Temple’s Board of Trustees – the most powerful governing body at the university – remains cloaked from the public view, often avoiding communication with the very students and families that provide it with the funding it allocates each year.
When faced with multiple requests for information this semester, various representatives for the board have been – at best – uncooperative and at worst, downright rude.
Temple’s 36 trustees are tasked with setting Temple’s budgets, making its land purchases and raising its tuition levels, among other important decisions.
The trustees, who hold public meetings periodically throughout each year, control most major decisions at “Philadelphia’s public university.” The 36 voting members, 12 of which are appointed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, are granted the power and privilege to make sweeping, drastic changes at the university level, be it hand-picking Temple’s president or approving the construction of a 27-story dormitory on campus grounds.
Unlike every other high-ranking official at Temple, from President Theobald to Athletic Director Kevin Clark, the trustees do not have publicly listed Temple email addresses in the Cherry and White Directory.
Unlike many other universities, Temple does not provide its community with a publicly posted list of each board subcommittee’s members, a glaring lack of transparency at a university of its size.
Interested parties are instead directed to send requests for comment or information to the Board’s Office of the Secretary, which serves as a liaison between the trustees and the public.
While this is common practice among most publicly funded universities – Penn State acting as an exception, providing students with the email addresses of each voting trustee – the office exercises far too much discretion over the communication process, using its powers as a gatekeeper to divert any messages that are not expressly “Temple-related” from ever reaching the desk of an actual trustee.
In the event that a trustee may find him or herself in the news for potentially unscrupulous practices outside of the boardroom – as Trustee Dennis J. Alter does after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation filed a civil suit against him in June – “Temple-relatedness” becomes an easily exploited excuse in order to keep the Temple community from pertinent information.
The Temple News was denied a request to speak to Alter directly, due to the fact that the current litigation pending against Alter did not seem relevant to the Temple community.
However, when a man who sits on the Budget and Finance committee of a state-related university is charged with being “grossly negligent” in his personal business practices, including raising Annual Percentage Interest rates on many of his credit customers to more than 30 percent and ignoring more than 35,000 customer complaints, that is thoroughly and flagrantly a “Temple issue.”
In the paper’s attempts to both track down Alter and gather comments from high-ranking university officials, Patrick O’Connor, the chairman of the board, cursed at, berated and insulted a student reporter.
“You call the chairman of the board asking for a f—ing phone number?” O’Connor said in a phone interview on Nov. 15, after a reporter asked if there was any way to be put in contact with Alter directly.
“Like I’m your secretary?” O’Connor said. “Would you like a sandwich, too?”
O’Connor, who received an honorary degree from the university in 2013, then told the reporter to “reexamine his goals as a newspaper man,” and asked him to think hard about whether reporting on Alter’s litigation “is helping the Temple community.”
We were just happy to get him on the phone.