Columnist Neal Peirce highlights the University of Pennsylvania's efforts at improving its Philadelphia neighborhood -- and the resulting improvements for Town and Gown.
"Thirty-three armed robberies hit on or near the University of Pennsylvania's Philadelphia campus in September 1996. Broken glass, trash and sometimes discarded drug paraphernalia littered the area. Dark, empty streets made students and staff feel jumpy.
A month later Vladimir Sled, a 38-year-old Russian émigré and Penn biochemist, got caught in a scuffle with robbers. He was stabbed several times and died shortly afterward at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center.
That was the decisive moment, the indisputable signal, writes Judith Rodin in her just-published book, "The University & Urban Revival," that the university she then headed would have to make a radical turn."
"It was a daunting task. Some faculty were highly skeptical, fearing diversion of scarce dollars from their staff slots and research. Others asked if community building was a university's job at all.
But Rodin (now president of the Rockefeller Foundation) insists a university worth its salt "has to show itself, its neighbors and its students it's willing to take on the thorniest issues of its time ... to put real skin in the game." "