Letters to the Editor
— Frank Friedman, Professor of Computer Science, College of Science and Technology
October 4, 2010
Temple University has undertaken many new initiatives, and has had much recent success in raising funds and strengthening its research profile. Quite possibly, Temple has even been successful in moving closer to its goal of improving its Research I rankings. By and large, however, I believe that too many of Temple’s leaders have lost sight of the Conwellian tradition, and the importance of its role in educating its undergraduates -- all of those who want an education, not just the very best.
Exactly what Russell Conwell had in mind in his acres of diamonds speech is open to some debate. Yet, as David Adamany wrote in the Introduction to the publication of Conwell’s famous “Acres of Diamonds” speech (Temple University Press, 2002), “ … it is scarcely a stretch to see in Conwell’s speech a manifesto for the education of students in Temple’s own backyard, its acres of diamonds waiting to be found.” Adamany went on to say, “whether or not this is what Conwell had in mind, this is what “acres of diamonds” has come to mean for the university that Conwell built, and for the generations of students …who have attended Temple.” Many Temple faculty, some now retired, are true believers in this manifesto. We all share a common bond in the belief that the “acres of diamonds” found in the institution’s “backyard” (or very nearby) have become the well over 200,000 currently living, worthy and talented students of modest means that we all have strived to educate.
I would sincerely like to see Temple University rededicate itself to its Conwellian roots -- to begin to invest the same dedicaTion, innovaTion, and energy and funding to the educaTion of its students, as it has recently devoted to fund raising, rank raising, and research. I have just completed my 36th year in the CIS Department at Temple. I was here long before CIS built an established core of research faculty. I am certain that our research faculty, many of whom are among our finest teachers, have made our department, our college, and Temple University a better place. But I do not believe this emphasis on research has made any significant contribution to the education of our undergraduates over and above that made by the predominantly teaching and service-oriented faculty who educated the masses of our students in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and into the current century. During this period, CIS, and, I am sure, other departments, educated large numbers of capable and productive graduates. Together, this cohort of graduates perhaps has had a more positive impact on life in the Philadelphia region than the graduates from any other college or university in the region. This is why many of us came to Temple: to have an impact; to teach, do research, and serve our University. We believed in the Conwellian tradition, and we believed that part of our job was to sustain this tradition. Over the past 40 years, our teaching faculty has clearly made a significant impact on the education of large numbers of students in our department. It would be hugely unfortunate for us to lose any more of these valuable resources because University leaders in a position to assess and recognize their value to Temple have failed to do so.
But even if we look beyond our Conwellian goals for a moment, what seems to have been forgotten in all our planning, forgotten in the Race Toward the Top and the 20/20 program, and lost in our desire and pride in growing larger, is that the purpose of higher education is education, especially for our undergraduates, who are all too often becoming an afterthought in many departments and colleges at Temple.
I have tremendous respect for the research faculty in our department. I have an equal respect for the good teachers in the department. These teachers concern themselves, day-to-day, with the education of comparatively large numbers of undergraduate students, not just the crème de la crème. Temple should be treating these teaching faculty with a healthy respect, similar to that shown our great researchers. I also believe we should be treating our undergraduate, GenEd, service, and Masters programs with the same respect and support as that shown our research-focused Ph. D. programs.
I no longer see this happening in many departments at Temple. Section sizes are growing, substantial numbers of our full-time faculty have left or retired and not been replaced (at least not in terms of teaching and service performed), and our scheduling of classes and faculty is tilted toward research needs, not educational needs. (Yet we wonder why our retention numbers are not better than they are. And, we hire more administrators to look into this problem, rather than really trying to solve it).
I realize budget balancing is both difficult and frustrating, and I realize that many deans and department chairs came here with a set of priorities and are struggling to sustain these priorities in the face of difficult financial times. But I, too, came here with a set of priorities, and I find that the GenEd, service, and undergraduate programs for which I have a strong affinity have now taken a back seat to graduate, research and grant getting activities. I find this most distressing. I hope to see a 2020 drive toward a better balance, and I hope to see it soon.