An article titled “Penn Housing Policy is “Bad News” for Fraternities” appeared in the December 2022 eletter sent to Beta Pi alumni. The article explained that Penn’s housing and meal plan were detrimental to fraternities and the personal growth of students by dictating that sophomores were required to live in University housing and required to purchase a meal plan with Penn.

After reading two articles that appeared in the February 16, 2023, issue of the Daily Pennsylvanian, it appears that the “Bad News” article was only “scratching the surface” of the disastrous effects these policies have placed on freshmen, sophomores, transfer, and exchange students.

An article written by Alex Baxter, addressing the housing problem at Penn, provides details of a system that provides both substandard and luxury accommodations to students for the same rent. Residency locations are mostly determined by lottery, and the facilities may be subject to rodent infestation, flooding, and mold, depending upon the housing location. The situation has students wondering why the money spent to build the new luxury Gutmann building could not have been used to improve living conditions and renovate older buildings to provide the same amenities as Gutmann.

Baxter describes the quality of Penn housing ranging from the newly built Gutmann, featuring “single bedrooms, spacious living areas, study rooms, and an exercise suite”, to his “tiny, two-person, shared-bedroom apartment in Rodin” that “barely had space to breathe in, never mind any semblance of privacy”. He reports that various buildings have their own unique problems. There were rodent sightings in Kings Court English House, flooding at Harrison, and mold in the quad.

He complains that “Penn cannot continue to force their students to pay extremely high rent prices for clearly inadequate facilities without any option of moving off-campus. Either lower the rent for those in the clearly worse accommodations…or allow students to move off-campus”. He opines, “Failing to do either is a blatant abuse of monopoly power which demonstrates both greed and a serious disregard for their students’ wellbeing. For one of the world’s best economics and business schools which claims to care about its community, you’d think they’d be above such inconsiderate inefficiency”.  

The inequalities of the Penn housing policy can be compared to the unhealthy conditions that exist in many of their dining locations. In the same February 16, 2023, issue of the Daily Pennsylvanian, an article written by Jin Kwon addresses the unhealthy conditions that exist at the Penn dining facilities available to the Penn students’ mandated meal plans.

After reviewing Philadelphia city records for health code violations at Penn dining facilities, it was learned that a majority of the 12 dining locations were cited for five or more violations. Barbara Lea-Kruger, the director of communications and external relations at Penn Business Services explains, “When evaluating findings, diners should be most concerned when a facility has repeated violations which are not corrected upon reinspection or when the inspection yields discoveries that reflect severe violations that require a facility to immediately shut down. Neither of these events have occurred with any Penn Dining location on campus”. As inspections are done on an annual basis, an unhealthy condition could be existent for 11 months before Penn will address the deficiency.

It is noted that Hill House and 1920 Commons are awaiting reinspection “because of their non-satisfactory compliance statuses”. On initial inspection, the “inspection report” at Hill “listed six separate sightings of mouse droppings, two of which were observed in direct contact with pans and containers of ingredients” among other lesser violations. In addition, three other dining locations have not yet had their initial annual inspections. Two other dining locations, having insect activity and mouse droppings, were not in compliance with the health code in the fall of 2022 but have since passed their reinspections. 

Koon states that a student was taken to a hospital by the Penn Medical Emergency Response Team for suspected food poisoning. This student told Kwon, “When I was at the hospital, they told me that (food poisoning from eating in the dining halls) was very common…They said, ‘You are not a rarity among the students at Penn, getting sick from eating at the dining halls’ ”.

In a statement to the Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s Director of hospitality Services Pam Lampitt wrote, “Providing a clean and safe dining experience is our highest priority and formal Health inspections supplement our own efforts to ensure that we maintain a high standard”.

If you assume that Penn’s reason for dictating that Penn students must live in University housing and pay for Penn meal plans has actual merit and is not detrimental to students (an assumption that was portrayed otherwise in the Beta Pi December 2022 eletter), Penn has a duty to its students to carry out their policies in an equitable manner and safeguard the health and safety of its students.

Penn is not a small landlord nor the owner of corner luncheonette. Penn, with an escrow greater than $20 billion, can afford to do the necessary renovations to Penn housing so that they can be considered relatively equal in quality and desirability. Also, the dining facilities should maintain an all-year-round healthy and safe environment.