An Interview with the Hon. Theodore McKee
By Steve Newman, Editor
On February 11, The Hon. Theodore McKee, Chief Judge of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit came to the Faculty Senate Steering Committee for a wide-ranging and informative discussion. I contacted him to see if he would be willing to sit down for an interview, and I’m grateful to him for finding time in his busy schedule for our dialogue, which took place on April 21st.
The Job of a Board Member and Ideas for Improving the Board-Faculty Relationship
How to Measure Academic Success and Good Teaching, and the Limits of Rankings
Diversity and Access Among Students and Faculty
Faculty On and Off the Tenure-Track: Increasing Job Security and Faculty Governance
Other Key Topics This Year and The Challenges of Responsibility Centered Management
Promotion and Tenure
Comparing the Boards at Temple and Syracuse, Athletics at Temple
Faculty Misperceptions of the Board
The Challenges Posed by Temple University Health System
SN: Thanks again for making the time for this. The first question I have is how you see your role as the chair of the Academic Affairs Committee. What issues do you feel it’s important you’re informed about? What sort of questions do you find yourself asking more often? When you have felt the need to intervene on an issue, what has tended to trigger that intervention?
TM: A good series of questions. I was thinking about this this morning. Clearly in academic matters there are set policies that are more directly the purview of the administration rather than the Board of Trustees. In terms of overarching academic focus, that’s where the committee has a role to play and as chair of the committee I have a role to play. One of the things I would like to do that I have not yet done that I think would be helpful is to try and ensure that there is a dialogue, because I’m sure there isn’t one now between faculty and deans and the board. There’s this gulf, and all the years I’ve been on the board, and that’s in excess of ten, that gulf has always been there. There’s a real divide. I don’t have a good handle on what goes on, say, at the Council of Deans. I keep meaning to get to one of those meetings; I really have to do that. I have to pick the right meeting, though, since my sense is that many of them are so god-awful boring that if I go to the wrong one, I’ll never go to another. [Both laugh.] I do think it’s important to get at least to some of them for the deans to see a Board presence, just to know, not that we’re necessarily looking to see what’s going on, but to establish a rapport that simply is lacking.
SN: Your coming to the Faculty Senate Steering Committee impressed a lot of us; it was a really frank and useful discussion.
To follow up on this in terms of process, I know that Mark Rahdert has spoken with President Theobald, and it looks like we have an agreement that at meetings of the full board, the President of the Faculty Senate will get 5 minutes to present on issue.
SN: That’s certainly progress. This is something that we’d certainly have to discuss with the provost, too, but I’m wondering if you’d be willing to set aside time on the agenda of the Academic Affairs Committee, since Academic Affairs is really where the faculty live, for the faculty. Say one agenda item per meeting would belong to the President of the Senate or his or her designee to say, “Look. This is what’s on our minds.”
TM: That’s an excellent idea. That’s a really good idea. Right now, the committee isn’t set up to be conducive to that sort of exchange, but that can be changed. Mark or his successor should certainly be invited to those meetings. The only exception would be Executive Session for tenure discussions and the like. But outside of instances like that, I don’t see why faculty should not be represented.
SN: I think that would be really helpful. One of the other questions I have stems from the global perspective you have on Temple that few others could have. My question is: How should we judge Temple’s success an academic institution? One way is rankings, of course, in terms of sponsored research....
TM: Sponsored research, that’s good; but not US News and World Report—
SN: The provost has understandably been concerned about US News because it matters for recruitment and donors, but I don’t think he gives it any credence as a true measure of our academic quality. It’s just a means to an end. Then, of course, we’re often thinking about where we are in relation to Penn. What sort of benchmarks do you have in mind that would tell us whether Temple is improving as an academic institution?
TM: I don’t know if there is any measure or construct out there. The way I measure my own undergraduate education is that I came away from it with a lifelong intellectual curiosity, with a couple of professors, both of whom are deceased now but whom I looked to for generating intellectual rigor and generating that sort of intellectual curiosity. I think that at any good institution, a high percentage of the students should leave that school not with the idea that they’re done learning but that they’re now ready to start learning.
I don’t know how you measure that. In any case, I doubt U. S. News and World Report cares as much either about the academic quality of the schools they are ranking as the consuming public may believe or the finer points of gauging it.
SN: No; it’s tough to measure.
TM: And then there’s the self-fulfilling old boys’ network. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I was on a board some years ago, and one of the people on the board—this is not Temple’s board—was a former president at one of the prestigious Main Line colleges. He had been following this for years, and he said he had noticed something very interesting and that was that the top 10 undergraduate schools never changed. They just jumped over each other in this shell game. Who gives a darn if a school is number 7 versus number 8 or number 10? I know law students who make decisions based on rankings. I had this discussion with somebody who went to a private school because it was ranked one point higher than a public school the kid got into. You’re talking about a difference 35 thousand to 40 thousand dollars in tuition per year. I felt like saying, “Look. If you’re that big of an idiot, go ahead. Spend your money. You deserve it.” [Both laugh.]
SN: That’s what we call the narcissism of little differences.
TM: That’s a good term.
SN: The question of how we measure students’ engagement is difficult. There is the National Survey of Student Engagement or books like Academically Adrift. I’ve been in dialogue with Peter Jones and members of the Student Feedback Form Committee about how to better measure the quality of teaching. But the way you remember your old professors is very instructive. Obviously, there are things that we are trying to get done in a classroom. We have to have objectives. We have to have competencies we’re trying to teach, knowledge and habits of mind we’re initiating students into. But we just don’t know how valuable an educational experience is going to be until many years pass. We just can’t evaluate some very important things at the end of the semester or even at graduation.
I hope all faculty with a certain number of years under their belt have had the experience of someone emailing them out of the blue to tell them, “Your course really affected me.”
TM: I did that about three years ago. I sent an email to a professor who gave a practice exam in torts my first year in law school. It wasn’t so much that I got that much out of the course, but having been away from school for a while and having taught myself a bit, I understood how much effort had gone into that practice exam. It was a four question essay exam. There were about 180 or 190 kids in the section, and he graded and put comments on every one of them. It was getting his comments back that really made me believe that I could not only do this work but excel in it. And I realized, “God, that was an incredible effort on his part.” I wanted to write to thank him. He sent me back a nice response.
SN: I’m sure he appreciated it.
TM: He did. 35 years after the fact — the two professors I mentioned were incredibly rigorous.
SN: This was at SUNY-Cortland.
TM: One of them, nobody would take his classes because he was so damn tough. The other one was pretty close to that. He was a history professor. He warned wanted students how hard he was. But I got so much out of those classes it lasted, as I said, a lifetime.
I guess those rankings are set to measure alumni giving, which builds in a bias for the kind of school it is. If you can afford to go to a Penn, you’re probably going to be able to afford to give more money back to Penn than if you went to a Temple. It’s ridiculous. If you have to work while you’re in school, that’s going to impact how long it takes you to graduate, may impact the kinds of jobs you get afterwards, you don’t have the old boys’ network while you’re in school. You have less chance of being friends with somebody who can call his dad and offer you a job. I don’t know how to filter all that junk out. It would be nice if guidance counselors in high schools were to educate students about the significance of rankings and steer them toward more pertinent rankings, but they don’t seem to do that.
SN: I have some questions about access. I know that you were the director of minority recruitment at SUNY-Binghamton many years ago. How do you think Temple has been doing on making sure that we’re opening access to students from all sorts of backgrounds, particularly minority backgrounds and first-generation college students? How do you think we’re doing on that score? How could we improve? I would have the same questions for diversity among our faculty.
TM: I don’t feel I have a handle on the state of diversity among the faculty. But I do have a decent handle on diversity among the undergraduates since it’s something that came up at a Board meeting a couple of years ago. I think we’re doing the right kinds of things. It’s very much a part of the Board’s consciousness, the whole Acres of Diamonds approach. Every Board member knows that story. I don’t know the extent to which Admissions at Temple is doing this, but I became very sensitive to how to evaluate GPA in the context of individual students’ lives. If somebody had to work 20 hours a week, don’t expect a 4.0 average in high school. Unless they’re going to one of the Main Line high schools where everybody has above a 4.0. [Both laugh.]
SN: A 4.0 is a D.
TM: I think the undergraduate median GPA at Harvard is an A-.* So if you make it to class and don’t kill the professor, you’re going to get an A.
SN: Grade inflation is a real problem, especially at more so-called elite schools. When I evaluate how my teaching is going, the question is do the students feel like it’s okay to take an intellectual risk—an informed risk, not turning an essay in in crayon. I think as grade inflation has worsened, students get more and more leery of getting it wrong. They’ve been educated in how to take standardized tests. Many are extremely bright and have a real drive, but they’re so anxious. This is one of the great things about teaching at Temple. While you do get some students from Upper Merion and places like that who are very well-prepared in the more traditional ways of understanding that term, I think students at Temple are willing to take risks.
TM: They’re also more grounded, I think. They’re not professional test-takers. They haven’t gone through middle school to graduate school learning how to take tests. Although pass-fail can be abused, one of the big advantages is that it lets the kid who is a chemistry major take a philosophy course and lets a philosophy major take a course in quantum physics.
SN: To get back to the question of diversity in the faculty, this is something I know we’re trying to get a handle on. We’re told by the Provost Office that the statistics are on their way.
TM: We have received an assurance that it’s coming?
SN: Yes. They just want to make sure the data is correct, and I know it will be coming to you, too. For a lot of us who are invested in the Conwellian mission, making sure we have a diverse student body and faculty really matters us.
TM: From the numbers I saw, some weeks ago, the numbers among the undergraduates were on target. I did not see that with the graduate schools or the med school, dental, or law.
SN: This is a real problem.
TM: It’s a national problem.
SN: This leads to another question I wanted to ask you, about the state of graduate education at Temple. This has always been one of Temple’s main challenges. When people ask me what things are like at Temple, I say it’s like any other university only more so. All of the challenges tend to be more intense. One of the chief challenges is that we’re trying to be a research university without the endowment typical of such an institution. This means we can’t offer the funding packages to graduate students as others do, which means that many of them come unfunded. In the humanities, this strikes me as a bonkers proposition. When I have had undergraduates who have gotten into grad school at Temple but without funding, I all but forbid them to go. I beg them not to go. And then those who do get funding are hit with teaching loads considerably heavier than typically seen at wealthier schools. Does that match your sense of graduate education?
I don’t know nearly as much about the situation in the professional schools or, say, in the College of Science and Technology, where there’s a great deal more in the way of grants. But to limit myself mostly to Liberal Arts, I worry that we’re going to return to the model of graduate education that reigned prior to the GI Bill, where it was a place almost exclusively for people already wealthy.
TM: I know the law school best. I am on the Board of Visitors there and my daughter goes there.
SN: And your sense is that in the law school we’re doing well in terms of socioeconomic diversity.
TM: I think so. But the numbers I saw on minority students in the law school disappointed me. I don’t remember what the numbers were for medical or dental.
SN: To follow up on the question of diversity in undergraduate education, as you know one of the Provost’s major initiatives is to expand the Honors Program. We discussed this in an interview that will be coming out soon—and he’s been very generous with his time; we’ve had three interviews in my 18 months as editor—he says that by the end of four years, Temple will contain a Haverford and a Swarthmore in terms of the number of students with comparable academic records. One of the things that’s concerned some of us is that given that President Theobald has projected relatively flat enrollment over the next decade, which makes sense in the context of a demographic dip in the number of college-aged students—
TM: How do the numbers work?
SN: Right. If you start reserving more spaces for kids in the honors program, and if admission to the honors program is based significantly on SAT scores, and if SAT scores correlate strongly with socioeconomic status... you see where this might tend. Is this something that the Board has discussed?
TM: No. But I’d like to begin that discussion. This is admittedly just a layperson’s view, but to base the Honors Program on SAT scores is to go down a problematic road rather than looking at the entire individual, his GPA, whether she could afford to take fancy prep courses, whether he’s having to work while in high school. When I was on the board of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, one of the things they did for one of the programs when I was there was that they focused on kids putting together a portfolio. In theory, that sounds great; practically, I wasn’t sure it was so workable. But if there was a way of getting some of that, of looking at a kid’s overall body of work, that would be good. Tyler can do that because that’s their thing. They do artwork through portfolio and SATs aren’t such a big deal. In the humanities, I don’t know how that would work.
SN: It is challenging, though I know our First Year Writing program uses portfolios to evaluate students. At a recent Faculty Senate meeting, Joe Schwartz from Political Science asked Provost Dai if we could look more at GPA and acknowledge what schools they’re coming from, and I think the Provost is open to this. Part of the problem is that one of the reasons to expand the Honors Program is to raise the SAT scores is that raises our overall SAT score which helps us out with US News and World Report. That’s the hamster wheel we get stuck on.
TM: Then there’s the problem of yield, whether we can get these high-scoring students to come. Maybe the dollars will get us those students.
SN: That’s part of it, I think. They also now have these summer research experiences. The top third of the honors students, the Presidential Scholars, get $4000 for three summers to pursue research or study abroad, and the other 2/3rds get one of those grants.
To be fair, Temple’s Honors program has been pretty accessible as Honors programs go. If you’re not accepted at the beginning, a professor can contact Ruth Ost and can tell the student to look into the Honors program. Even if you didn’t have the test scores coming in, if you have done work that shows that you’re an excellent and inquisitive student...
TM: That’s important. If a professor really knows a kid, better than the College Board could, if a professor can single a kid out and tell him you really need to look at this and write a really strong letter, that mitigates the concern a bit about keeping overall enrollment flat and increasing the number of Honors students.
[* “I can answer the question, if you want me to.” [Harvard Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M.] Harris said. “The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-. The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/12/04/harvard-colleges-median-grade-is-an-a-dean-admits/)]
SN: One of the other questions I have has to do with the composition of the faculty. We’ve talked a bit about diversity, but I also want to talk about track. One of the things that has many faculty at Temple concerned is the decline in tenure-track faculty and the concomitant increase in the number of non-tenure track faculty, both full-time and part-time. This has been happening all across the country as well as at Temple. Is this something your committee has been discussing?
TM: Before my visit to the Senate Steering Committee, I had not even heard the term NTT.
SN: It’s the term of art, but it bothers me because it defines someone by what they’re not.
TM: That would be worth an in-depth look. My guess is that it is driven by economics. But what is the impact on the university?
SN: The Provost has just announced an initiative to ensure that at least 60% of the NTTs across colleges be given multi-year contracts, which is a very welcome shift. I know someone in CST for something like 20 years and she has had 18 one-year contracts.
SN: Right. On one hand, if you think about this at jobs outside the academy you’re almost certainly an at-will employee. You could be fired at any time. But it’s not quite the same thing as knowing you have to come up for renewal every year. It hurts morale. And these are some of the best teachers we have, to be honest. And many of them do a fair bit of publishing, especially in the humanities. It’s harder to do in the sciences because you need a lab.
More job security for NTTs is something the union has been pushing for a long time, and a lot of us are very happy at the Provost’s initiative. There are still a lot of outstanding questions. You put your finger on one of the key issues, which is economics. Tenure-track faculty are more expensive than non-tenure track faculty. But it also has effects on faculty governance. If you have somebody who--
TM: --Has no skin in the game. They probably won’t be around at Temple for as long.
SN: Right. Or has too much skin in the game in that they feel more vulnerable. A lot of faculty shy away from asking hard questions of administrators even when they are tenured. Geez, I think, you’re tenured.
TM: Even tenured faculty have that problem?
SN: Yeah. Even tenured faculty can be overly deferential. I think it has something to do with the tenure process, which is infantilizing. You’ve been in graduate school for years and years and you frequently get reminded there that you’re a student and not a faculty member even if you’re teaching your own classes. And then if you get hired on the tenure-track, you’re a junior faculty member and it is often made clear to you that you are not yet in the club, even by well-meaning colleagues who do treat you as an equal but are worried if you’re doing the things you need to in order to get tenured, which includes not stirring up trouble. And then when many faculty members do get tenure, they’ve been socialized into being deferential or tentative.
SN: Of course, a few others go violently in the opposite direction, thinking that as tenured faculty they can do no wrong or at least can’t be held to account for it. But at least if you’re tenured, you can feel licensed to take a risk, to say, “Hey, we’re the faculty of this institution. We deserve a seat at the table. We have something to say.” But if you’re not tenured and have a one-year contract, it’s harder to do that. It’s also true that NTTs are teaching so much that asking them to do a bunch of committee work doesn’t seem fair. In any case, I do feel as if I have more skin in the game, as you say. I feel as if getting involved in faculty governance is part of my role, part of my obligation to do service.
SN: What have been the major topics that your committee has taken up this last year? And do they differ from what you were discussing before President Theobald and Provost Dai came into office?
TM: Not really. Well, one issue that we took up not so much in terms of debating it but in terms of having it presented it to us was the Fly in Four. As I say, this was more of a presentation than something we needed to give our approval to. I had some concerns that I expressed to the President, and I still have some concerns about due process if a course has not been provided that a student needs, how will the student be compensated. As a lawyer and a judge I may be more concerned about due process and fairness than some academicians. I still think it’s an issue. Sooner or later, it’s going to pop up. And I would just hope that whatever way it is dealt with is fair to the students so that they don’t think that the university has wronged them. That’s the biggest topic we’ve tackled recently.
Others I can’t talk about because they’re privileged matters such as those dealing with tenure cases.
There have been ongoing discussions about rankings though not that much.
As I mentioned before, diversity among undergraduates and graduate schools.
Of course, a lot of it is paper-shuffling, about the renaming of this or that degree program. Things of that sort.
SN: I think one thing that is coming down the pike with the start of RCM is a host of new masters programs. According to the Provost, we’re short by 2000 masters students compared to our peers. The concern there is —
TM: How do you do that in the right way?
SN: Right! There are some that seem tailor-made for this, like the Masters in Engineering Management.
To start a master’s program of real quality requires an investment of real faculty resources. You can’t just say bibbity-bobbity-boo and a master’s program appears. And before you leap into it, you have to try and figure out as best you can whether there is a market for it. And you need resources for marketing it. It also seems the case that when you start a new academic program, as with new businesses, that you expect to operate at a loss for the first few years even if you are ultimately successful. These are some of the concerns that have been raised on the college budget committee I’m serving on. Has your committee taken up these concerns?
TM: We haven’t. The Board as a whole did raise questions along these lines when we were looking for a successor for President Hart. It is a concern but we haven’t started dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, but we will.
SN: And it also is too early to tell to see what the effects will be. Lots of faculty are nervous about class sizes going up, since that’s an easy way to generate revenue quickly. In my college, we have departments like Psychology that bring in millions of dollars a year in grants, Geography and Urban Studies and Criminal Justice bring in large grants, too. But still 95% of our revenue comes from undergraduate tuition. You can see the temptation there. Well, if we just add 20 more students to this class of 100, or 6 more to this writing-intensive course of 120.
Then there’s the problem of every college poaching from everybody else. If we’re not going to add undergraduates, how do we add revenue not at the expense of some other college or school?
SN: Another question, if you don’t mind: I’d feel remiss if I didn’t ask about tenure and promotion. I know you can’t talk about particular cases or privileged communications. But if there have been any significant changes in promotion and tenure standards, what are they and what’s your view of them? Do you have any concerns or do you think that whatever changes have been made are the right ones?
TM: I think it’s been a good change, though I have only gotten one side of this argument. My understanding is that the change in the number of letters from outside reviewers has been a positive change. This has led to an increase in quality and therefore who gets tenure. My concern—and I don’t know if I expressed it at a committee meeting or directly to the President or the Provost is that in some fields the number of experts qualified to write letters is very small. So to require some tenure prospects to get 5 letters for tenure is not a good idea.
SN: They’re now asking for 8.
TM: Is it 8?
SN: Yes. One of the things that concerns colleagues at Tyler is the insistence that a letter writer be a tenured member at a Research I institution. Well, you could have a world-famous ceramicist without a faculty position or at an institution that isn’t Research I. Shouldn’t hat person be qualified to judge? [N. B. At a recent Faculty Senate meeting, Provost Dai said that he would consider exceptions to this rule.]
Another concern: If you have 7 letters that are very positive, but 1 is only lukewarm, what happens? Do all 8 have to say that this person is superlative? And then you have the problem that academics are, after all, people; and some of them aren’t very good at it. They may be motivated by professional jealousies. They may have hated the candidate’s advisor for 25 years.
I think the third concern I’ve heard from my colleagues is that the tenure procedure as written puts a fair bit of weight on the departmental and collegial decisions. These are the people closest to the discipline. Of course, the letter writers are also close to the discipline. But there’s some concern is that that local expertise is being gainsaid by emphasizing the letters, especially further along in the process. Now, if there are departments or colleges that are being lax, they should be brought to book.
TM: But how do you do that in a university-wide process?
SN: I think that the Provost or the University Tenure and Promotion Committee can send a message to a dean saying that we are seeing a pattern of marginal cases here. Y’all need to tighten up.
TM: This did come up with the Provost: If we’re judging as to whether the publications for a particular candidate had to be at a certain level and if that’s not your area, how the hell can you judge that journal? In the area of law, especially. I don’t know how well this is known outside of the law, but law journals are run by law students. But the fact that a person has published in x law journal vs. y law journal, I don’t know what means. It may not mean anything at all. So across disciplines, I don’t know how you make those judgments. And then the area of law is such a different cat, since it isn’t really peer-reviewed.
Then the timing of when you ask for the letters can be a problem, because not everybody is on the same academic calendar. Somebody might be so heavily involved with their own research project that they don’t have time to scour through somebody else’s material.
The performing arts situation poses another problem. You’ve already mentioned Tyler, but it might be the same in the performing arts.
SN: Right. If somebody is a famous director without being attached to a university, shouldn’t he or she be qualified to be an outside reviewer? Part of the concern is that the natural sciences have something closer to a cut-and-dried way of evaluating—acceptance rate and impact factors—that give you something closer to an objective standard of evaluation. But it may not hold in the law or in other spheres of academic work.
Then there’s the problem—and I think it speaks to your concern about fair procedures—if we’re going to shift standards, let’s not change them not just in the middle of the game but near the finish line. You’ve been doing stuff for six years and thought you were doing everything right, and then, “No. Sorry." I’m sure the President and Provost are concerned about this.
TM: But then if you grandfather folks in, you are building in a six- or seven-year delay. It’s really tough. Appreciating the problem is a step in the right direction. It’s easy not to appreciate the problem. If people appreciate the nature of that problem you have a better chance at fairness. Folks have to recognize that that’s an issue.
SN: It has to be in the mix.
SN: I also know you’re on the board at Syracuse. Could you, without divulging trade secrets, give us a sense of how different it is there?
TM: At Syracuse, we meet only twice a year, but when we meet it’s a very intense process. The committee meetings are staggered on Fridays. The Board meetings are on Saturday usually from about 8:30 to 1, unless there is a big time football or lacrosse game and it ends a bit earlier. The meetings are longer than Temple’s but much less frequent, an effect, I think, of the fact that Syracuse’s Board is more dispersed geographically. Syracuse has also recently added a two-day mid-winter retreat to make sure we have the time we need to work well together and air the issues at hand properly.
Ironically, some of the things discussed there identical to what’s being discussed at Temple. Should a stadium be built downtown? The Carrier Dome has outlived its useful life. There are problems with the ceiling. Do you build a new stadium downtown? The difference there is that the community would like a stadium downtown, which would also be very close to campus. Here, I’m not sure that the community would feel as warm about having a stadium next door. Up there, you wouldn’t have to worry about displacing people. Here, you would have to worry about that and about closing streets. That issue is basically the same, though.
I was there when the whole thing came up with the Big East. That happened pretty much as it did at Temple. There’s probably a little bit more time spent discussing athletics at the Board meetings there because there’s so much more at stake there. The history and the tradition is so different at Syracuse, especially in basketball and football and even lacrosse. There really is a concern, “Are we slipping?” Not in lacrosse or basketball but in football, there’s a commitment to returning to national prominence.
At Temple, when we discussed cutting the teams, we certainly talked about the importance of athletics. And people have in their heads that our football team can get to national prominence. I hope it can, but that’s a difficult road.
SN: My dad was on the faculty at the University of Miami and my grand-dad played for a couple of years at the University of Michigan. I’ve grown up around big-time football, and I’m very leery of it.
TM: So am I, so am I.
SN: What many faculty I’ve talked to think is: Temple has a tradition in basketball. Let’s focus on that. Could we not drop down to what used to be called I-AA and join a more local conference? Then you’d be spending less on scholarships while still fielding a football team that could also support a marching band. And our student-athletes wouldn’t have to travel to Tampa, and Cincinnati, and Dallas, as they do in the American Athletic Conference.
TM: And the kids would probably enjoy it more. I played Division III football. The difference is that while there’s pressure to win, it’s a different kind of pressure. You’re playing because you want to. I didn’t play football in high school. I played sandlot ball growing up. It’s such a different thing now for kids in Division I football. It’s a 365-day-a-year thing.
SN: I think sometimes the faculty think that the Board has this position or that position or that things are really happening at Temple because of the Board. Because the Board and faculty talk so rarely, I wonder if we are even clear what our misperceptions are. But what don’t faculty know about the Board that they should know?
TM: Very little happens because of the Board pushing it. We don’t push things. Things are brought to us for approval, for discussion, for assessment, evaluation, and rejection. But it’s not like someone on the Board gets out front and makes something happen.
SN: You just haven’t seen that.
TM: I have not seen that at all. If anything, I’ve seen some concerns that percolate around and then come up, but these things are always fiscally driven. How we’re going to set tuition, those sort of things. And even those are brought to us pretty much by the financial people in the administration. I can’t think of anything the Board got in front of and ran with.
SN: So it’s the administration that frames things for you.
TM: Right. At Syracuse it’s the same way.
SN: That’s interesting. Because the faculty really do sometimes have the sense that at least there are a few people on the board who are the prime movers. For example, when contract negotiations come up with the union, it’s really the Board that’s calling the shots there.
TM: During contract negotiations, we are told the state of the negotiations, any kind of prognosis for success. But that’s it. We’re not saying, “Draw the line here.” We know what the priorities are, the kind of things we’ve agreed that we have to hold the line on. But even those things are given to us by the administration, saying, “This is where we think we need to hold the line.” And we say, “Fine.”
SN: But you’re not coming up with specific proposals like, “They should get a 1% raise.”
TM: I don’t think you’d get any agreement on the board on a percentage like that. We’d be all over the place.
SN: One assumes a board shouldn’t be mucking around in details like that. They’re there to set policy and to chart a broader course.
SN: This brings up another issue. I don’t know how much it bears on your work on Academic Affairs, but I know that when I interviewed President Theobald last year, he identified as a very high priority issue something that everybody at Temple knows is a crucial matter, which is what to do about the Health System.
TM: Oh, yeah. [laughs]
SN: What I’ve heard from people who know much more than I do on this, is that one way to solve the problems besetting the Health System is to grow it, since we don’t enjoy the economies of scale that would make us more efficient in generating revenue and cutting expenses by throwing our weight around when it comes to purchasing the way that Penn or Jeff can. Although, again, this doesn’t probably bear directly on Academic Affairs, but you are a member of the Board, so....
TM: It’s come up on the Board, certainly. There are discussions ongoing. This is just me speaking, but the concern about growing it, as an unaffiliated institution—and I used to be on the board of Fox Chase before Temple acquired it, and we faced the same issue—how you could grow big enough to enjoy an economy of scale without merging with someone else.
I just don’t know how we get that sort of economy of scale. The other thing that is a problem that everyone acknowledges is all the uncompensated care we have to provide. Penn kind of has that problem, and I’m not quite sure how they deal with it, but they don’t provide as much as we do. We have some pretty advanced units, heart transplant and lung transplant, some really sophisticated stuff on one hand while we’re doing uncompensated care on the other.
SN: We seem to be the de facto Municipal Hospital of Philadelphia.
TM: Yeah. We’re basically the Philadelphia Trauma Center. Years ago, I was talking to a homicide detective, and the statistics were being flaunted about the declining homicide rate. And he said, “Wait a minute. Before you start doing a dance about fewer people dying, you’ll find out that Temple just opened up a new trauma center. People are getting shot; they’re just not dying.”
SN: This is like the casualties from the Iraq War; people are surviving traumas they would have died from in earlier wars thanks to improvements in battlefield medicine. But they come back with serious health challenges.
TM: Right, right.
SN: One of the questions I had is that if we are going to grow through mergers and the like, where is the capital going to come from to do that? And wouldn’t it cost a great deal to borrow that money, given the Health System’s low bond rating? It’s just not clear how that is going to work, though this is certainly not my area of expertise. It’s hard to imagine anything else taking Temple down. That’s the worry everybody has. If some genius doesn’t find some solution to this....
TM: I couldn’t disagree with that. That’s a real issue. I don’t know what the answer is. I can’t tell you how much time and how many resources we’re putting in to come up with options we can pursue so that does not happen. I’m pretty convinced that it won’t happen, though.
SN: As you think about your time on the board and as you look ahead, what is your vision of Temple? If I’m not mistaken, you route to the Board came by practicing at a firm where Howard Gittis was a partner.
TM: That’s correct.
SN: I’m wondering what your perceptions of Temple were before you joined the Board and what your perceptions are now.
TM: I really didn’t have that much of a perception of Temple before I joined the Board. I didn’t grow up in Philadelphia; I grew up in upstate New York and came to Philadelphia when I got my first job out of law school in 1975. I didn’t know much about Temple except the basketball team. Then, when I got on the Board, I was blown away by the quality of the education and the value of the education. It’s an incredibly well-kept secret.
One of the things about our PR campaign, “Temple Made”: I am concerned about a slogan that is somewhat ambiguous and that does not draw appropriate attention to the fact that Temple’s programs are international in scope and reach.
SN: It’s funny—the editorial I have coming out tomorrow in The Herald discusses how I and every other faculty member I’ve talked to prefer “Philadelphia’s Public University” to “Temple Made” as a slogan. For many faculty, it’s an improvement because it emphasizes the importance of the public, of being oriented toward a public mission and also being of the city.
TM: I have the same concerns about “Philadelphia’s Public University” since we recruit nationally and internationally for all of our programs. But I really do not understand what “Temple Made” means or how it makes us unique, as any institution anywhere could adopt that slogan as its own and just replace Temple with a different name. But it seems to have caught on; not sure I understand why.
SN: One last question: One of the things started this year, and it’s a happy confluence of what the Senate wanted to see, and what President Theobald and Provost Dai wanted to see was Dean’s reviews. Our Deans are now getting reviewed with what we’ve been promised is serious faculty input.
Has there been any discussion of that process?
TM: As long as the people involved in the review are aware of the pettiness and the politics and the bullshit that may go on in a school so that individual faculty members can’t get on their horse and stick their lance in the Dean, I think it’s a good idea, since I don’t know who would know the Dean better than the faculty members.
SN: I think President Theobald’s rule was “confidential but not anonymous.” The question is which faculty members are being picked to be on the committee, how wide a net is cast, since it would be possible to end up with the opposite of what you suggested. Instead of a few malcontents besmirching an effective, good dean, you could also pick only insiders who would be happy to give a falsely positive impression of an ineffective one.
Well, I again want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me and for your candor and insight. I’ve really enjoyed this discussion and learned a lot from it. •