Philadelphians have been paying attention to the recent resignation of President Jason Wingard, but the truth of the matter is that Temple University has been going in the wrong direction for years.
The University has bought into superficial, unsubstantiated “marks of excellence” like U. S. News and World Report rankings. Its former Dean of Business went to prison for manipulating the numbers. The real crime is a culture where employees obsess over a magazine’s profit-motivated assessments and aspire to superficial symbols of national prestige.
Temple would be better advised to stay true to its roots as a strong, safe research university with a special mission to high-quality teaching of Philadelphia first-generation students.
In July 2021, the Temple Board of Trustees hired Jason Wingard, whose direction from the trustees was destined to keep the University on the wrong course. They wanted an external president, someone who, as Board Chair Mitchell L. Morgan told WHYY when Wingard was hired, had a “unique combination of academic and business success, together with his skills in the fields of leadership development, organizational strategy, and the future of work, mak[ing] him a compelling choice to lead Temple into an exciting future filled with promise and new opportunity.”
The trustees got what they sought.
The Inquirer’s Will Bunch sums up the problem well in a column last month:
Wingard’s thoroughly modern strategy for placing Temple at the vanguard of saving higher education — through a stronger focus on workforce development and partnership with big business — is actually leaning into what is wrong with college today….Temple’s salvation isn’t the wizardry of 2023 education technology, but rediscovering the spirit of 1884.
As Bunch goes on to explain: Temple was founded in 1884 by North Philly Baptist minister Russell Conwell in the basement of his Temple (thus the name). Its mission then — and what it should be now — was to offer quality education to first-generation college students in the Philadelphia area. Since 1965, Temple has accepted state funds, making itself a “state-related” university.
Temple would be advised to stay true to its roots as a strong, safe research university with a special mission to high-quality teaching of Philadelphia first-generation students.
Although since 2011, those funds have been sparse and inadequate, the public commitment should remain. Instead, in the last 20 years, Temple has competed for full-tuition-paying students from outside Philadelphia. That strategy has led to building expensive dormitories, paid for by money that could have been better directed toward full-time instructors, rather than an army of underpaid, overworked, and exploited graduate students. Temple was always a great place for commuter students and should be today.
Temple’s enrollment has declined — 6.4 percent as the 2022-23 academic year began — and continues to decline.
As Temple seeks its next President, I recommend searching for a change-maker who understands that no reform can be effective unless it is rooted in originating values. Temple needs a leader who will reassert Temple’s identity as what I call the People’s Research University. This can be done and is being done now at public and state-related universities across the country.
The University Innovation Alliance “is the leading national coalition of public research universities committed to increasing the number and diversity of college graduates in the United States.” UIA’s mission: “Higher education needs to do a better job of graduating students across the socioeconomic spectrum, particularly low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color.” Its membership includes Arizona State University, Georgia State University, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, North Carolina A&T State University, The Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, University of California Riverside, University of Central Florida, University of Colorado Denver, University of Illinois Chicago, UMBC—University of Maryland, Baltimore County, University of Utah, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Temple should aspire to become a member.
Expectations for Temple’s next president
Temple’s next President should have knowledge and experience in implementing up-to-date higher education reforms:
- Understanding that diversity, equity, and inclusion require pragmatic actions, starting with reaching out to students who could succeed in college but who don’t enroll.
- Active partnerships with the School District of Philadelphia, K-12, creating expectations that every kid is college material. Students who have career/technical interests could further those at community college and then complete degrees at Temple, if needed.
- Culture change that leads to seamless pathways from community college to university graduation. Drexel University has taken steps in this direction. Temple — and Drexel — should go much further.
- Empowerment of full-time faculty members to integrate research and teaching, particularly in crucial first-year courses.
- Opportunities for graduate students to work with full-time faculty members for structured, time-limited periods to gain experience in teaching and research.
- Adequate compensation for graduate students and adjuncts for the important work they do.
- Reform of PhD education, particularly in the humanities, to prepare doctoral students for the real needs in higher education, including opportunities to combine teaching, research, and administration.
- Re-thinking of student advising to assist students to put mission before major and to integrate paid hands-on experience with course work.
- Commitment to the community, understanding that Temple thrives when North Philadelphia thrives and vice versa.
Philadelphia needs a flourishing Temple University. Decades ago when I was a Bartram High School student, I took excellent, affordable summer courses in theater at Temple. My mother didn’t worry about my walking around the campus or taking public transportation to get there.
This is not just nostalgia. I believe that if the Board of Trustees sets the right priorities and the next president understands that 21st-century change must be rooted in the University’s proud 19th-century past, then Temple can fulfill its mission as the People’s Research University.
What we can do
- Communicate with Temple trustees about expectations for the next president.
- Monitor the search and make nominations.
- Encourage Temple to reject false markers of prestige and instead set community-centered priorities.
- Support community college/Temple partnerships.
- Recommend higher education cooperation and partnerships with public and private universities and colleges across the city.
- Demand that SEPTA makes it safe to commute to Temple (and elsewhere, of course).
- Vote for a Philadelphia mayor who has practical ideas for improving safety in North Philadelphia and elsewhere.
- Lobby the PA legislature to provide increased support for state and state-related universities, especially if they follow a student-centered reform agenda.
Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on Twitter.
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Temple University's Ritter Hall. Photo by Jeannine Keefer via Flickr