There is a bucolic, leafy oasis in the midst of heavily populated Abington Township, where the advancing of higher education is its mission statement. But it is on this very campus of Penn State University that a turbulence is occurring under the veneer of calm.
A former faculty member is suing that institution after, as he claims, his refusal to give equal grading to unequal performances in the goal of racial balancing resulted in harassment of him and his subsequent resignation.
Zack K. De Piero, an assistant professor of English, says he was told to give higher-than-earned marks to certain African American students in order to show parity. That directive was both an insult to the spirit of education and to those students, both black and white, who earned their grades through achievement.
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There is much irony in the whole scenario. The campus was established in 1850 as a private school for girls, during an era when the education of women was not a high priority. In 1915, the design of one of the campus’ major buildings was created by the architectural firm of the famed Horace Trumbauer. One of its designers was Philadelphian Julian Abele, an African American. He graduated from Cheyney University and then was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania’s department of architecture. This trailblazer was welcomed to Penn based on his academic excellence. He thus worked through the discrimination that was so prevalent during that time.
After the recent Supreme Court ruling against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, where it was asserted that quota setting for admissions was discriminatory at its core and therefore illegal, this atmosphere at PSU Abington appears all the more absurd. With so many high-achieving people of color gaining much success in our country, the five-decade long programs of Affirmative Action have become obsolete and patronizing.
The lawsuit also claims a supervisor at the institution had a phone app that revealed the party affiliation of each professor. It asserted a concern she had when she found out De Piero was not a registered Democrat. If proven true, what has happened to the diversity of thought there?
Penn State’s enrollment in 2022 was over 88,000. The Abington campus is one of twenty statewide locations. It has over 3,200 students. If the conflict at Abington is an isolated situation, it is no cause for worry. But if the action of grade-leveling is spread across all of the PSU campuses, the lack of incentive for reaching academic heights is scandalous.
The beauty of the Penn State Abington campus is extraordinary. But to borrow from Dr. Martin Luther King, the content of its character is now in question. Let’s hope the lawsuit produces a return to sanity, and an abandonment of a process of enabling that has reared its ugly head.
Jeff Hurvitz (email@example.com) is a freelance writer and native Philadelphian.