To: The University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees
The People Say: Do Better, Penn
The University of Pennsylvania is worth $18.6 billion yet actively exploits its workers, its neighborhood, its city, and the environment. Where we have a choice of matriculation, we value a school that is not passive to its social responsibilities.
We value a school that pays its workers dignified wages, fights displacement and gentrification, materially supports public school students, and divests its endowment from the fossil fuel industry so as to reinvest in clean energy and just climate solutions.
Why is this important?
As prospective Penn students, we stand in solidarity with our fellow students who attend the School District of Philadelphia and declare that every student deserves an education. We know the University does not pay property taxes despite owning 10% of all the land in Philadelphia, and we call on the administration to contribute Payments in Lieu of Taxes. The current “services in lieu of taxes” are inadequate and do not help solve the crisis of secular underfunding when lead and asbestos from crumbling structures poison children, when students lack access to full-time nurses, and when students have little hope to learn and grow in overcrowded classrooms stocked with outdated textbooks.
As prospective Penn students, we know that this campus cannot operate without its workers. Even one hour of Quaker Days programming could not exist without the hard work of the campus staff. This work is not properly recognized or compensated. We demand that the University be responsible in ensuring that all workers, subcontracted or not, receive a livable wage and comprehensive health benefits.
As prospective Penn students, we demand that the University align its investments with the values it claims to uphold and stop investing in the fossil fuel industry—an industry that spreads false science, contributes to climate change, buys politicians, and takes advantage of marginalized communities, including those enmeshed with Penn in West Philadelphia and along the Schuylkill River. The University of Pennsylvania should divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in clean energy and just climate solutions. The University’s commitment to climate solutions can only be taken seriously when it addresses its largest source of carbon emissions: its investments.
Whereas, Penn provides opportunities for symbolic aid to the public schools of Philadelphia, and we recognize the insufficiency of these forms in the gentrifying Penn Alexander School, in the bussing of untrained undergraduate and graduate students to tutor after-school students who lack basic necessities during the school day, and in anything short of capital support in the form of PILOTs.
Whereas, Penn offers educational and fair wages to some, yet it knowingly subcontracts to third parties so as to pay poverty wages and poverty benefits to the workers who make the campus run. Penn must treat its employees with respect in its workplaces and its payrolls.
Whereas, Penn’s Climate Action Plan, green space, assorted LEED certifications, recycling bins, and individual reforms are vain so long as it refuses to recognize and resolve the largest chunk of its carbon footprint: investments in fossil fuels.
We, the undersigned, ask the University to adhere to our demands and thereby cohere with its motto, “leges sine moribus vanae”—laws without morals are meaningless.