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Becoming Penn

After World War II, the University of Pennsylvania became one of the world's most celebrated research universities. John L. Puckett and Mark Frazier Lloyd trace Penn's rise to eminence amid the postwar social, institutional, moral, and civic contexts that shaped American research universities.

Becoming Penn
The Pragmatic American University, 1950-2000

John L. Puckett and Mark Frazier Lloyd

2015 | 464 pages | Cloth $55.00
Education / American History
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Table of Contents


Chapter 1 Rise of the Urban Renewal University
Chapter 2 Campus Expansion and Commercial Renewal in Unit 4
Chapter 3 Shadow Expansion in Unit 3
Chapter 4 Student Protest and the End of the Great Expansion

Chapter 5 Martin Meyerson's Dream of One University
Chapter 6 Identity Politics in the Arena

Chapter 7 A Decade of Racial Discord
Chapter 8 Throes of Diversity
Chapter 9 Penn and the City Inextricably Intertwined

Chapter 10 Triumph in University City
Chapter 11 Agenda for Excellence
Chapter 12 Harnwell Redux

Conclusion: In Franklin's Name

Appendix The Urban Renewal University: A Typology
List of Abbreviations

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


Our book stands on the shoulders of Roy Franklin Nichols and Jeannette Paddock Nichols, husband and wife—and distinguished members of the University of Pennsylvania's Department of History—who, in the 1960s, set out to write a social and institutional history of the University. Their book would take as its starting point Edward Potts Cheyney's magisterial history, The University of Pennsylvania, 1740 to 1940 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1940). Recognizing the magnitude of the changes they had witnessed since their arrival at Penn in 1925, the Nicholses planned to cover the three decades between 1940 and 1970. Surveying his more than forty years' experience as a Penn faculty member, Roy Nichols wrote in 1968, "A university amorphous and slow-paced, where so little seemed to happen, had achieved a new vision of itself and created a new image. Strength, vitality, and enterprise were transforming characteristics. These experiences I shared as I had participated in them."

Lacking access to the archival records for the University presidencies of Thomas Sovereign Gates, George W. McClelland, Harold Stassen, and Gaylord P. Harnwell, the couple decided to base their study on oral history interviews they would conduct themselves. Unfortunately, Roy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, a major doyen of the Social Science Research Council and the American Historical Association, and an internationally famous scholar, died in 1973, leaving his undaunted spouse to soldier on with the project. Though Jeannette, who died in 1978, never completed the book or even a manuscript fragment, she left behind some one hundred transcribed interviews for future researchers to mine. A knowledgeable, astute, and sometimes cantankerous observer of University affairs in the postwar era, Jeannette constructed her interviews as colloquies with her informants and felicitously intruded her own informed perspectives into the archival record.

Cheyney's history had no follow-up until 1978, when Penn's president, Martin Meyerson, and Dilys Pegler Winegrad published Gladly Learn and Gladly Teach: Franklin and His Heirs at the University of Pennsylvania, 1740-1976 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978). Their book is arranged chronologically in chapters that are minibiographies of eminent Penn scholars of different eras in the physical and life sciences, law, medicine, anthropology, history, engineering, and architecture. Roy Nichols was one of the stalwarts portrayed by Meyerson and Winegrad. This book is a celebration of the University, written for the nation's bicentennial, though published belatedly.

The next institutional history to appear was George Thomas and David Brownlee's treatise, Building America's First University: An Historical and Architectural Guide to the University of Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000). Featuring a raft of elegant photographs and precise architectural descriptions, their book sketches the physical development of three Penn campuses since 1751, with a central focus on Penn in West Philadelphia since 1872, and showcases the academic precincts of the modern campus.

Published histories of Penn's schools, the best of which is Steven A. Sass's The Pragmatic Imagination: A History of the Wharton School, 1881-1981 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), and published memoirs, for example, Judith Rodin's The University and Urban Revival: Out of the Ivory Tower and into the Streets (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), round out the University's historiography, though leaving appreciable gaps, especially in the formative decades of Penn's modern era. In the spring of 2005, we decided, with more than a grain of modesty, to undertake the kind of history we believed that Roy and Jeannette Nichols would have written had they had but world enough and time. Accordingly, we envisioned a spirited historical account—a study that would be neither hagiographic nor polemical, but rather appropriately critical and balanced in the sense that we would weigh multiple perspectives before forming an interpretation of a key decision, main event, turning point, or, for that matter, a University president and his or her administration. As our primary interest was the development and functioning of the modern campus, we decided to center our research on the second half of the twentieth century, when Penn became one of the world's truly great universities. The question that intrigued us more than any other was how Penn had managed to build and sustain a beautifully landscaped, contiguous, park-like pedestrian enclave in the midst of a poor, deteriorating, and—after the 1950s—increasingly crime-ridden and turbulent urban district. We would keep this question in full view throughout the eight years of research and writing that brought this book to fruition.

John Puckett came to this study following a circuitous route. With a background in rural education and economic development in the South, he arrived at Penn in the fall of 1987 as an assistant professor of education. His research interest was the relationship of schools and communities, including the role of community studies in curriculum development. In the fall of 1988, Puckett affiliated himself with two Penn history professors, Lee Benson and Ira Harkavy, social activists who believed that the West Philadelphia public schools were the strategic key to improving the quality of life in the disadvantaged neighborhoods that bordered University City, which was home to Penn, Drexel University, the University City Science Center, two major hospitals, and several strong neighborhood associations. Over the next decade, their concept of academically based community service would slowly take root in the classrooms of the University and the West Philadelphia schools, with undergraduate and graduate students working with schoolteachers and their students to try to solve myriad local problems and issues, some of which are described in this book.

For ten years, Puckett and his wife, Karin Schaller, lived on the tenth floor of an art deco apartment building at 47th and Pine streets, with a view, two blocks north from their living room, to the castle of West Philadelphia High School, a structure that had opened on Walnut Street in 1912 as one of the nation's premier high schools. By the spring of 1988, when Puckett first visited this once elegant Tudor Gothic building—a relic of an era when cities took enormous pride in their school buildings; a structure replete with crenellated towers, Vermont-marble staircases, and two auditoriums with fifty-foot-high ceilings, classical statuary, and, in one auditorium, a Curtis organ (once one of the world's great organs)—the building was in a state of disrepair, the organ, as well as the school's clocks, long since dysfunctional. Seeing broken windows in classrooms on the lower floors, Puckett was struck by the disparity of the deteriorating condition of this once-great American high school and the $1 billion capital campaign under way at the University of Pennsylvania, just seven blocks to the east of the high school.

Over the next decade, with the help of Benson, Harkavy, and other faculty colleagues, he organized academically based community service courses at the Graduate School of Education—and, in the mid-1990s, in the Department of History. From 1989 to 1993, Puckett and a group of energetic teachers built a grant-funded computer lab/publication center and created the West Philadelphia High School Student Research Apprenticeship Program. In this academic-credit program, students published their community studies as a school and neighborhood newsletter—and laid the foundation for a community newspaper that the school's English Department organized after Puckett moved on to other projects, one of which was helping to build the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Community Partnerships (CCP, today's Netter Center), established by President Sheldon Hackney in 1992.

Puckett met Mark Lloyd in the summer of 1988, when he first visited the University Archives, which, at the time, was located under the weight room at Franklin Field. Curious about the state of Penn's community relations, Puckett spent several weeks that summer in the archives, reading back issues of the Penn student newspaper. He returned to the archives several years later to read about the 1969 College Hall sit-in and its impact in West Philadelphia. After this, he was diverted by other projects, not the least of which was a decadelong study of the 120-year history of the uses of public schools as social centers, community centers, and community schools. From 1989, the CCP's governing approach was "university-assisted community schools"—the idea that schools, supported by universities, can be effective centers and catalysts for educational, recreational, cultural, and health and social services for all members of their constituent communities, as well as for community organizing and community development; two books that Puckett coauthored located Penn's strategy in the context of the wider history of America's community schools.

As these books slowly wended their way to publication, Puckett realized that what he had been groping toward for some twenty years was a complete contextual framing of the work of the CCP/Netter Center and the University's social responsibility. He recognized that the next logical piece—perhaps the key element—of this framing, the one that now fully galvanized his interest, was the University context of this work. In the spring of 2005, he returned to the University Archives to discuss this project with Mark Lloyd.

Educated at the University of Chicago and trained as an American historian, Lloyd had been director of archives at Penn since 1984. At the outset of his employment, he was encouraged and supported by faculty in the Department of History, including Richard Dunn, Drew Faust (at this writing, the president of Harvard), Walter Licht, Bruce Kuplick, Robert Engs, and Michael Zuckerman. For a decade or more, his interests centered on the University Archive collections associated with early American history, and he partnered with Dunn, an expert in that field, on various history projects. Over time, Lloyd came to realize that the richest collections entrusted to his care were those dealing with the twentieth century. By the 2000s, his focus had begun to shift to contemporary American history. In 2005, he met Lee Benson, who, with Ira Harkavy, persuaded him to teach an undergraduate seminar entitled Penn and West Philadelphia: From Indifference to Conflict, to Reconciliation, 1870 to the Present. Joining Lloyd as coteachers in the seminar were professors Engs and Licht, who also partnered with him on the development and maintenance of the West Philadelphia Community History Center, an online virtual history museum, which debuted in the spring of 2008. By then, Puckett and Lloyd's research interests were fully aligned and the ideas for the book fully formed.

A plentitude of primary sources were available for our study. The University of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center (UARC), the major repository for Penn's history, contains the administrative, professional, and personal papers of four of Penn's postwar presidents: Harold Stassen, Gaylord P. Harnwell, Martin Meyerson, and Sheldon Hackney. In accordance with the University's standing archival policy—the Protocols for the University Archives and Records Center—these collections are fully open to researchers, as are those of the first half of the Hackney administration. Also fully available to researchers are the abundant interview transcriptions for the University History Project, which the Nicholses inaugurated forty years ago. Sheldon Hackney generously gave us special access to his personal papers and journals, giving us his vantage point in situ on a tumultuous decade at Penn.

The "twenty-five-year closure rule" imposed by the Protocols keeps the Rodin-era archives unavailable until 2019 and not fully available until 2029. We have perforce relied primarily on published sources for Rodin's presidency: the weekly Almanac, Penn's in-house administrative journal; the Pennsylvania Gazette, the University's candidly written and vastly informative alumni magazine; and the Daily Pennsylvanian, the University's student newspaper, whose reporters and editors followed campus events and controversies with the tenacity of Jack Russell terriers. We also draw on the resources of the Faculty Senate University Governance Oral History Project, our own interviews and conversations with key informants, and assorted documents provided by these individuals.

Other important archival materials are available online. The UARC website hosts a collection of several thousand photographs of Penn at various stages of growth in West Philadelphia. Under the label Mapping Penn: Land Acquisitions, 1870-2007, the website also features Geographic Information Systems (GIS) property maps for every parcel, building, and street in Penn's real estate portfolio since 1870, including the property-transfer information on each holding. This extraordinary digitized resource allowed us to circumvent the cumbersome toil of deed searches and, most important, to view, in overlay form, the original parcels and streets on which contemporary buildings stand. The previously mentioned UARC-supported West Philadelphia Community History Center, an online archive of historic maps, papers, and photographs maintained by Penn undergraduates, includes digitized versions of the Bromley Atlas of West Philadelphia for 1916 and 1927. UARC's valuable library collection includes Penn's annual reports (including the Financial Report), Minutes of the Trustees, the Almanac, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Daily Pennsylvanian (microform), Benjamin Franklin's Record (student yearbook), Penn's general institutional and professional-school histories, histories of Philadelphia, and numerous other relevant volumes. Another valuable repository is the Fisher Fine Arts Library, whose city and regional planning collections include publications of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, annual reports of the City of Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, and sundry urban renewal documents.

Two other repositories were indispensable. The Philadelphia City Archives houses papers of the City Planning Commission, and the City Archives' website, Phillyhistory.com, contains scores of high-quality photographs of Penn and West Philadelphia in various stages of development after 1950. Urban Archives, at Temple University's Special Collections Research Center, holds the papers of the West Philadelphia Corporation and the indexed clippings and photographs of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, from 1847 to 1982, a treasure trove for researchers interested in Philadelphia history.

U.S. Census data were vital to our study, affording a portrait of social and economic conditions in West Philadelphia's neighborhoods across the twentieth century. Two years into our research, we discovered Social Explorer.com, a remarkable website that provides digitized census-tract maps, full data compilations, and spreadsheet sorting of key social and economic indicators for every census tract since 1940. Social Explorer does not report census block data; where traditional neighborhood boundaries and census tracts in our study did not coincide, we consulted the census-block hard-copy volumes in the U.S. Census of Housing. For Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority planning units in the 1960s and 1970s, which overlapped census tracts, we conducted manual block-by-block analyses.

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