OP-ED: We Need You on a Dining Plan So We Can Pay the Mortgage on Huntsman Hall
Photo by Kylie Cooper / The Daily Pennsylvanian
April 1, 2021 at 5:58 pm
As the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, we are often tasked with making the unpopular decisions — one such decision was mandating sophomores to purchase a dining plan. We heard your feedback saying that it was motivated by profit, considering that the pandemic has forced many families into a precarious financial position. As ashamed as we are to admit it, we are also in a precarious financial position: Due to a series of unwise financial decisions, Huntsman Hall is at risk of foreclosure.
Like many regretful property owners, we were emboldened by a particularly charismatic real estate agent who convinced us to stretch just a little bit beyond our budget. We first met Ronny in the spring of 1997 in the bathroom of Smokey Joe's. We struck up a conversation, and he handed us a business card, telling us to “give him a ring if we were looking for some slick deals on real estate.” Though we were wary of the legal gray area he operated in, he had a reassuring smile that we just couldn’t get enough of. Once we got down to business, we had no choice but to go along for the ride.
We won’t lie, seeing the architectural drafts of that building was intoxicating. When we were told there would be a Pret a Manger in the basement, we smiled at the thought of chaos ensuing from the poorly managed lines after a 12 p.m. lecture. Floating the idea of TVs in group study rooms, we had tears in our eyes when we knew that students would use those spaces to stream "Parks and Recreation" on Netflix rather than study. What made us sign the papers, however, was the promise of escalators: How could you say no to escalators?
The construction of that building haunts us every night. From the moment we signed our loan for $140 million, we feared foreclosure. Despite its magnificence and grandeur, Huntsman Hall has caused us nothing but anxiety. Every month, we scrape together the cash to pay the mortgage, an act that brings us a brief moment of relief before the fear sets in again. All of us visit Counseling and Psychological Services regularly, unable to cope with the looming threat that Huntsman Hall will be foreclosed. Oh yeah — we're the reason CAPS can never give you the time of day.
Over the past two decades, we have staved off this nightmarish scenario by renting out the space for local PTA meetings and yoga classes. The occasional middle school debate tournament was a celebratory event for us — a flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe, we could retain ownership of this building. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that nothing lasts forever, not even the surety of sweaty 13-year-olds fumbling over a poorly rehearsed speech about the Constitution. Like all of you, we have had to reevaluate our financial plans and figure out how to ensure that Huntsman Hall doesn’t become repossessed.
We understand that the sophomore dining requirement is an inconvenience for many of you, but the truth is that we need cash, and we need it soon. We have already sold our children’s prized baseball card collections and pawned our wedding rings. We get calls from the bank so often that we all had to change our phone numbers. We’re serious: This is a desperate situation.
It’s just one more year of dining hall food — can’t you do this for us? You already did it once, how hard is it to do it again?