President Richard Englert often touts Temple University as the “public university of Philadelphia.”
And it’s true, it serves the public: nearly 70 percent of Temple students are Pennsylvania residents, and it is one of the top recipients of Pell Grants. But it’s not a public university until the Board of Trustees starts acting like it, by respecting that public dollars require public oversight.
Every few months, the Board hosts a public meeting. Trustees quickly rattle off dozens of agenda items that involve spending millions of dollars on facility improvements or changes to tuition. For every agenda item announced, a chorus of “Ayes” follows from the trustees on the 36-member Board who showed up.
There is never public discussion, no debate. And that’s on purpose: All the real decisions are made behind closed doors in the executive session that precedes the public meeting. These closed-door meetings are to maintain the “efficacy” of the Board and trustees’ ability to speak freely, Chairman Patrick O’Connor told The Temple News this week.
Temple’s selective application of its “public” university label allows it and the other state-related universities in Pennsylvania to use loopholes to keep the public in the dark.
We’d like to remind the Temple community of one of the prestigious recognitions our university received two years ago due to its lack of transparency: Temple was named a finalist for The Golden Padlock Award.
The Golden Padlock is awarded to the most secretive, publicly funded institutions in the United States by Investigative Reporters and Editors, an organization that supports investigative journalism around the world. Temple was up against stiff competition in 2017 — including Scott Pruitt, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Even though the state doles out hundreds of millions of dollars to state-related schools, they don’t have to follow the same transparency standards that regular Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools do. For example, Temple’s Board is technically allowed to hold private meetings in “executive session” — something that never happens at real public universities.
At the other state-related schools like Penn State, leaders abused this lack of transparency to hide details of Jerry Sandusky’s years of sexual abuse of children and the school’s role in the scandal’s cover-up.
It’s because of this that the Editorial Board believes at the very least, the Board of Trustees should open its executive sessions to the public.
While we absolutely favor Temple Student Government’s proposal to add a voting, non-TSG member to the Board, we recognize that adding a student to vote on the Board won’t do much to sway opinion. It also won’t fix the persisting problem of no oversight or transparency from the Board, because the trustees would expect the student member to maintain an unspoken rule of keeping deliberation hidden from anyone not behind that closed door.
Temple cannot sell itself as a “public” university, while blocking the public from the most important decisions made on campus.