Hiding behind the curtain

The Board of Trustees remains secretive, uncooperative and hidden from public view.

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.

19 Comments

  1. Wow….I have no words for amount of disgust I feel at the direction the Board of Trustees, University President, and Athletic Director are taking this great university.

  2. There is zero need for you to “reexamine your goals as a newspaper man,” as Mr. O’Connor suggests. As a former reporter, I’ve had to call quite a few high-ranking officials. Most were gracious and helpful. When you hit too close to home with a negative story, they get cranky. It’s the nature of the business. Bravo to you for having the stones to call him. Perhaps he should reexamine his goals as a leader at a public university and citizen of a country with a strong and protected First Amendment. He tipped his hand when he got shouty and foul-mouthed.

    You should be proud. So should your journalism professors. I know I am. Keep up the good work, kid.

    • Also a professional reporter here – you knocked this editorial out of the park and definitely have a future as a “newspaper man,” if people under 800 years old still used that expression. This guy is a joke, you kids rule.

  3. We need someone on the Board of Trustees that really gives a damn about Temple University and the students. These heartless “robots” obviously do not!

  4. I’m a professional journalist and just wanted to say that it sounds like you guys are doing a great job!

    If some bureaucrat is cursing you out, all that means is that you’re probably onto something that he or she doesn’t want the public to know about.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. This young veteran reporter of 7 years salutes you for your tenacity and composure. It’s something we need more of in people entering the business…great job. My old journalism professor once quipped, “If you’re not pissing someone off every now and then, you’re not doing your job.”

  6. This is great experience for the reluctant, unpleasant and hostile sources you will need to interact with as a journalist. “Important” people depend upon their ability to intimidate reporters, especially young and inexperienced ones, as part of an effort to control the flow and the tone of information being delivered.

  7. This is how the chair of the Board of Trustees of a major university responds to a question from a student reporter?! I’ll be sure to mention it next time I get a call or letter from Temple requesting a donation. Keep up the pressure — a free society depends on a vigorous press — and don’t let an ignorant blowhard like O’Connor intimidate you.

  8. You guys are great. I kind of like O’Connor’s response, too — it’s pretty funny — but keep on giving them hell. Perhaps a story on why Temple isn’t fully covered by Pennsylvania’s FOIA law should be next?

  9. What a bunch of repulsive old hacks. And to think that they control a university. Or, at least, a place that used to be a university.

  10. I will PayPal the student 6.99 for the “hallucinogenic” sub at Al’s in the basement of Johnson Hall, if it is still there. It was in 1973. Anyway, who is this third-rate self-important shit of the board of this third-rate unimportant university, which I went to, so I can say that. Good call, kid. Keep pissing people off.

  11. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Scrutiny makes an institution — whether university, Congress, or a local school board — accountable to those whom it is supposed to serve. Keep up the good work Temple News.

  12. Board of Trustees….here’s the path for you. Throw Theobald and Clark under the bus. Everybody with Temple and Philly pride wins. Only losers? Two clumsy Indiana hayseeds. Send them back to the midwest.

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