volume 40, number 5
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Writing Temple: An Interview with James W. Hilty

By David Waldstreicher, Editor

James Hilty

Author of Temple University:

125 Years of Service to

Philadelphia, the Nation, and the World (Temple University Press)

James Hilty is a Professor of History and the Acting Dean of Ambler College. In this issue of the Faculty Herald the editor speaks with Professor Hilty about his recent book Temple University: 125 Years of Service to Philadelphia, the Nation, and the World (Temple University Press)

What did you learn researching and writing  Temple University?

Temple’s founding and its early and middle years of development involved greater risks, larger uncertainties, and far more sacrifice than one might suppose, particularly given the relative stability and comparative prosperity of today’s Temple. Temple’s survival and growth were by no means assured. In many ways, but largely because of its very modest endowment, Temple remains a relatively fragile institution. Throughout its history, extending into the recent past, Temple has experienced a number of transformative, mission-threatening crises requiring extraordinary creativity and often much sacrifice merely to continue. At times Temple has redefined itself.  Indeed, there have been many “old Temples” and “new Temples.”  Over time, several generations of faculty, administrators, and trustees have struggled to reinvent Temple and to find new ways of sustaining the university without compromising its basic mission of providing a quality education to deserving persons regardless of their station in life. Through the years Temple’s leadership has faced many daunting challenges. None, however, labored harder, longer, or against heavier odds and at greater personal sacrifice than Russell Conwell and Laura Carnell. None deserve our everlasting respect and admiration more than the Founder and his indefatigable Associate President.

 

Taking a broader perspective, Temple University represents a grand, on-going experiment in higher education, created and perpetuated for the purpose of democratizing and expanding higher education’s reach, making it more affordable and accessible. All involved ought to regard it a privilege to be associated with such noble purpose.

 

What did you enjoy about the process and what was difficult?

 

As always for historians, the most enjoyable parts of the journey were the steps involved in finding, sorting, and assessing information before ultimately coming to an understanding of and gaining a perspective on what we know about Temple’s past.  The most difficult part was confronting what cannot be known or told about Temple’s past.  In some instances there was too much or too little information.  In other cases the written records were unreliable or important information had been discarded, lost, or simply went unrecorded.

 

In modern times, of course, many decisions were made via telephone, email, unrecorded meetings, or conversations for which there are no available records.  But, too often throughout Temple’s history, entire programs, departments, and even schools and colleges were created without leaving an historical trail beyond the formal recorded actions of approving bodies.

 

For an institution of this size with such a compelling story to tell, Temple until lately has not shown much appreciation for recording and maintaining its history or for expending the necessary resources to capture and sustain its past in an organized manner.  Hopefully this study will enhance access to Temple’s history, encourage units within the university to retain historical records and to write their histories, and also lead to enactment of a university historical records retention policy.

 

Were there topics for which you wished you could find more information?

 

 

Much remains only partially explored in this study.  Several faculty, alumni, and administrators graciously shared their institutional memories.  And in 2009 Professor Betsy Leebron Tutelman helpfully captured some of those memories on videotape.  But many more memories and much important information about Temple’s past remains obscured, beyond reach, or perhaps lost forever unless retrieved someday through a systematic oral history project.

 

Had I more time and resources I would have explored several topics more deeply, including the history of student life, the Greek fraternity-sorority system, dormitory life, and student–faculty relationships.  More information on several critical programs, such as women’s history and the formation of LBGT studies, would have been useful.  The early history (1893-1922) of Temple athletics was difficult to reconstruct since all of the early records apparently were lost in the move from College Hall to Conwell Hall in 1922.  The history of athletics deserves a volume of its own.  So, too, does the hospital and medical school. More information on the manner and mode of faculty communications – including a full history of the Faculty Herald – would have been desirable.  Readers doubtlessly will find omissions and errors, for which I am fully responsible and invite corrections.

 

You’ve been at Temple for almost a third of the history chronicled in the book. Are there aspects of Temple’s past four decades that look different than they did when you were living through them?

 

Oh, indeed, yes.  Let me mention just three instances.  I arrived at Temple in the late summer of 1970 just a few days before the National Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention (i.e., the Black Panthers) convened in McGonigle Hall.  With the likes of Huey P. Newton, Abbie Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin roaming the campus, I thought I had landed at the most exciting, socially engaged and politically aware university in the country.  Later, of course, I learned that the group gained access to the building by misrepresenting the convention’s purpose and its participants.  And that, far from enjoying a close, working relationship with the African-American community, Temple was at loggerheads with community leaders over expansion.

 

Looking back, the various efforts at restructuring the collection of courses deemed essential for a Temple-educated person, by whatever name -- Basic Studies, Core Curriculum, General Education – all involved some surprisingly perishable, contemporary assumptions, as well as much cost and delay and a great deal of self-interested political push and pull sometimes disguised as differences over educational philosophy.  Each transforming juncture brought new lessons and, by and large, succeeding faculty generations learned from them.

 

Perhaps because I was younger and less politically attuned, Temple’s rapid growth extending into the mid-1970s was not as noticeable to me as were the severe contractions that followed in the late 1970s and that dogged us into the 1980s.  Similarly, when enrollments rebounded in the late 1990s and a new, more positive attitude pervaded, it required some time to abandon the culture of perpetual austerity and to adapt to a growth mode -- only, of course, to be dealt the double whammy of the Great Recession and yet another political imbroglio in Harrisburg.

 

In the book’s acknowledgements you write of seeking to avoid a “presidential synthesis” of the university’s history – a surprising goal perhaps from an expert on the U.S. presidency. What did you mean, and why was this important? 

 

In reading the histories of other universities I found too many mere recitations of how one president after another had changed the institution (or not).  Some of the histories read like PR statements or the political biographies of the presidents.  From my own experience I knew that such claims of manifest change brought by purposeful executive intervention, both by U.S. presidents and by university presidents, were often political hyperbole.  Also, many of the most profound changes influencing American higher education resulted from societal forces beyond the control of any university president.

 

Temple University has been dramatically changed by wars, social unrest, economic downturns, changing birth rates, and partisan political turmoil, as well as by the deindustrialization of Philadelphia and the rise of a service economy, by local and regional population shifts, and by changes wrought by the Information Revolution, Academic Revolution, Computer Revolution, globalization, and the revolutions of rising expectations, to name a few.  All of which were societal forces that university presidents have respected and responded to but none have controlled.

 

Universities, moreover, are conservative institutions.  They change slowly and respond hesitantly to societal forces, waiting to act until there is an established need for change.  Several of Temple’s presidents grew impatient waiting for change to occur via the normal course of faculty governance.  A few, most notably Conwell, but also Johnson, and Liacouras, bravely insisted on bending history, defying contemporary wisdom, and breaking new paths for Temple, often against substantial resistance. A few tried to initiate or accelerate change unilaterally, usually to find that persuasion and cooperation proved more effective than mandates.

   

I particularly relished the brief but meaty interpretations of the presidents’ styles and accomplishments. Will these raise any eyebrows? As a student of presidents you know that their reputations often change in retrospect, sometimes even because of what’s written about them by historians. Have your opinions about past presidents evolved?

 

Each of Temple’s nine presidents faced difficult challenges of varying intensities.  I have jokingly said that an appropriate subtitle for the book could have been “One damned financial crisis after another.” But, in fact, finding the resources to drive the Temple engine consumed the majority of each president’s tenure. Each president, in turn, has been publicly judged by their crisis management abilities, when we more properly ought to judge them by their capacities to build and to effect long-term change.

 

Given Temple’s fragility in its early years, I now have a greater appreciation for the sustaining efforts of Presidents Charles Beury and Robert L. Johnson.  Millard Gladfelter’s political skills and affability paid sizeable dividends in the form of the state affiliation agreement, which, beyond the founding, was the landmark event in Temple’s history.  Paul Anderson bore the brunt of student, faculty, and community unrest in the 1960s and early 1970s, which at first I thought fully justified.  On closer inspection those criticisms seemed more a matter of timing and circumstance and Anderson’s own peculiar style than a leadership failure.  University presidents were convenient targets in those days.

 

All of the presidents, save Conwell, struggled to gain the respect of the faculty.  Marvin Wachman suffered the largest reversal of fortune, entering office with universal approval, leaving under the cloud of faculty retrenchment and faculty condemnation. Presidents Peter Liacouras and David Adamany were unpopular with the faculty during their terms, but both made difficult decisions and took far-sighted steps that ultimately rebounded to the considerable benefit of the institution.

 

By way of disclosure, I have known six of Temple’s nine presidents and have served in appointed positions under the last four.  In assessing their performances and contributions I have attempted to maintain the perspective of the historian-observer, faithful to my historical training, respectful of my scholarly obligations, and mindful of my own biases, at least to the extent consciously possible given my sometimes close involvement with persons and events.

 

There are some brief but notably insightful frank sections about the transformation of the faculty at key moments in Temple’s history. In the last of these you even write of the “disillusionment” some faculty felt during the 1990s. What lessons does your history of the university hold for faculty in particular?

 

In Temple’s early years and through the 1950s the faculty focused almost exclusively on teaching and service, spending long hours in the classroom and in advising students and shaping the curriculum.  The Academic Revolution of the 1960s and thereafter altered faculty behavior, bringing greater emphasis on scholarly productivity and professional associations beyond the university.

 

With the explosion of college enrollments and state affiliation in the 1960s, Temple recruited a new, professionally-oriented faculty, a faculty trained at the leading research universities where professors taught fewer undergraduate classes, devoted most of their attention to graduate or professional training, and received generous support for their research and creative activities.  Temple’s expansion in the 1960s facilitated by the Commonwealth affiliation agreement led faculty to expect that Temple would one day resemble the institutions at which they had trained.  Some even spoke of making Temple into a “Harvard on the Delaware.”

 

Temple aspired to do it all.  Unfortunately, Temple lacked the wherewithal necessary to fulfill its aspirations of being a comprehensive multiversity and accommodating a vast expansion of undergraduate, graduate, and professional program offerings.  Temple’s expectations soon exceeded its resources.  Enrollment fluctuations and uncertainties in the Commonwealth’s funding cycles brought frequent cutbacks, dampening faculty expectations and leading by the early-1970s to the formation of a faculty union.  Sharp enrollment declines beginning in 1978 led to retrenchment and further faculty disillusionment, deepened by two strikes and the persistence of a sometimes bitter advocacy relationship between faculty and administration.

 

Had the university not moved so presumptuously to mimic programs at other institutions and in some instances to over-specialize and over-staff, perhaps the hard dose of reality delivered in the late 1970s and 1980s would have been less traumatic.

 

What does the history of the university tell us about the prospects of shared governance between the faculty and the administration?

 

Non-existent in the early years, shared governance gained a foothold in the immediate post-World War II years, took hold in the 1950s, and peaked at Temple between 1968 and 1971, in terms of the proportion of faculty actively involved in the Faculty Senate.  Faculty governance at Temple and virtually all universities changed in the 1960s and 1970s and thereafter.  The professionalization of the professoriate brought increased mobility, growing allegiance to professional organizations, and decreased loyalty to their home institutions.

 

When the Senate salaries committee failed to reach an acceptable accord with the administration in 1972, the Temple faculty (other than Law, Medicine, and Dentistry) decided on a union.  Gradually the faculty collective bargaining agreement has been expanded beyond salaries, benefits, and work rules to include many specifics that were once left to the Senate or to deans and chairs to resolve with faculty.

 

Despite the divided, sometimes confusing representative roles of the Senate and TAUP, the prospects for enhancing shared governance at Temple are historically ripe.  The recent surge of strategic and institutional planning was more open, transparent, and inclusive than any in Temple’s history.  Much depends, of course, on the prevalence of good will and the insistence of all parties on maintaining mutual respect for each other and for the importance of the Temple mission.