Letters to the Editor
—Sandy M. Sorkin, Faculty Chair CIS Advisory Board
March 1, 2010
Temple was the school of my childhood. Every member of my family and extended family went to Temple. My grandparents were all immigrants to America and they sent their children, my parents, aunts and uncles off to a better future at Temple. Better may not be an accurate descriptor because it was not just a better future, it was the possibility of a future. They all worked for tuition, studied, married, educated themselves and became accountants, doctors, dentists, podiatrists, social workers and productive members of the community. That is the Temple I remember: a combination of affordability, possibility, and public transportation. You could get there with a token.
Temple today is a disappointment. We have prostituted Conwell's vision and no longer believe that our acres of diamonds might lay in Philadelphia. Temple was once the university that gave young people a chance. Temple was available to everyone including those that had not yet demonstrated achievement, but were poised to work harder than they had ever worked before. If you graduated from high school, Temple would admit you and give you the opportunity to prove that you were prepared and worthy of higher education. But no longer, today we only look for the best students, and are proud that incoming SAT scores continue to rise. I still labor under the belief that any student able to persevere and graduate from an inner-city school deserves that chance.
The plight of these students and abandoning Conwell's mission changes the perspective of everyone employed at Temple. Those of us who remember what Temple was constantly compare what we do today with what we might be doing. I don't know if this is true for the younger faculty, and I don't know what they think Temple stands for today. Maybe they think we are an exclusive institution dedicated to research and turning out PhDs. Maybe we are no longer the place for immigrants, veterans, and young people that want a better future.
I also believe that the administration's desire to become known as a research institution is compromising the mission of undergraduate instruction. We may gain prestige and may see increased revenue from the research grants, but this should not continue to be accomplished at the expense of undergraduate education. It appears that we have strayed far from Conwell's mission in our desire to reconstruct Temple's image. But I guess at this late juncture it is not an area that I can influence. This new direction minimizes any real accomplishments in teaching and university and community service; it causes us to not continually increase and improve our offerings, and fosters an attitude of complacency.
I am frequently reminded of the merit system in conversations about my feelings regarding Temple's direction, individual recognition, and appreciation at Temple. While I am not aware of all merit awards, it would seem on the surface that the merit system is actually a rebate system to reward researchers who are entitled to additional compensation because they have generated grant dollars. A few non-researchers receive single units of merit, but that seems to be correlated to service, and it does not look like anyone receives merit because they have demonstrated that they are capable teachers. But maybe NTTs shouldn't expect more.
We also pretend that NTTs are faring better these days because of the possibility of multi-year contracts. It is admirable and desirable to offer employment security, but not the way we administer the process. By waiting to the last possible minute to offer contracts and renewals, NTTs must always consider the necessity to look for other employment because there is never the assurance of a contract.
There was no humor in the university contract negotiations last year. Management wanted a performance based contract and the union fought this ostensibly because of their belief that there was no good way to measure individual performance. The reality is quite different. NTTs have been working on performance based contracts for years. Fail to perform and you are out. The only issue is how Temple would deal with tenured faculty that do not meet some level of university standards.
As a consequence of these and other issues of concern, I've made a decision to leave Temple at the end of the current semester. My choice presumes that I will actually be offered a contract and induced to stay with a multi-year commitment. Actually, I would make the commitment while Temple only agrees to employ me as long as I am needed. Depending upon who is counting, I have been an NTT at Temple for 10 years, and leaving Temple is not uncomplicated.
So why leave Temple? Every minute in the classroom reminds me how it good it feels to potentially make a difference in someone's life. I learn from my students every day and hopefully there is some reciprocity. My collection of letters from students record wonderful successes. I've been invited to graduations and weddings and I have spoken with parents that are confident that their children benefited from their Temple education. All teachers know there are no better emotions than the ones derived from young people telling you how you have changed their lives.
But there is another dimension that I have been unable to reconcile. I sought to be recognized as a good teacher. I brought over 20 years of teaching experience to Temple and added another 10 here. Every day of those 30 years is valuable to me because I know I made a difference. Now I look back at the initiatives and programs I introduced at Temple in an effort to make an even bigger difference: the creation on an advisory board, three new courses, fund raising, committee time, mentoring, assisting entrepreneurs and investing in student projects, awarding scholarships to Temple bound students, creating relationships with the business community, inviting speakers, assisting local non-profits, etc. I believe I did these things because they were the right things to do (and admittedly enjoyed doing them), and hoped that all these activities would be enriching and offer my students experiences beyond the classroom.
Recently I have been reminded that these are not the criteria that Temple prizes when evaluating an instructor. Temple only wants degrees, the more the better, and while Conwell alerted us to where we may find qualified students he failed to point out that maybe there are people that can effectively educate, even though they haven't the coveted PhD golden ticket of admittance. Even more sadly, Temple no longer makes me feel like I am contributing to the community that needs what Temple stood for for so many good years.
Sanford M. Sorkin
Faculty Chair CIS Advisory Board