volume 43, number 4
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Editorials

 

In Temple We Trust?
—By Steve Newman, Editor

 

   Perhaps we can learn something about Temple’s situation now by beginning with a brief look at an episode in the history of mistrusting universities. In 1762, a Glasgow clergyman and controversialist named William Thom published The Defects of an University Education, and Its Unsuitableness to a Commercial People. As the title promises, it is a full-bore assault on the University of Glasgow, Thom’s alma mater, for its useless curriculum of metaphysics and logic, its professors’ aversion to spending time in the classroom, and their indifference to helping their students figure out “what Business in Life [they] were designed for.” To remedy this, Thom wants to found an academy like one already proposed for the town of Perth. Its faculty will teach more, pay closer attention to their pupils’ individual minds and vocational needs, and instruct them in subjects suitable for “a commercial people,” including bookkeeping, math, writing, and geography. The academy does not aim to educate the university’s bread-and-butter, future clergymen; but if it should dent the university’s enrollment, well, then, that would be all to the good, since those hidebound faculty and administrators “need such a Motive to rouse them to Activity.” Besides, if Glasgow doesn’t open an academy, the market will be filled by competitors like Perth.
    There is much to remark upon in this early call for what now goes by the self-congratulatory and faux-radical name “educational disruption.” On one hand, Thom’s complaints about the curricula and the faculty should sound very familiar to us. On the other, we can measure the distance between 1762 and 2013 in Thom’s inclusion in his more useful curriculum “a compendious view of Poetry, Rhetoric, and moral Philosophy” as well as the history of philosophy, politics, and the fine arts—something he gets right, as I’m sure my colleagues in the humanities will agree. And yet before we give him too much credit, it’s also worth noting that at the University of Glasgow in 1762 was one of Thom’s favorite targets, Adam Smith, Professor of Moral Philosophy and Dean of the Faculty, whose foundational work in what comes to be known as economics would strike many as eminently useful. It is not his fault that his work has so often been misused to dismiss as unsuitable for a “commercial people” anything outside of what the market calls valuable, including much of the teaching and research that happens at places like Temple.

   But I am most interested in what Thom cites as the occasion for his various criticisms: A friend of his recently remarked on how few Glaswegians were sending their sons to the university (of course, in 1762 it was sons only). In other words, the university had lost the trust of the community it was designed in part to serve and without which it could not operate. This should sound very familiar to us. We might want to dismiss the Reverend Thoms of our day—certain elected officials, edu-pundits hawking “disruption,” and the like—but rejecting them outright will not gain Temple the trust it needs not only from state legislators and our governor but also from the parents, students, and citizen-taxpayers who aren’t out to score ideological points in a “disaster capitalism” approach to education. We could argue that the betrayal our students and their parents feel (if they are footing the bill) at soaring tuition costs is due in significant part to the precipitous decline in state support. But counter-arguments won’t be enough. First of all, I do not see that we yet have good responses to some of the forces that have eroded trust or threaten to erode trust in Temple. Whether we will be able to keep the trust of the community our hospital has served for decades is a question Mike Sirover poses in this issue. As is clear from my dialogue in this issue with the editors of our student newspaper, many of our students find our curricula incoherent, and this decreases their trust in us. So we either need to increase their coherence or explain better how they already are. We often fail in the same way with our research. Many of our students are skeptical of our claim that research leads to better undergraduate teaching rather than distracting from it. While I hope that our initial dialogue helps build trust by allowing for a candid exchange of views and an opportunity to educate each other, it is clear we have much to do to improve the trust between students and faculty at Temple.

   Even if universities once enjoyed a fuller sense of trust from our various stakeholders, and that’s a big if, it seems that that trust has been diminished if not severely compromised. In Temple’s case but not only Temple’s, the difficulty in restoring a culture of trust is compounded by a lack of trust among faculty of all ranks and between faculty and the graduate students and post-docs we are supposed to be mentoring, who often become the adjuncts Kime Lawson writes about in this issue, facing steep medical bills with little hope of relief. Perhaps most damaging is the mistrust between faculty and administrators. Part of the problem may be that we faculty do not trust the idea of trust. The production of academic knowledge requires a certain amount of skepticism, a useful unwillingness to take givens as given. This is particularly true among those of us in the humanities and social sciences educated in “the hermeneutics of suspicion” to doubt any suggestion that we trust those most closely allied with a hierarchical system of power.

   But our suspicion toward trust is not just a matter of dogmatic cussedness. The word “trust” used in relation to our jobs evokes for some of us the corporate “trust-building exercises” featured on many a sitcom. Or perhaps we have encountered the more scholarly form of this discourse; Exhibit A is an article I found in a journal housed at the University of Phoenix. It advocates building trust within Boards of Trustees so that they can convince faculty to give up their outdated “ivory-tower mentality” about “learning as an end in itself” and embrace along with for-profit schools the belief that “the HEI” (Higher Education Industry) is about “selling the purchased good of a college education.”¹ (I have to believe that there is lots of excellent work in leadership studies; this is clearly not it.)

   Staying closer to home, faculty at Temple have had good reason of late to be leery of trusting the administration. In the announcements that trumpeted our flat tuition this past year, the administration nowhere acknowledged that this was made possible by the faculty in TAUP agreeing to an extension with no across-the-board raise and a deferral of merit pay till the next fiscal year. This year, the administration sprung on us their petition to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board that chairs be removed from the bargaining unit. Whether this is a good or bad idea will be a topic for debate in this year’s final issue, but many faculty I’ve spoken to feel that the way we were informed of this decision has made them suspicious of it. Instead of having trust extended to us, we are routinely expected simply to trust administrators on a host of issues. But trust needs to be mutual if it is to be real. Although rational calculation plays a part in trust, it is not only a rational choice. It is “a cultural construct.”² As such, it cannot be made to appear by dint of argumentation alone; it requires, among other things, repeated interactions that foster a willingness to take a chance on the reliability of another person or an entire system. Any attempt to coerce trust is, of course, self-defeating.

   There are, however, signs of hope that we can help create a culture of trust at Temple, and we should do what we can to nurture them by making it clear that faculty should be trusted and that we are open to trusting administrators if the right systems are established to boost our confidence. In response to the Sandusky Affair, a cascade of profound violations of trust that must rank at the bottom of a sorry history of university misconduct, Temple commissioned a Task Force on Institutional Integrity; and the two faculty members on it, Frank Friedman and Eleanor Myers, have provided a report of the Task Force’s recommendations. Among them are the creation of a University Integrity Officer or ombudsperson (or some alternative structure), an evaluation of institutional accountability, and an “independent evaluation of the University Board of Trustees and administration to determine if their procedures are appropriately transparent and whether constituents feel adequately heard and their positions appropriately respected.” The Task Force also recommends requiring the President to report to the Board of Trustees this coming Fall on the progress Temple has made on these recommendation. If and when he does, I hope he has much to report. The administration could also help promote a culture of trust by giving faculty a substantial role in evaluating deans, an idea broadly supported by President Theobald and fleshed out by Mark Rahdert in the last issue.

   But we must not just wait for the administration to take these steps. We must advocate for them strongly. We must also show our own trustworthiness by engaging responsibly in the opportunities for governance already available to us—including collegial and university committees—and opportunities that should be available. By the latter, I have most in mind the budget advisory committees in each college and the university-wide committee that are at the heart of the de-centralized budgeting process to be phased in over the next two years. These committees should and must be elected by the faculty, not appointed by deans, or, in the case of the university committee, central administrators. Although some colleges and schools already have functioning, faculty-elected budget committees, many do not, and this must change. In his many comments on this new system, President Theobald has stressed the importance of faculty involvement and transparency. This is one of the best and most important opportunities at Temple in many years to create a culture of trust, to signal that a new chapter in faculty-administration relations at Temple, which have often been needlessly antagonistic, has commenced. There are also many opportunities for informal trust-building: At a faculty lunch I attended with President Theobald, one of my colleagues recommended that a set of faculty and administrators make time to meet and discuss a common text. This seems to me an excellent way we could get to know each other as people committed to the core of our academic mission. Without restoring trust in the faculty-administrator relationship, it will be hard to address effectively the trust our students, our neighborhood, and the citizens of Pennsylvania have or lack in Temple. The Reverend Thoms of our era are not going to go away; nor, as long as we have so much to get right, should they.  •

¹ Laura-Ann Migliore, “Leadership, Governance, and Perceptions of Trust in the Higher Education Industry,” Journal of Leadership Studies 5:4 (2012), 32.


² William G. Tierney, “Trust and Organizational Culture in Higher Education,” Cultural Perspectives on Higher Education, J. Välimaa and O.-H. Ylikjoki, eds. (Dordecht: Springer, 2008), 27.