volume 42, number 3
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

On the Necessity of Taxpayer Oversight of Temple University: Questions of Age Discrimination

By Michael Sirover

Professor of Pharmacology


“It may be legal, but it is not appropriate.”
The Taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania-November, 2011

   What do the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania expect of Temple University? The answer to this question would seem to be simple, direct and a “no-brainer.”As taxpayers, we would expect it to be first and foremost concerned with the education of our young so that they may not only become responsible adults but also so that they may rise to their full potential. Second, we would expect it to engage in the pursuit of knowledge so that we may not only understand our world and ourselves better but also to be able to use that knowledge to develop new technologies to improve the world around us. Finally, we would expect it to help provide for the good and welfare of us all, i.e., we are the “Common Wealth” of Pennsylvania, and to conduct itself in a manner befitting the special regard in which it is held. We expect it to conduct itself in a manner befitting its mandate to provide for the Common-wealth.
    With that in mind, the purpose of this article is to consider whether the alleged policies of age discrimination described in this article violate the mandate given to Temple University by the Taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Each by itself, and certainly when combined, calls for greater taxpayer oversight in light of the removal of Temple’s special exemption from the “Right To Know” law.
   Question 1: What do older faculty (or other older personnel) provide for the “Common Wealth” of Pennsylvania that younger faculty or other younger personnel do not?

   Let’s first consider a March 31, 2011 letter sent to Temple University by Dr. Toni Scarpa, the Director of the Center for Scientific Review of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It concerns the appointment of a Temple University faculty member (not the author) to serve as the Chair of one of its committees.(1) The letter states, in part:

"As you know, membership on a study section represents a major commitment of professional time and energy as well as a unique opportunity to contribute to the NATIONAL BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH EFFORT. Members are selected on the basis of their demonstrated competence and achievement in their scientific discipline as evidenced by the quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals, and other scientific activities, achievements and honors. Service on a study section also requires MATURE JUDGEMENT and objectivity as well as the ability to work effectively in a group. The skill and leadership of the chairperson determine to a significant extent the effectiveness and efficiency of the review group."

   Or consider a similar statement from Dr. Sally Rockey, the Deputy Director for Extramural Research of the National Institutes of Health:

“The NIH wishes to thank all who served in the initial level of NIH peer review in the year 2011. Our ability to identify and support the most promising research depends on participation in the process by dedicated members of the extramural scientific community.” (January 20, 2012)

   It’s reasonable to suggest that these are prestigious appointments. Such an individual is able to contribute directly to our collective efforts to improve human health, i.e., such a person can make meaningful contributions to the “Common Wealth” of Pennsylvania and the world beyond.
    Who gets appointed to this type of position? It’s also reasonable to suggest that senior individuals, by virtue of their training, expertise and record of performance, will be entrusted with this responsibility. By definition, younger individuals, irrespective of their potential and their promise, do not have the requisite experience for such an appointment.
    Similarly, a senior faculty member may be qualified as a community speaker, i.e., someone with the expertise and perspective developed over the years to, as a guest lecturer without fee, discuss relevant issues in his/her field which may be of interest to the community at large. These could include women’s groups, men’s clubs, Rotary, etc. It’s a public service, a way to inform Pennsylvania taxpayers on issues of the day.
    Older faculty may mentor younger faculty. In the author’s case, when he was a young, naïve, Assistant Professor (as opposed to now when he is an old, naïve, full Professor), he was privileged to have as mentors Charlie Papacostas (Art’s father), Connie Harakal, Sidney Weinhouse and Peter Magee. Charlie and Connie advised him on his development as a teacher while Sidney and Peter were consulted with respect to the development of his research program.

   Now, as a senior individual, the author has assumed a similar role as an advisor for a number of junior individuals. In that position, he has helped a number of younger individuals who are now either are, or are becoming, established faculty. In this, the author is not alone. Many senior individuals serve as mentors for younger faculty both at Temple University and at many other such institutions. The term used sometimes for these efforts is “Pay it forward.”
    In each of these three examples (and others which may occur to the reader), senior individuals are contributing to the “Common Wealth” because of the seniority which they hold and the expertise they have developed during their career. It is highly unlikely that junior individuals, whatever their potential, could make such contributions. Hopefully, in the fullness of time, they will.

   Question 2: “How much money did you make for us last year?” Or: Why do Temple University corporate officials institute policies and practices which belittle, discourage and penalize older faculty who contribute to the “Common Wealth”?

   Regrettably, state-affiliated colleges and universities are not the kindly old Alma Mata that so many Pennsylvania taxpayers may remember. Temple University can be thought of as a multinational corporation which has a professional administrative class separate and distinct from the faculty which it manages. Further, it has implemented new policies and procedures which are separate and dis-tinct from that of Temple’s founder, Russell Conwell.
   In particular, it has devised a series of computer generated Faculty Evaluation Matrices by which faculty are judged yearly as productive or non-productive. Such matrices are based, for the most part, on the amount of revenue generated by a faculty member. Consider the statement that the Temple University School of Medicine operates a business (Medical Faculty Senate minutes, December, 2011) or the statement by Temple University President Hart, “We need to generate more income from indirect costs” (Faculty Senate Minutes, October 2010).(2)
   With that in mind, consider the service provided for the “Common Wealth” by the individual who serves as the Chair of a National Institutes of Health Study Section. No revenue is provided to Temple University for that “major commitment of professional time and energy. Similarly, senior faculty who donate their time as a Community Speaker or who serve as a mentor for younger faculty do not con-tribute to the bottom line of the Temple University multinational corporation. Accordingly, that individual’s contribution to the “Common Wealth” may be judged as non-productive and that faculty member’s efforts may be considered unworthy. As such, this senior faculty member may be “castigated” publicly for his/her lack of productivity as defined by corporate officials. Further, the latter may require a statement of future plans from said individual which translated says, “What will you do next year to bring in more revenue?”
   Question 3: Does the response of Temple University corporate officials to the provision of the older among us for the “Common Wealth” constitute age discrimination?
    The matrices used by Temple University to measure faculty productivity do not include credit for the provision of the “Common Wealth.” Accordingly, individuals who provide such service will be at a disadvantage as compared to other faculty. i.e, their service contributions are excluded from consideration. By definition, such matrices will discriminate against older individuals who provide, for the most part, more for the “Common Wealth” than do their younger associates.
    In response, Temple University administrative officials may assert that they are entitled to set the work rules under which their corporation operates. They may justify the construction of their faculty evaluation matrices as consistent with existing law, i.e., everything they have done is legal.3 They may also express their sympathy with older individuals, stating that such older individuals are free to pursue their efforts to improve the “Common Wealth.” However, as those efforts do not fit with the revenue goals of Temple University’s corporate plan, they will continue those policies which discourage, demean and belittle such efforts. They will also note that older faculty (or other personnel) are free to seek relief through our judicial system.

   Question 4A: Why should the Taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania be concerned with this alleged incidence of age discrimination? Why isn’t this simply a matter for civil litigation?

   “Equal Justice Under Law” is a basic American precept. It is a foundation of our democratic tradition, i.e., all persons, irrespective of position, wealth or privilege can seek redress of their grievances through our courts. This tradition is illustrated usually by a blindfolded Lady Justice with her scales balanced equally. Of course, in reality, our justice system has yet to achieve that theoretical goal but it’s something for which we strive.
    What we don’t strive to do is to weight the scales down so that one party is in a more favorable position than the other. Of course, this is also a theoretical goal. Not everyone can hire the Dream Team as did OJ. However, one thing that we can agree on is that the Taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should not choose sides, i.e., we should not support one party over the other such that the Scales of Justice at tipped to one site.

   Yet Temple lawyers, when confronted with their responsibilities to ensure justice, utilize a strategy of delay, discourage and deprive. Delay the proceedings as long as possible by any legal means available, discourage the individual by extending the time between filing the lawsuit and the individual actually getting to court, lastly, and perhaps the most cruel, deprive the indi-vidual of the financial resources required to pursue the case by the number of motions or depositions required, i.e, bankrupt the person.
    It should be noted that this is a strategy which corporations use all the time. Regrettably, in many instances it works. That being said, the Taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have the right to respond by saying, “It may be legal but it is inappropriate.” We have the right to inform Temple University corporate officials that the use of taxpayer funds to employ this strategy is unacceptable, that they should cease and desist, that their Commonwealth Appropriation was not intended to permit such abuse.

   Question 4B: Why should the Taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania be concerned with this alleged incidence of age discrimination? Why isn’t this simply a matter for civil litigation?

   The events at Penn State may be important to all of us not only because of the young men allegedly abused by Mr. Sandusky but also because of the lack of action by Penn State administrators reveals their callous disregard for the welfare of those young children. Simply put, those professional managers ensured that such suffering would not be allowed to imperil the success of the football program as well as the image of Penn State. The latter translated into the funds obtained from the football program, gift giving by enthusiastic alumni, the desire of students to matriculate at Penn State and the generosity of the taxpayers through Penn State’s Commonwealth Appropriation. All of that could have been imperiled had the alleged child abuse by Mr. Sandusky become public. Thus, Penn State did what any corporation tries to do under similar circumstances. i.e., it covered up. The wagons were circled; Mr. Sandusky was protected; the children were sacrificed.
    Here at Temple University, instead of the youngest among us being sacrificed for the greater good of the institution, the charitable works of the older among us are being sacrificed on the altar of corporate profits. This has a ripple effect not only with the individuals directly affected but also on younger faculty who witness such treatment. What lesson are they learning which will carry over into their later years? What efforts for the “Common Wealth” will they provide when it is their time to do so?

   Is the lesson that the Taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania want to be taught at Temple? Instead, we have the right to insist that, in pursuit of corporate profits, it may be legal but it is not appropriate for Temple (or any state affiliated institution) to penalize the older among us when, because of the positions they hold and the expertise they possess, they use those talents to provide for the “Common Wealth” instead of raising revenue for Temple. We can demand that, instead of being pilloried for those contributions, they should be celebrated. Instead of being demeaned, they should be praised. Instead of being penalized, they should be rewarded. Post Penn State 2011, as with a Hebrew National hot dog, Temple as a state-affiliated institution needs now to answer to its higher authority.♦

(1)The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the premier federal agency responsible for the conduct of scientific research in the United States. It funds most of the research programs which are responsible for the development of many current therapies which save innumerable lives. Its com-mittees, composed of scientists from institutions throughout the country, review research proposals sent to it for their merit and recommend those which should be funded.
(2)Indirect costs are provided by NIH to help defray institutional costs necessary for conduct of funded research. These include costs for electricity, heat, water, administration and so forth. Temple University’s indirect cost rate (some 50.5% of direct costs) means that for every $100,000 in grant award (termed direct costs) Temple University receives and additional $50,500 in indirect costs. There is continuing concern about the misuse of indirect costs, i.e., some years ago at Stanford they were used to pay for a yacht. Note that President Hart did not say that we had to generate more funding to do more research to help the “Common Wealth.”
(3) Mr. McCreary, the individual who witnessed the alleged incidents in-volving Mr. Sandusky, and Mr. Paterno, to whom Mr. McCreary reported the alleged incidents, did everything they were supposed to do as defined by the policies and practices of Penn State. The taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appear to have judged that legal conduct as inappropriate.