U. of Pa. Failed To Provide Aid, Lawsuit Charges
The University of Pennsylvania has failed to live up to its promise to provide 125 full-tuition scholarships a year to students from poor and working-class families in Philadelphia, according to a lawsuit filed last week.
The class action, filed on behalf of 14 needy Philadelphia students and 12 public-interest organizations, claims the university has not abided by an 1977 city ordinance that the plaintiffs believe requires Penn to provide 125 so-called "Mayor's scholarships" for each entering class.
The scholarship plan stems from a series of gifts of land that the private university received from the city beginning in 1882. A local ordinance that year called for the university to "establish and forever maintain" 50 scholarships for "deserving students of the public schools of Philadelphia."
In exchange for the scholarship program, the university received 47 acres of land near the Schuykill River that now includes its teaching hospital, freshmen residence halls, and the University Museum.
The program was expanded by 75 scholarships in 1910. In 1977, when the university sought city approval to mortgage the land, a city ordinance codified the requirement for "125 four-year, full-tuition" scholarships.
The suit, filed Oct. 29 in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, alleges that the university now provides only 125 scholarships at any one time, not the total of 500 that the plaintiffs believe it should provide under the 1977 law.
Furthermore, the suit contends, many of the scholarships are awarded to students who attended high schools outside of the city and also to those who are not the most needy.
"The plain purpose of the ordinance is to provide a college education in the city's oldest, largest, and one of the nation's pre-eminent universities for city schoolchildren who otherwise... would not achieve such a higher education," the suit states.
The plaintiffs are being represented by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and one of its lawyers, Thomas K. Gilhool, the former state secretary of education.
Stephen T. Golding, Penn's director of resource planning and budget, said the agreement requires only 125 scholarships at any one time and that the university "is in compliance with the agreement." --M.W.