Last week, The Inquirer reported that the University of Pennsylvania paid former veep and current presidential candidate Joe Biden a cool 900 grand over two years and change for some dozen public appearances on the Penn campus and an unspecified number of fist-bump events with donors.
The news of Penn’s payment to Biden — which came about as part of his financial disclosure for his presidential campaign — broke at the very time some of his opponents are looking for ways to take a machete to college tuition while others are shaping free-college-for-all agendas.
Tuition at the University of Pennsylvania is $51,464 a year. For what the university forked over to Biden, Penn could have offered free four-year tuition to four academically ready students in need with enough left over to help with room and board.
OK, so maybe that’s unfair.
From the Penn point of view, you have to spend money to make money, and having a household name like Joe Biden on the premises, however sparingly, is a financial win.
Not only does Biden’s presence bring prestige to the Penn campus, but it tickles the donor base (who it’s presumed love to meet big-name celebrities), and given the financial capacity of so many Penn alums, it only takes a few well-placed tickles to bring in the bookoo bucks to cover the cost of Biden’s presence ... and then some.
Also, as Penn president Amy Gutmann stated when announcing the Biden appointment, the former vice president is “an ideal fit to further Penn’s global engagement.”
Bringing Penn to the world is certainly a worthwhile ambition. But as the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit that works with city kids in a number of Philadelphia locations — one being in the very same zip code as the Penn campus — I’m far more interested in bringing Penn to the neighborhoods.
The location closest to Penn where we teach kids to think and write with clarity is in Mantua, a neighborhood of about 12,000, just over a one-mile walk from the Penn campus. In 2009, the median income for a Mantua household was $19,700.
This summer at Mighty Writers, we are teaching writing to some 200 kids in our summer writing camps in Mantua. We have a waiting list of more than 100. And counting.
With more money we could find more space, grow the staff, and make waste of that waiting list.
When the need for educational enhancement is so obvious in a neighborhood like Mantua, is it any wonder one could feel a bit edgy reading about an already wealthy politician banking a near million bucks for showing his face around a prosperous nearby college campus?
So, here’s the deal, Penn alums: Skip the donation to your alma mater this year and donate instead to a program nearby ye olde college campus. There are many good ones, but I am, of course, partial to Mighty Writers.
In exchange, we won’t be able to get you in a room with Middle Class Joe, but you will get to see a whole lot of Philly kids writing their way to a brighter future.