a basis for discipline, unless it violates laws or regulations." -- Ed.

   Since graduating from Penn in 1956, I have returned to the campus many times -- for reunions and Homecoming, for football and basketball games, for business, and just to shop at the Penn bookstore.
   Many of the changes I have seen at Penn over the years have been beneficial, the most notable of which is the closing of the campus core to traffic. There is one change, however, that, despite its obvious necessity, is simply unfortunate. I am referring to the massive safety emphasis that has engulfed the campus in recent years.
   During one recent three hour stay on campus, I noticed several steps the University has taken to increase security. My first encounter with security came when I arrived and tried to exit the parking lot on the south side of Spruce Street, just east of 34th Street. The door was locked and continued that way for the rest of my stay. Then I noticed that the restrooms at the Burger King on 40th Street were caged and locked. This was followed by having to exit the campus bookstore through an airport-like detection device. Then I went to visit my Provost Tower dormitory and found I couldn't gain access to the Quad because I didn't have any credentials. In addition, it seemed that the furniture in the main Houston Hall reception area was bolted to the floor.
   The coup de grace, however, was the red alarm buttons located in every restroom stall in Houston Hall. They were accompanied by additional red alarms placed throughout the open parts of the restroom. I'm sure I would have discovered many other safety measures on campus had I stayed longer.
   I am not complaining about these safety measures. They are a necessity, I'm sure, but deplorable nonetheless. "We should'a moved to Valley Forge."
Dallas, Tex.

   After reading the boxed item on page 21 of the October Gazette ["At 85, Alumnae Association Assesses its Future"] I was puzzled about the statement that the Penn women finally got a women's dormitory in 1960. What -- pray tell -- was Bennett Hall? As I recall, it was the female sanctuary during my years at Penn. It was obviously constructed no later than the early 1930s. What's wrong with this picture?
New Rochelle, N.Y.
   It's true that women were housed in Bennett Hall -- as well as several other places in what the 75th anniversary newsletter of the Association of Alumnae called a "haphazard" arrangement. The newsletter continues: "In November 1960, a dream came true as 665 women moved from the scattered dorms into the newly built Women's Residence Hall." -- Ed.

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