University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann

told staff and students yesterday that the school, Philadelphia's largest private employer with more than 20,000 workers, needed to cut back on hiring and freeze top managers' pay.

"We must prepare for an economic downturn of uncertain length and depth," Gutmann wrote. "This could result in decreases in enrollment for certain fields of study, reductions in federally sponsored research, and reduced philanthropy.

"The economic downturn is certain to reduce support from our endowment."

State aid is also down.

For the next year-and-a-half, Gutmann told departments, "fill open staff positions only if essential to the operational needs of the School or Center, or needed to fulfill the requirements of sponsored research." Penn will also cut back on temporary workers.

"The senior leadership of the University - including Deans, Vice Presidents, senior officers, and me - will receive no salary increases next year," she said. Penn will continue research support and student financial aid, and keep tuition increases "moderate," Gutmann added.

She sent the memo a few hours after

David L. Cohen

, Comcast executive vice president (and Penn Law grad), was named Penn's next trustee chairman.

Knock down I-95

As Democrats in Washington plot billions in federal transportation aid and work projects, ex-Milwaukee mayor

John Norquist

has a proposal for Philadelphia's I-95 Delaware Expressway:

Knock it down.

"New York's West Side Highway is gone," he said. "San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway - gone." Milwaukee, Seoul - Interstate kablooie.

"I-95 should never have been built through the city," Norquist told me on a swing through Philly to pick up a city planners' award from the

Ed Bacon Foundation

for his work promoting city-revivalist "New Urbanism."

Sounds crazy. How would the caravans of commuters, produce trailers and airport shuttles, and Phillies, Eagles and concert fans pass crowded South Philly, Society Hill and Port Richmond without the elevated freeway?

Trucks and buses can use I-295 in Jersey, or a better Blue Route. Meanwhile, "local traffic vanishes into the [street] grid," Norquist said. Of course, you'll want to widen some of those streets.

"Obama's going to be dumping a lot of money for infrastructure improvement. Why not use some of it to unlock your waterfront?" said Center City-based developer

Samuel Sherman Jr.

, head of the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia.

Sherman figures it'd be better to use that money to improve city streets and SEPTA lines, and "reclaim" the waterfront cut off by construction 30 years ago.

It's more likely, for now, that cash-strapped officials like

Mayor Nutter

are going to jump at almost any giant project that comes their way, like a double-decker

Schuylkill Expressway

, or

Hill International Inc.'s

tenant-challenged 1,500-foot

American Commerce Center

tower.

Getting risk averse

The

Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System

, which lost more than $3 billion in the third quarter, broke yesterday with its usual monthly practice and failed to approve "follow-on" investments in private-equity funds, citing the weak economy.

"There were some private equity/venture capital investments on the agenda for consideration, but action on them was tabled due to the uncertain economy," pension spokesman

Robert Gentzel

said in a brief statement.

The failure to act marks a pause, at least, in SERS's aggressive 10-year commitment to private equity and other "alternative investments," which managers hoped would protect them from falling stock and bond values. Leaving empty-handed were

TL Ventures

, of Wayne, and

Hellman & Friedman Capital Partners, Lime Rock Resources and

Novitas Capital.

Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215- 854-5194 or jdistefano@phillynews.com.