10.16.2009

Neighbors and Saviors


Interesting choice of honorifics: Penn tied for first in the US, with the University of Southern California, among “Best Neighbor” universities, as part of Westfield State College’s “Saviors of Our Cities: Survey of Best College and University Civic Partnerships.” Neighbor and Savior? Big difference!

Loaded terms notwithstanding, kudos to Penn, and particularly Dr. Ira Harkavy and the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships, for its efforts to form meaningful linkages in its West Philadelphia neighborhood. Notably, among urban Ivies, Brown, Columbia, and Yale placed out of the top 25 and in the list of 75 honor roll institutions, while Harvard was nowhere to be found. Go Quakers!

Putting aside school pride, this is an important discussion. Whether or not you agree with this particular ranking’s methodology, the issue of the relationship between universities and the cities in which their campuses and participants are located is an important and complex one. In spite of placing first, Penn’s track record is not unblemished; but neither should its top ranking be dismissively, well, dismissed, as it’s also done some pretty remarkable things in West Philadelphia.

Let’s hope this particular ranking stirs some healthy competition for Penn and other urban campuses to be ever making progress in town and gown relations. From where I sit, institutions of higher learning can’t be saviors. But they can be good neighbors. Pats on the back to Penn for being national recognized as a good neighbor here in West Philadelphia.
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