Penn and Drexel Must Fund Communities Not Cops

An open letter to the administrations of Penn and Drexel University

#PhillySchoolDeserve Protest, March 2021

Dear President Gutmann, President Fry, and Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University,

We are approaching a year since community and student activists came together to demand that Penn and Drexel Universities become responsible neighbors to Philadelphia by funding communities not cops. Last year forced the city to its knees, proving that the enabling of wealthy tax-exempt institutions to exploit working-class Philadelphians can no longer stand. As stakeholders, we marched, petitioned, testified and campaigned for Penn and Drexel to transform the way they do business but we have seen no substantive changes to date. We are here to say that your symbolic gestures and empty statements of solidarity aren’t enough. We are restating our demands to let you know that we won’t stop fighting for accountability until your administrations take the action required to transform this unethical relationship.

We demand Penn and Drexel:

  • Defund Penn and Drexel Police and work with community and campus violence prevention organizations to institute police-free alternatives for community safety, both on and off campus. This includes safely holding University events without armed officials.
  • Immediately and Permanently divest from the prison industrial complex and other industries, such as fossil fuels, known to perpetuate harm against Black, Indigenous, and other communities, while reporting fully transparent and public accounts of the university’s investments and contributions. This includes ending all financial and other contributions to the Philadelphia Police Foundation.
  • Establish an indefinite agreement with the City of Philadelphia, through a Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, to pay at least 40% of the university’s yearly property tax obligation into a publicly accountable Education Equity Fund.
  • Penn — release the Public Safety Review and Outreach Initiative report with actionable steps outlining how the university will meet the community demand for transparency, accountability and a transition plan to implement police free alternatives. Drexel — appoint a committee of law scholars and community stakeholders to conduct an independent investigation of Drexel University Police practices.
  • Penn and Drexel should establish a genuine, open and ongoing dialogue with Philadelphia community members in order to heal and address community needs through solutions grounded in restorative justice principles and public accountability.
  • Penn and Drexel should publicly condemn the human rights abuses perpetuated by the Police Department of Philadelphia during the unrest of 2020. They should use their power and influence to demand the city cooperate with the United Nations investigation currently underway.

Philly Can’t Afford to Settle for Charity or Empty Platitudes

Both Drexel and Penn have their own police departments, making up two of the five patrol units in the University City area. These private police forces are historically used as mechanisms for university driven gentrification and disproportionately target non-student community members. Often campus police are used to maintain bubbles of affluence for the consumption of university affiliates in neighborhoods that are otherwise disenfranchised. Penn and Drexel have exploited this systemic deprivation in their well documented land grab of once taxable property which they now use for exorbitantly priced student housing and tuition.

Sustained organizing from a multitude of community actors forced Penn to agree to pay the School District of Philadelphia $10 million a year for the next 10 years as a quasi-PILOTs concession. After decades of harmful tax avoidance strategies which drained our public coffers however, that is only a fraction of the debt Penn owes to Philadelphia’s over-policed and under-served communities. Drexel continues to refuse to pay PILOTs at all. We can no longer tolerate Penn and Drexel’s profiteering on the backs of working class communities of color. Penn and Drexel must commit to a true PILOTs agreement as a first step towards repairing community relations and ending their legacy of inequity in our city.

Eight months ago the University of Pennsylvania held a Public Safety Review and Outreach Initiative after our community brought attention to university police involvement in the violent tear gassing on 52nd St. We participated in the review to demand the university address its role in the attack and commit to the defunding of Penn Police. To this day, no report has been published, and no substantive changes have been made to policing at Penn. We insist this report be released with actionable steps outlining how the university will meet the community need for public wellness and accountability not criminalization.

Meanwhile, Drexel appointed Charles Ramsay, a former Philadelphia Police Commissioner, to conduct a review of the Drexel University Police Department (DUPD). No trustworthy and transparent review can be guaranteed by assigning it to someone with a conflict of interest. We insist on an independent review by a committee headed by law scholars and community stakeholders.

Finally, Drexel’s Vice President, Gregory Montanaro, still holds a board seat on the Philadelphia Police Foundation (PPF), while Penn’s Vice President for Public Safety, Maureen Rush, serves as their president. Both give support to the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) which has now been recognized by the United Nations as perpetuating human rights abuses against the public. The PPF provides additional funding for the PPD but does not disclose the nature of its support. Penn and Drexel must terminate their relationship with the PPD and PPF and pledge to divest from these institutions. Maureen Rush and Gregory Montanaro need to step down from the PPF, or they must step down as Penn’s Vice President for Public Safety and Drexel’s Vice President, respectively.

As our city continues to struggle to stay afloat in an unprecedented economic downturn, our leaders have shirked their responsibility to fund public programs, maintained a bloated police budget and provided excessive tax breaks for our wealthiest institutions. We are calling on the administration of Penn and Drexel to become active agents of change. In a world that bends for your comfort, success and expansion you have to choose to be the institution that turns the tide. The community has been clear about what Penn and Drexel need to do to be good stewards to Philadelphia. We are counting on you to listen this time. Will you heed the community’s call and step into a legacy of justice and righteousness?

Submitted by:
Penn Community for Justice
Drexel Community for Justice
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