At the September Faculty Senate meeting President Englert spoke to us about the recent advertising campaign and its intent to “brandish Temple pride.” He explained that the campaign is meant to make the most out of Temple’s entry into the Big East athletic conference. It is “an opportunity for the entire institution,” not just athletics. The other universities in the Big East are research 1, or “high activity” – that is, higher-rated than Temple – and they are also urban. (He mentioned University of Cincinnati, Rutgers, and University of Connecticut.) The Big East will give us name recognition, important for student recruitment at a time when out-of-state applications and enrollment have been dropping. He also assured us that research and faculty are part of the campaign: a faculty member will be “showcased” at each football and basketball game.
It is nice to know we are being considered, and that the president envisions the entire university, from the research-focused faculty member to the game-day undergraduates, as one big community. But are the not particularly eminent University of Cincinnati, or the rural land grant U Conn (which has been mocked for past its administrative failures as Wannabe U in an important book by Gaye Tuchman, and which not long ago was reeling from sports scandals), really peer aspirant institutions? Are Louisville, Marquette, South Florida, Seton Hall or DePaul? Frankly, I have always thought Temple is better than these big easters by the measures I care about, with the possible exceptions of Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and maybe Georgetown on a good day.
Perhaps the president and I are not looking at the same measures. What I am looking at is quite measurable, though. The major cuts to graduate fellowships in the humanities and social sciences, the evisceration of Temple University Press’s subsidy, and the growing section sizes and teaching burdens faced by my Ph.D. students, suggests, though, that certain sectors of the university are in fact being privileged, and other, venerable quarters left to not-so-genteel poverty, since they do not bring in the dollars so directly, or inspire photogenic face-painted growls. (Actually, the extent to which athletics brings in dollars is itself questionable: it has certainly never happened at Temple, and everyone knows that most big-time athletics programs lose money.)
Either way, the recent and emerging cuts do directly affect the quality of Temple’s academic reputation and the quality of the teaching in undergraduate programs. The things mentioned above cost hundreds of thousands, maybe a few million a year. So do ad campaigns, outside consultants, and big parties like the 9.27.12 one I just attended. As I chewed some nice hors d’oeuvres and hobnobbed with colleagues and deans as the students queued up for t-shirts and hot dogs, I tried not to think of the goodies, the light show, and the dozens and dozens of workers of all sorts at the event as bought by the merit pay I won’t be getting this year, or the raises the faculty won’t have. While that might be literally or fiscally true in terms of available dollars, those were last year’s decisions, and some of it was strategy, given the increasing importance of legislative politics in our funding. I was willing to make that sacrifice, as were my colleagues who voted for the contract.
But I can’t not make the equation when I hear about all these subsequent cuts, not while parties are going on and even more big buildings are going up. And the comments I have been hearing from colleagues suggests that I am not the only one who finds the campaign to be rather tone deaf to our concerns. It is hard not to think of what we’re seeing on campus this fall as a distinctly anti-intellectual, even more than anti-faculty, trade-off that is not true to the institution at its historical, or its present, best.
In the long run, what will make Temple great is the quality of the teaching and intellectual life here, especially in the areas that everyone should care about – I mean, the basics as well as the cutting edge in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The faculty can accept that we have to do more than less; we already have, we’ve been there before. What is harder to stomach is the deliberate attempt to make Temple look like a garden variety big party-football school, and that we need an advertising agency and face paint to make us “Temple made.” Given the number of teachers in Pennsylvania and the world who are not only Temple made but who are making the students of tomorrow, we would have thought that we, and the public, knew that already, and that it is true, and will be true, whatever conference “we” play ball in, whatever this year’s brand name may be.•