Temple has turned to corporate methods to run the university, control costs and manage hiring practices.
I’ve had professors who talk about their personal lives. I’ve had professors who talk about their family. But lately, faculty around me are responding to the recent politics of higher education in a way that makes the phrase “budget cuts” seem like a bureaucratic euphemism for genocide. Outside of the classroom, both tenured and non-tenured faculty alike, express forlorn dismay at Temple’s visible trends toward privatization.
“Given the overall situation and Temple’s past history of dealing with its faculty, I couldn’t be more surprised,” tenured English professor Dan O’Hara said. “Just when you thought Temple couldn’t sink any lower, there it goes falling through another hole it has dug itself.”
At the heart of this debate, Temple’s corporate-like hiring policies have created an inherent conflict of interest between tenured professors and their fellow contract-based colleagues.
In an effort to maintain a “commitment to recruiting, retaining and supporting outstanding faculty,” Temple has gradually relied more on contingent, part-time, often semester-to-semester-based adjunct professors and graduate students.
When O’Hara arrived at Temple’s English department in 1979, 104 tenure-track professors taught roughly the same number of students and English majors, as they do now. Today, O’Hara said he can barely count 35.
“Meanwhile, the general financial situation is used as an excuse to keep cutting their number with the result that the graduate program is teetering on the knife-edge of oblivion,” O’Hara said.
So does it matter who picks up the slack?
“Students are unaware of faculty dynamics,” tenured history professor David Waldstreicher said. “When non-tenure track professors who are already teaching heavier loads are not being treated well by the institution, quality is affected. Teachers simply become ‘service providers’ to both students and administration alike.”
Though Temple has always relied on so-called “disposable” professors as a way of controlling cost, the professors’ positions become particularly strained in times of fiscal strife. They are the first line of defense during a hiring freeze, often being sacrificed over nonessential administrative positions.
Somehow, Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Anthony Wagner and his cronies have managed to hire an outside consultant to help reduce such inefficiencies.
“The last option we are likely to hear is … to stop hiring new administrators,” Waldstreicher said.
Though Temple law professor Dr. Marina Angel sees the possibility of privatization less explicitly now than when she first uncovered the fiscal fallacies in administrative management, Waldstreicher said he realizes what a bittersweet tool budget cuts can be.
“I think they’re asking themselves, ‘how can we make lemons into lemonade?’” Waldstreicher said.
Luckily for administration, the majority of non-tenure track professors are able to be cut at the drop of a dime, while an outside consultant must be hired to tell us that “supporting outstanding faculty” costs money. Perhaps, instead of cutting the bulk of our teaching staff, Temple should reconsider hiring a university architect at a time when the institution can’t even support its own “Acre of Diamonds” rhetoric, let alone build.
“For the administration, it’s all about outside appearances,” Waldstreicher said.
After all, what’s more important: making the campus appear hip and edgy to the parents of prospective students, or providing an education that’s not founded upon disgruntled instructors and consumer aesthetics?
No one can claim tenure professors are inherently more valuable than adjuncts or vice versa. But budget cuts and outside consultants have pitted tenure and non-tenure track professors against each other when they should be banding together in unison.
A statement from the Temple Association of University Professionals Listserv confirms earlier hesitations: “The most distressing thing about Temple is the climate of fear that hovers over the faculty like a dark cloud. There are folks here who are actually afraid to speak their minds because they have seen colleagues punished in a variety of ways for doing so.”
While stable contracts allow some tenured professors like O’Hara and Waldstreicher to speak out in defense of manhandled faculty, less-established instructors jump through hoops to anonymously voice their impressions about this clash of interests. This “cloud of fear,” which is a direct effect of corporate trends in administration, erupts into trans-faculty antagonism.
Joel Faltermayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.