Iannelli: Temple’s towering new Fortress of Solitude

The largest dormitory in Main Campus history opened last week. But is it designed to keep riff-raff in, rather than out?

jerry iannelli

jerry iannelli“Do you know why we built Morgan Hall, Jerry?” Ray Betzner, Assistant Vice President of University Communications, asked me during a phone conversation on Aug. 15.

“Not particularly,” I responded.

“It’s because we received an overwhelming response from local residents stating that they don’t want more students moving into their community.”

That should tell you all that you need to know about the monolithic new skyscraper dominating the skyline of Main Campus, as well as why the Temple Made campaign seems to be imploring students to act like “Good Neighbors” all of a sudden, rather than second-string mascots for our football team.

In case you don’t live near a window, the largest dormitory in the history of Main Campus opened this August in the form of Morgan Hall, named so after a generous $5 million donation from Mitchell and Hilarie Morgan, real estate developers based in King of Prussia. Mitchell Morgan holds degrees from both the Fox School of Business and the Beasley School of Law, and spends much of his time nowadays acting as the chairman of the Temple Board of Trustees’ facilities committee.

Conceived during former Owl-in-Chief Ann Weaver Hart’s administration, Morgan Hall boasts 33 floors of living space and 1,275 student beds. It is unquestionably the tallest building on Main Campus and is easily viewable from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. In a section of Philadelphia where buildings rarely clear five stories, it dominates the North Philly skyline in the same way that the Burj Khalifa makes every other building in Dubai look like a hobbit hole.

Despite advertising in brochures that the building is “the opposite of an ivory tower,” Morgan Hall is much closer to a collegiate Fortress of Solitude than the university may care to admit. Morgan residents are encouraged to utilize the building’s 30,000 square-foot outdoor terrace, eat their meals within the confines of the adjoining cafeteria and use the newly-renovated Cecil B. Moore transportation hub to explore anywhere in the city that doesn’t immediately border Main Campus. Even the courtyard connecting the two buildings is raised a full story above street level. The complex is essentially a self-containing terrarium where students are only compelled to leave if their journey requires a train ride.

In essence, the university is forced to build “up” because the surrounding community no longer wants it building “out,” and for good reason. Raising a family sandwiched between row homes full of Temple students is often a nightmare. We stock our basements with drum sets and subwoofers and get offended if we aren’t allowed to blast music at 3 a.m. We get angry when residents alert the police that our best friends are wrestling shirtless on our living room coffee tables.

At the same time that construction workers are polishing the stainless steel countertops in Morgan Hall’s basement cafeteria, school employees are stringing banners across buildings around Main Campus advertising the university’s “Good Neighbor Initiative,” demanding that students “Respect The Block” and stop using local residents’ lawns as tiny landfills for rear-projection televisions and beef jerky wrappers. The policy, issued in 2011 by the Division of Student Affairs, has been deemed so important that it’s being integrated into the university’s Temple Made campaign for the 2013-2014 academic year.

The policy’s main statement of purpose is that “Students and student organizations are expected to maintain a safe, clean and respectable environment for the health and wellbeing of themselves and their organization members, guests and neighbors.” It goes on to delineate that students should responsibly dispose of waste, refrain from damaging the property of neighbors and act as conscientious party hosts.

Anyone that’s taken a stroll down Park Avenue on a Friday night knows that students aren’t upholding their end of the bargain. No one understands this more than the local residents forced to sweep broken glass off of their sidewalks every Sunday after the events of the weekend cease, and the university receives phone calls on a near-daily basis discussing student-neighbor relations, said Betzner.

Complaints about the actions of students are warranted, and unless we all begin acting like the areas surrounding the Temple community are residential neighborhoods – and not hotel bars at off-strip Las Vegas casinos- the confines of Main Campus may quickly begin to look more like Hong Kong than Philadelphia.

If it represents anything, the constant sight of Morgan Hall towering over Main Campus serves as a daily reminder that those living the “collegiate lifestyle” mesh well with absolutely no one except themselves.

Jerry Iannelli can be reached at jerryi@temple.edu or on Twitter @jerryiannelli.

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