The Complex Relationship Between Temple and The Surrounding Community:
An Interview with Ken Scott, President of Beech Interplex
By Steve Newman, Editor
Seeking someone who could bring a fresh perspective on Temple’s relationship with the surrounding community, I was urged by a friend to get in touch with Kenneth Scott, President of Beech Interplex Although many Temple faculty may not know of Beech—a 501(c) (3) non-profit—it has for decades been one of the most important forces for good in the neighborhood Temple is part of. As its website says, it has “leveraged over $1 billion in community reinvestment funds in the North Philadelphia community.” I contacted Mr. Scott, and he was kind enough to sit down for a dialogue on March 27th. I am very grateful to him for doing so; I learned a great deal from our conversation and hope our readers will, too.
Introducing The Beech Companies: History and Mission
The Relationship With Temple: Past Challenges and Opportunities
The Relationship with Temple: Present Challenges and Opportunities
Looking Toward the Future and Possible Roles for Faculty
SN: Faculty members who have been at Temple for a while have seen profound transformations on campus and in the neighborhood. We’re also concerned about whether the people in the neighborhood are really being listened to, that Temple is really engaged in partnerships rather than issuing fiats. We know that there may never be complete agreement on issues having to do with development, but it matters to a lot of us that we’re in real partnership with the community, that we’re listening to their concerns rather than throwing up a bunch of new buildings and asking, “When are you going to thanks us for it?” Rebecca Alpert suggested that you would be a great person to go to for some perspective on the Temple-neighborhood relationship.
KS: So how much do you know about Beech?
SN: I’ve been doing some research, and to be honest my eyes have been bugging out as I’ve been reading about all the stuff you’ve been doing. For my thirteen years at Temple, I’ve been walking by some of the projects you’ve funded or are funding, and I didn’t know. And I suspect that a fair number of my colleagues have little idea, since we live in our own world sometimes, about how many different things and how much Beech has done for some decades now.
KS: We’re coming up on our 25th anniversary.
SN: For the benefit of our readers, you could give an overview of your mission and some of the projects you’ve been involved in, that would be great.
KS: Beech started in 1990; we were a subsidiary of the William Penn Foundation. The whole mission was originally to use it as a model of community redevelopment efforts. The pocket around the university to the West, which came to be known as the Cecil B. Moore community, had the highest poverty and crime rates in the city when we started. John Haas and Dr. Bernard Watson, the President of William Penn at the time, looked at it and tried to figure this out; many of the universities had the same problem. The universities are walled off, and the communities surrounding it are at rock bottom. How does that happen? How can you have an institution of higher education on one side and then people at the lowest level of poverty right outside your door. It’s like having a castle and the moat and—
SN: —a bunch of peasants.
KS: Right. So what’s going on? That was the whole idea. What can you do to bring the community together, to rebuild it and eventually to try and break down the walls between the university and the community and really work together? That was the original mission. We’ve given out about $25 million in grants over the years to rebuild the community. Some of the grants went to Temple to support health care initiatives. In fact, I just sent a letter to mark our 25th anniversary and I mention there that we have supported the university to the tune of about $10 million over the 25 years. That’s very unusual for a community organization to be giving funding to a university.
SN: Especially at a place like Temple, which has never had a large endowment. That makes the funds you’ve provided matter all the more.
KS: One of our biggest initiatives was to bring together a consortium of Cecil B. Moore organizations—government, universities, lots of community organizations so that we could figure out what’s going on. A lot of people were thinking of targeting the same blocks. A community group would be looking to develop affordable housing and the university might want that same space for a classroom building or dorms. It was clear that we needed to sit down make sure that all the players were communicating, that they weren’t stuck in their own silos. That has been one of Beech’s biggest accomplishments.
So we started out as a subsidiary of a foundation giving out grants and providing technical support.
My background is in engineering and science. I came later on, after Floyd Alston, the first president of Beech Interplex. He had started the whole process. He was the president of the Board of Education and had connections throughout the city. He was also a banker in his own right, a retired Senior VP of the old First Pennsylvania Bank. That was the process, giving out grants and technical support and doing advocacy to leverage other dollars to come into the community after people had written it off, saying, “We’re not putting any money there.” We were a voice saying, “It makes sense to redevelop here.”
We went from that to saying that we’re going to have to do our own projects. That’s when I came along by happenstance. I was involved in trying to interest kids in engineering. I bumped into Floyd in the hallway of the school district, and he invited me to help. I came as a volunteer, looking at the early projects, like this building, which he wanted to restore as a symbol of the redevelopment efforts. Also, housing: The City would do one block here but nothing in the ten blocks around it. Nothing was being done in order so that you could see it make a difference. We organized that to make it proceed in a strategic pattern West, and then on the East side, with tearing down the big projects and putting up single family homes.
The only time we went out of order was when there was an emergency. Like at 19th Street, we had to stop what we were doing to address issues—they had drugs and crime. They had a mass murderer on 19th Street; he had killed 11 women and buried them in the basement. We had to do something; you couldn’t walk down the street unless you were buying drugs; you were taking your life into your own hands. As a community development organization, we got that done. It was very complicated. What I tell people who want to work with us: “Here’s the deal. We have people who are very interested in the social mission but they don’t know anything in finance. Or we have people who are very interested in finance—because we do finance different things like tax-exempt bonds, and we do have a business bank—but not so much on the social mission.” Trying to find that right combination of the two is very tricky.
SN: I also imagine there is mutual suspicion among the parties involved if they’re on either side.
KS: Oh, yeah.
SN: “You people don’t understand how finance works.” Or: “You people are cold-hearted profiteers.”
KS: And we say, “No. We’re a nonprofit, and everything gets recirculated into the organization or a new project.” There’s no money being made, like in the utility business. I still don’t make what I did when I worked for a utility back in the 1990s.
SN: You were a civil engineer? An electrical engineer?
KS: Electrical. I was a manager there. They were building Limerick, and so I had a lot of work in the nuclear division. Then I became manager of engineering construction. The utility company had 400 buildings, a little bit of everything. Next to the State of Pennsylvania, the electrical utility is the largest landowner in the state.
I had a career there, and then I ran into Floyd. One conversation with him and I came as a volunteer. And I stayed.
We expanded each operation to include housing. We’re up to 1200 family homes throughout North Central Philly.
SN: Are you the owner of these houses?
KS: No. These are for-sale houses. They are sold to lower- to moderate-income families. By the way, I had a discussion with people from the university, and we were talking about student housing. I told them moderate income for a family of 4 at the time it was about $74,000. One of the comments came—you see the insensitivity we have to deal with sometimes—from one of the would-be developers: “Beech, you are just holding this neighborhood down. You are holding it back. Basically you’re blocking my opportunity to make money even though I live in New York.” This led to a discussion of $74,000 which, by the way, is as much as about 75% of what Temple’s employees make.
SN: Including many of the professors.
KS: I guess if you’re considering that a bad thing—75% of the university’s own employees. That’s the population we’re targeting.
Commercial development is always very hard to do. The city has lots of housing programs, but if you’re trying to build up businesses and jobs, you have to have commercial development. So we started up a loan program to encourage people to develop their businesses and relocate them here.
We also have Beech Community Services, which is our direct community outreach organization. It sends out the newsletter, works with the local school programs, senior housing, and those sorts of things....
SN: Does your work extend as far north as the Health Sciences Center?
KS: No. Basically we go up to Diamond. Sometimes we’ll jump around a little bit if we’re really needed. But primarily we’ll stop at Diamond, go down to Girard, and west to 20th and cut along Ridge Avenue.
One example of our work is The Avenue North project, which includes The Edge and the movie theater. We’re involved in the retail/commercial piece. The developer is Tower Developments, headed by Bart Blatstein. He wanted to do a student housing tower because Temple needed some off-campus housing. We actually own the land, and then pay rent back which we put into the foundation and give grants and scholarships. He then sold the high-rise tower to another company. But we’re still partners in the retail, the movie theater, and Temple is a tenant with the gym on the second floor.
SN: You’ve been working with Temple for 25 years and have invested $10 million. We have a new president, a new provost, a relatively new Chair of the Board. How would you assess how well Temple is partnering with your group in particular and the community in general?
KS: So, some history here. In the beginning, Temple was walled off and isolated. We have a film online called The Beech Experiment. You can go take a look at that; it has some good interviews. That’s the short version online. The full thing ran on PBS around the country back in 2010 during our 20th anniversary. In the film, Floyd Alston talks about the history of the neighborhood. He was describing Broad Street, and he never mentioned Temple. He’s like, “Oh, yeah, it was just the church across the street.” Then the neighborhood fell apart—a lot of people don’t know that there were two riots in the 60s, racially-based. After that, people began to move out and abandon their properties, and it allowed Temple to expand because there were now a lot of abandoned properties. If it wasn’t for that, there would have been nowhere to go. They probably would have ended up in Ambler. I remember Peter Liacouras threatening that, “We’ll just move to Ambler.”
SN: We still don’t know what to do with Ambler.
KS: Which is interesting. The perception of Temple is that the city at-large sees it as an economic driver. That is true, Temple is an economic driver and benefits the city. For the people who live around Temple, it’s often a nuisance; or it’s perceived as a headache for the most part.
I forget how old this survey is, but they asked the people in the neighborhood if they had ever taken a course at Temple. Less than 2% at the time. And how many people in the community who had ever been employed by Temple. It was less than 2%, too. The Health Services are regularly used by the people in the community. That’s different. But if you’re just talking about attending a class, it just doesn’t happen. So for the people who were living in the neighborhood, if you threaten to leave, great. Good riddance, but that’s very common among people who live near universities. They had a recent conflict out at Villanova about all the students moving out to the community. They threatened the university with a class action lawsuit. “How can you accept these students if you don’t have a place for them to live?”
SN: People in Villanova actually have money to spend money on lawyers.
KS: Exactly. That’s a huge difference. And many of them are lawyers. Villanova started putting up two new dorms real fast, on campus.
So, Temple was really isolated, really walled off, in the beginning. People in the university community wouldn’t cross Broad Street and said, “Don’t go too far east or west. It’s too dangerous.” But Temple was still known in Philadelphia in general as a community university. They graduate a lot of people who live locally. They would commute; they would go to night school. That was how the university got started.
Jim White was key. I forget the year Jim came to Temple as the Senior VP. He really built on his relationships through his work for the city. He said, “We’re going to do some things differently.” He really started the process of doing more community engagement. Cy Rosenthal ran an office called Social Policy or something. It wasn’t called Community Affairs. We did a lot of grant work with him and supported some initiatives. And then they had a Community Affairs person, Tom Anderson, you’d contact if you wanted to use the basketball courts for a summer program or something like that. Tom was a great person, but the infrastructure wasn’t there that would have allowed him to do much direct outreach to the community. Jim really brought that aspect to the whole relationship. That was a real turning point.
Then things started to get better. Temple even took on the initiative of partnering with the local schools, and that generated a lot of good will in the community along with actual educational improvement. Many of them started saying, “I know people at Temple. I feel like they’re a part of the community.” Things started to improve.
Then all that good work fell off a cliff in 2011 and 2012. The city was hurting for money, and all these lots had been cleared out for affordable housing west of 17th Street. The campus officially stopped at 16th Street. The new mayor comes in, Michael Nutter, and the city administration says, “We’re not going to hold this for affordable housing. We’re going to sell it off to the highest bidder.” Temple, at the same time, when Marty Dorph was CFO and David Adamany was President, had decided they were going to start recruiting out-of-state students to pay higher tuition. But they don’t have the housing for them. But they’ll get private developers to build it because they can make money and this will work out. The private developers saw it like a gold rush. More than 50% of the developers, the last time we did research from this, were from out of town, mostly New Yorkers. Very arrogant. Oftentimes racist.
I’m sitting at a meeting at the City Commerce Office; a bunch of landlords were there, and some city representatives were there. And one of the landlords said to me, “Ken, those people oughta be glad we’re building anything. They don’t care about their neighborhood; they’re just throwing chicken bones out of their windows.”
KS: That was an actual comment! That blew the whole meeting up.
SN: That’s when you walk out of the room.
KS: There were some curse words—
SN: Holy mackerel!
KS: That was the attitude: “We’re here to make money, and you don’t stand in the way of our making money.” The city would say, “This is good development. It takes a long time to get affordable housing done, and this is instant money, it’s income for the city.” Yeah, it’s true, the city needs money, but we have to keep it in balance, and in perspective.
Here’s the other thing going on in the local community. Again, when you’re poor, people think they can walk over you. Imagine if you took any community and you took 2000 19-year-olds—that’s the average age of a Temple undergraduate—and you throw them into the community completely unsupervised. “That’s a good thing for your neighborhood. What are you complaining about?”
SN: “It’s going to class up the place.”
KS: Right. “They’re brand new buildings. They look good. You should feel good about this.”
It was getting very, very tense. To the point where people I’d call reasonable community people would come to meetings and say, “You know what? I’ve had it!” I was at a meeting one day, I was afraid a riot was going to breakout. Kids were partying and making all this noise. The police came to break up the parties, which is a whole other issue, that people felt there was a double standard.
SN: They were too permissive toward the students.
KS: Right. “They’re just students.” But anybody else would be treated more harshly. We just had an example of this two years ago, at the peak of the tensions between Temple and the community. We had a group of students throwing a party on Willington Street right down from the police station. The police broke it up. The kids got upset and started banging on the neighbors’ doors and windows, saying, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you move?” Well, one of the neighbors, who is a senior citizen, called her son, and her son raced down there. Fortunately, the police were still out there. He said to me, “Ken, I had my gun and I was going to unload my chamber on all of them.” That’s how serious this was getting. People literally could have been killed in the street.
I remember an official from Temple Police telling me how out of control it was getting. They would go on patrols with the Temple Police and they would pull kids over and ask them, “Where do you live?” And they would say, “Lower Merion.” “Would you do be doing this in Lower Merion?” “This ain’t Lower Merion. This is the `hood, we can get away with anything. It doesn’t matter.” And when these kids would get arrested, they’d say, “It’s just the Temple police. Don’t worry about it. They’ll let you out later.”
So we started having community meetings. We actually went to the Roundhouse to have a meeting with the Deputy Commissioners. What are you doing, we’d ask. The ministers were all upset. We had cases of people doing illegal construction on Sundays and blocking the streets so that the parishioners couldn’t get into their churches. We actually had one of the developers, a New Yorker, storming into the church during services, yelling, “Who are you all to be stopping my construction?!” We finally got L and I and the Controller involved. Thank God, it has quieted down. We now have some extra police patrols.
To get back to the double standard. We just had the Temple Student who was hit with a brick in the head. That’s terrible, but they had some girls on the news last night. They said, “We’ve been having these after school fights for weeks.” They gave the police the names of the girls involved.
SN: And they never pursued it because these were just neighborhood kids getting beaten up.
KS: Exactly. All of a sudden, now, a Temple student gets beaten up, and all of a sudden here’s the police helicopter. Here come the extra patrols. What is this about? What are you to think? My daughter gets beat up, and there’s no response from the police.
SN: Your daughter’s life will be seen as worth less than a Temple student’s.
KS: I remember a clear example of this from a few years ago. I jumped on the subway one day, and I think it was the day of the Penn State game. Kids were around there getting high, lots of marijuana smoke, kids openly drinking. Ok, we all went to college.
If you or I try to get on the subway smoking a joint or drinking a beer, our face is slammed on the platform. Right? But for some reason it’s acceptable for Temple students. We’re not going to bother. We’re not going to make any arrests.
SN: So what years were these tensions at their highest point?
KS: This was in 2011 through the beginning of 2013. 2012 was the peak of the tension. You had all these students coming in, and you had people coming to our offices, crying about being forced out. They were renting in the neighborhood and all of a sudden the landlord says a few hundred dollars isn’t enough, and he could get a lot more from these students. These were solid community people, in the Home-School association. And all of a sudden, they’re treated like a cancer on the neighborhood.
The last point of tension goes back to the Liacouras days when they first came up with the idea to call the neighborhood Temple Town. I understand for marketing reasons you might not want to call it North Philadelphia because that might scare some people. But I tell them these neighborhoods already have names of their own, the Cecil B. Moore Community and Yorktown. Yorktown is very middle-income, the home stock is very well-maintained. But the perception is that everything is terrible.
I took some reporters around one night when these issues were being debated, around 11:00 on a Saturday night so that they could see what was going on. There was nothing bad going on. There was a big student party on the street, but you could see that the neighbors were just in their houses, maybe watching TV. There were no shootings. Usually, a shooting is about someone having a beef or it’s drug related. And there is some of that. But it’s not on every corner.
SN: It’s not a war zone.
KS: No. One of the reporters said to me, “It’s just like every other neighborhood. It’s pretty damn quiet.” Yeah. It’s pretty quiet, 11 or 12 on a Saturday night.
SN: So then there’s attempt to re-brand it as Temple Town.
KS: A lot of the new developers say, “Temple Town” or “The Temple Area” and say that their buildings are on the Temple Campus. No, you’re not. It’s a very touchy thing. Our neighborhood is named after a civil rights leader. I said this to a member of the Department of Commerce, who said, “Ken, we’re just trying to promote the area. We want to identify it as something people know.” “No,” I said, “People do know it. Everybody in the African-American community knows what its name is and can identify it. So what you’re really saying is that you don’t want to identify it as an African-American community. That’s what it sounds like to me. Is that what you’re saying?”
It’s still very sensitive. Then SEPTA took down the Cecil B. Moore sign from the SEPTA stop and put in one reading "Temple University." The Cecil B. Moore Civic Association is still around and still active, and they saw that, and said that they would go to the SEPTA board meeting and contacted us. And other community groups were upset. They said, “You put that name right back up there!”
SN: If Cecil B. Moore were alive, you know he’d fight it.
KS: Right. Are you kidding me?
I remember meeting with Ann Hart one day, and she keeps saying that we’d like to see this or that “in our community.” And some point I stopped her and said, “Wait. I just have to remind you. Temple University is located in North Philadelphia. North Philadelphia is not located in Temple.”
She kept going on about everything is about Temple and we have this master plan. This reminds me of a story that goes way back to Peter Liacouras and the attempt to build the Apollo Temple, now called The Liacouras Center. They had a big map done, and I was sitting with people who had businesses nearby, and one of the guys had a corner store called Bill and Jean’s. He’s looking at the drawing and can’t find his store. “Is this 15th and Cecil B. Moore?” They did a whole rendering and erased him without even talking to him. That kind of thing generates grudges.
Another reason why the community is skeptical toward Temple is that a lot of places where Temple stands now used to be their homes. Connie Clayton used to be Superintendent of schools—where you see Liacouras Walk now, she would show me, “That’s where my house used to be.” People who work at Beech, they would say, “Where the parking garage is now, that’s where I used to jump rope. We lived across the street.” At one time there was a real connection to these places.
SN: Things were bad in 2011 and 2012. Things have apparently cooled down a bit. What was responsible for that? Have you seen any outreach from President Theobald and others who are part of the new administration?
KS: We were stuck because Temple would say, “These are Temple students, but it is privately owned property.” And the Philly police would say, “We already have our hands full.” But then we had a meeting with the Chair of the Board, Patrick O’Connor. Ann Hart was about to leave, so she wasn’t there. We had a meeting with him and members of the Community Affairs Office.
That reminds me, the new Community Affairs office came over one day and she said, “Here’s the new Temple neighborhood plan.” And I told her, “That’s going to go over like a lead balloon. I’m telling you right now.” We work with the university when we can, but our mission is with the community, and when we feel the need to oppose things, we will. “I’m just telling you right now, that’s not going to fly. Why would you think that would fly? Why would you do a neighborhood plan? Are you suggesting that you’re in charge of the neighborhood? That sends a bad message right off the bat, a big book in Temple colors with a title like, ‘Temple’s Plan for North Central Philadelphia.’” You do that in partnership. You don’t tell us, “Here’s our plan for you.” I did warn them that there was going to be trouble, and I was correct.
So back to the meeting with Chairman O’Connor: We told him about the issues, the zoning issues, and others. He asked, “What should we be doing?” We told him, one, we’re going to try to get the Philadelphia police more engaged. We’re putting a lot of pressure on them. The Philadelphia police say something like: “We know that things are crazy on Thirsty Thursdays, they call it, from then till Saturday. But we don’t have the resources; if you pay the overtime, then we could help out” They know what’s going on. “We know. We have it all documented. We know where all the hotspots are. We get all the complaints.”
SN: They just don’t pursue them.
KS: They said, “But if you pay, we’ll start the foot patrols and giving out tickets for illegal parking.” You go to some streets and a party is going on, and you have 10 or 12 cars stopped in the middle of the street because there is no parking close by. They don’t care that other people live on the street and also need a parking spot. On top of the parking problem, the noise from parties, and the trash, landlords started building decks. These are row homes, so you’d have somebody walking back and forth across your roof at three o’clock in the morning. They were even barbecuing up there. The neighbors would smell smoke and worry their houses are on fire.
SN: Not to mention the danger of having drunk kids falling off the roof.
KS: Which has happened several times. Unfortunately, one of them was killed. But we come to find out that’s it happened many times. But they didn’t die and were just injured. So they didn’t make as much of a big deal.
So we got the police to crack down on this and L and I to come down, only because of community pressure. The city’s response was, “Oh, we don’t have the resources.” But behind the scenes we know that a lot of people were saying, “This is good development. We want to spur development because that means money for the city. We don’t have any other construction going on.” This was during the recession. That’s really what was going on behind the scenes.
SN: I have to say, I have never heard of a police department, as it were, renting out the services of its officers except for a parade or something like that. It sounds like you were paying for extra policing.
KS: The university paid for it.
SN: Well, I’m glad they made the effort, but it is from one perspective a little shocking.
KS: Yes. Right.
SN: This is a service you have supposedly already purchased by being a citizen.
KS: Apparently, that’s how they man South Street with extra police. The South Street Business Association pays for it.
SN: This shows how much I don’t know about how the city works.
KS: It’s the same thing if you go to Licenses and Inspection. If you want a zoning permit, you can go through the regular process. But if you want it expedited you have to pay extra. I can guarantee you that it’s going to take you at least three months if you don’t pay that fee.
SN: So the policing helped?
KS: The policing really helped. It cut down on the noise. We actually had some students arrested and taken to the real police station. Word gets back to their friends that this isn’t just a game. That really calmed it down a lot.
We still have lots of issues. I’ll send you an email showing the trash that comes when students move out. We finally got the city sanitation to come around. I drove around to see that they really were going to follow through. I talked to one worker, and he told me, “This is like Christmas. I’ve already written 350 citations.” To really appreciate it, you have to see some of the photos I took last year after the first summer session ended and the leases were up. It’s all piled up in the street. Where is the private landlord with the dumpster? With the trash collection? Temple told me on the east side of campus, that they had so many complaints that they had to send their own trash trucks. Why should you have to do that? Where are the landlords? Again, this is about making money. There are some responsible landlords, but many of them act like college slumlords. The buildings look good right now, but I guarantee you that in 5 or 6 years they'll be a wreck. There’s no maintenance going on.
SN: So it sounds like policing helped, though there are still some outstanding issues.
KS: There are still issues, but it’s quieted down. Parties have gotten more under control. The neighbors understand that they’re college students. They’ll willing to cut them a little slack. But if it’s a weekday our residents have to go to work the next day. Let’s keep the music down. It has improved. Now there’s also starting to be an oversaturation of student housing in the community. That’s our next concern: What’s going to happen to these buildings if they’re mostly empty?
The neighbors want more housing built on campus. Broad Street is a perfect opportunity. It brings good commerce on the first floor, and if the kids want to stay up all night, that’s fine. It’s a commercial district. You can also have more surveillance if things get out of control. It could work for everyone.
SN: So you’d like to see the university build more housing on Broad Street.
KS: With some retail on the first floor that everybody could benefit from. That’s a real community benefit. And it’s a win-win for the university. The university seems to agree. They’re making more of an effort to have housing right there on campus.
SN: That agrees with what I’ve heard about the Master Plan from President Theobald, that we’re looking less to expand our footprint than repurposing the space we already have. Have you had a chance to meet with President Theobald?
KS: Oh, yes. I actually met with his wife first. She came over to visit me very early on to talk about community issues. They’re very good people. She used to be a police officer in Chicago.
SN: I didn’t know that.
KS: Yeah, Chicago and Philly are very much alike. I was in Chicago and they were talking about closing the schools, last May. I thought, “I might as well just be in Philadelphia.”
SN: Though they have a better basketball team.
My sense is that you have some kind of relationship with President Theobald and you’ve met with Chairman O’Connor. But what is the vehicle for regular communication between you and Temple?
KS: What I do is talk to the Community Affairs person. They come to our community meetings. But sometimes we feel we have to talk directly to the Board of Trustees if it’s not within the purview of the Community Affairs office. We know many of the trustees and they tell us, “We were unaware of this.” I warned them back in 2012, “This is getting very scary.” You don’t want to wait until someone gets seriously injured or even killed.
Every time there’s a home invasion, the police say, “99% of the time it’s about drugs.” The kids are buying drugs or selling their own drugs or competing with other drug dealers. We had a scary situation earlier in the year where one of the kids had a meth lab.
SN: A Temple student had a meth lab?
KS: We had a Temple student 5 or 6 years ago who was a major drug dealer involved in a shootout in Progress Plaza.
I would say we are communicating our concerns and things are improving. We want to get back to where things were trending before these problems, back to some real community outreach and partnerships, as with the schools. We partner with Temple on lots of things. We actually do own some of the student housing—Oxford Village and Beech International for international students. That was all part of the plan to be on campus up to 16th Street, for community and economic development and then west of that build single-family homes.
SN: If you had a wish list of things Temple could do to improve its relationship with the community, what would be on it?
KS: They could put some more pressure on some of the landlords to rein them in. When we met with the Chairman, he said, “These are private developers. We don’t have anything to do with it.” I said, “You do have something to do with it. You allow them all to come to Temple Housing Fairs.”
SN: You’re giving them an in.
KS: Exactly, to come and rent. You’re basically saying to the students, “This is where you should go rent housing.” Then to turn around say, “We don’t have anything to do with it”? So we’d like to see more of an attempt to rein them in, to make them be better citizens. I do know that Temple has been stressing to students that they have to be respectful and more sensitive to the community when they’re living off-campus.
SN: There has been something of a concerted effort that way.
KS: But we were driving around one night, and there was a girl who didn’t have pants on. Her friends were carrying her. She couldn’t even walk she was so drunk. I know they’re young people....
I don’t care where you’re at 2:00 in the morning, why would you want to be that drunk in any neighborhood, no matter how good or bad it is? You could get run over by a car or sexually assaulted. Why would you put your life at risk like that?
We’re doing some more community housing programs. The city has pretty much cut off the sale of publicly owned land to be used for apartments. You’ll see more construction of family-oriented housing, which is what we want.
Yorktown got an ordinance saying that you have to live in a house if you want to rent to someone else. People were starting to buy up homes and dump students in it. We still get people who buy a house and just stick their kids in there as a placeholder. But they’re not dominating blocks with that sort of thing.
SN: Is there any sharing of the expertise our faculty has on some of these issues? What can the faculty to do to help? I want to stay away from the White Knight Syndrome, where we ride in and think we have the answers. I’m imagining something along the lines of the business incubator in this building. Temple does have intellectual capital that might be useful.
KS: We’re always interested in job creators. I’ve been spending a lot of time going back and forth to the West Coast, and I’m going to be setting up technology incubators, like the business incubators, to develop apps and the like. Just yesterday, we announced an initiative to teach kids how to code; we’ll be doing that downstairs in this building. We’re always interested in people willing to share their expertise, and we’d love to have someone from the biosciences come to work with our kids.
One nice thing I want to tell you about: The Philadelphia Orchestra came to Temple to perform. We’re very proud of two students from Meade School, which was at the bottom and threatened with closure, and like other schools didn’t have music anymore. We sponsor some music programs like Musicopia and for the first time we had two kids from Meade accepted to Girard’s Academic and Music program. If you’re familiar with that program, you know it’s very hard to get into. So we’re proud of that.
The Orchestra was coming up and so I asked if they could provide tickets to members of the community who had never seen the orchestra before. And they did. We had several families come up; they were so happy to learn about the background to the music and the orchestra and to see a live performance. Simple things like that matter. Little things.
SN: It’s about keeping the community in mind.
KS: Right. For instance, a lot of people in the community didn’t realize that before we had a public movie theater here on Broad, Temple had its own movie theater as well as a food court. We know it’s for students primarily; we’re not trying to overwhelm it. Of course, you’re likely to be quizzed if you’re from the neighborhood and you walk across campus. We realize there are security issues and understand it. But there are other things that could be done. Like I said, when Temple was working with the schools, they had that direct involvement which was really helpful, and I was sorry to see that end.
SN: I recently interviewed Greg Anderson, the new Dean of the College of Education. Have you had a chance to talk with him?
KS: I haven’t had a chance to talk with him, but I did recently talk with Bernie Watson, who has an endowed chair in his name at the College of Education, and he wants to set something up so that I can meet the new Dean.
SN: I want to share with you a part of the conversation I had with him. A few years back, Michael Smith, who is now an associate dean in the College of Ed and an eminent scholar, had an idea for an early college high school. You’re familiar with these schools.
SN: This is a great Temple story in its way. Way back when Temple first got the partnership schools, President Adamany decided to manage it out of his office rather than the College of Ed. So as is true of a lot of school reform these days, those in charge of Temple’s initiative did not have a background in education. The Gates Foundation in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, came to the people administering the partnership schools and said, “We’d like to work with you to found an Early College High School.” And Temple turned them down flat.
They came back once President Hart was in office, figuring that the environment may have changed. After all, her home college was Education. They went to Michael Smith and he got around 70 faculty, including me, to help design a curriculum. The School Reform Commission had given us space in an existing school. We had a theme, civic engagement. People were doing site visits. And then it sat on Ann Hart’s desk for 18 months, and she didn’t give us the courtesy of a “no.” It’s just not clear why it was left to wither on the vine.
So in my conversations with Dean Anderson and President Theobald, I’ve been asking whether they would want to revive this idea. My sense is that Dean Anderson is concerned with projects funded by foundations, since when the money dries up, we are left to say, as the song goes, “I tried my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough.” He wants to avoid that. I do have a sense, though, that he is deeply invested in helping the schools in the neighborhood, that that’s a priority for him. When I pushed President Theobald on this issue, my sense is that he doesn’t want to start some entirely new initiative like the Early College High Schools when we have a history of already working with the schools.
KS: I remember when William Penn High School was still open, I remember a prior dean of the College of Education had said, “I’d like to maybe have some college connection with William Penn.” Or maybe something modeled on the Alexander School at Penn. That would be great.
SN: The great thing about the Early College High School is that it would have been a school for the kids in the neighborhood, not a boutique school. My sense is that Penn Alexander is wonderful but it’s populated to a significant extent by faculty kids, and you just don’t have many Temple faculty living near Temple.
KS: But the Alexander School really has great support and resources. It’d be great for Temple to bring some more brainpower to these issues, setting up advisory committees and the like.
SN: One of the problems that Temple has had recently is that a few years ago the administration recently pulled the rug out from under Community Based Learning. That would be a way for the faculty to partner with the surrounding community. Many faculty members are involved in this way. But I want to send a message to the faculty through The Faculty Herald—if you think it’s the right message—that if you’re interested in business incubation, life sciences, and literacy, that would be welcome to the community and that Beech might be the right vehicle for that sort of work.
KS: We have all sorts of opportunities and kids ready to participate. Does the Law School still operate the Clinic?
SN: I believe so.
KS: If they do, then we’ll let people know through our newsletter. Then there’s the services provided by the Dental School, which is great. But did you know how the system used to work? People would line up at 5 o’clock in the morning and they’d take only 25 people. It was great to get free dental care. But you’d have to get up at 4 to stand in line to see if you were chosen. They couldn’t have a phone number of a lottery system? I asked the trustees as to why they do this. The trustees hadn’t ever heard of it. But that’s what they did for 10 to 12 years. You might have to come back for another appointment and then you have to go back in line. You might not be chosen. There must be a better way to do this. Maybe we could raise money for a dental van. That’s something Beech could help with.
That’s how our programs get started. Because we heard there was a need. We started up a television station to respond to the community’s sense that there all this bad news about North Philadelphia. We know that TV news is a business. You’re arriving here with no problem isn’t news, but if you had been killed, unfortunately, it would be. It costs more money to find good news, and the news programs are lazy. So we film it. If you’re here giving a speech, or if you’re here as part of the faculty working with the community, we’ll film it and provide context for it and air it. We also do documentary films. In fact, we have a new one coming up about the Barnes and their relationship with Lincoln University and everything involved with changing the will. It belongs to the Barnes and we’re the Executive Producers. It’ll be in some film festivals and air on PBS next year. It’s very good; it was a real learning experience watching it made.
SN: Well, I’ve taken up an hour of your time, which I know is very valuable. Thanks so much!
KS: You’re welcome. •