Following the fatal shooting of Temple University Police Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald on Feb. 18, the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association’s 42-day strike and a potential faculty vote of no-confidence, 92 percent of students generally disapprove of Jason Wingard’s performance as Temple’s president, according to a March 2023 poll conducted by The Temple News.
The Temple News surveyed slightly more than 1,000 students from March 10-18, examining their feelings about Wingard, the university’s response to ongoing challenges and Temple’s trajectory. Students were required to have a Temple email to take the survey and were only allowed to submit one response.
All respondents were provided the option to expand on their feelings outside of the multiple choice questions and granted anonymity in order to speak candidly on their feelings about university leadership, as with all polls conducted by The Temple News during the 2022-23 academic year.
Students have voiced their opinions on Wingard’s leadership in various forums including on social media and with Student Body President Gianni Quattrocchi, who has heard their disapproval, approval and indifference of Wingard.
The Temple News reached out to Wingard for comment, but instead Deirdre Childress Hopkins and Stephen Orbanek, university spokespersons, issued a statement on behalf of Temple.
“We respect the goals of our student news leaders to capture the sentiment of their peers and understand the concerns that were raised by some in the survey,” Childress Hopkins wrote. “We are committed to listening and better incorporating student voices as we continue to implement solutions to the issues facing our campus.”
When choosing between safety, the TUGSA strike and affordability as options, 75 percent of students surveyed identified safety as the biggest issue at Temple. Fifty-eight percent believed it was the most important topic to them.
In 2022, there were more than 10,300 crime incidents in Police District 22, which encompasses Main Campus, according to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
After the fatal shooting of a Temple student in November 2021, Wingard committed to increasing campus safety’s force by 50 percent. More than a year later, that goal has not yet been reached because Temple is struggling to find qualified officers or people who want to work in the field amid national challenges in police hiring.
On March 17, Temple added eight new officers after the Philadelphia Police Academy’s graduation ceremony at McGonigle Hall.
Although the university cannot always control incidents near Main Campus, they can control their communication about crime with students, said Eryal Szyszko, the Temple Student Government presidential candidate for Innovate TU.
“I think our school is trying to protect some kind of image of, I guess just kind of being afraid of how they’re going to be perceived with the rising crime,” Szyszko said.
Temple is improving safety communication by creating a Campus Safety Media webpage to post updates for media consumption.
Almost 19 percent of respondents also cited the TUGSA strike as the university’s biggest issue, while affordability received 6.3 percent of students’ votes. In addition, around 26 percent felt education quality was most important to them and 15.5 percent said affordability.
In August 2022, Wingard published “The College Devaluation Crisis,” a book which examines the declining value of a college degree.
“The value of the college degree, in my estimation, has reached its peak and is on the wane, thanks to a host of factors stretching from cost and affordability to curriculum relevance to rapidly evolving skill needs to advances in automation and technology—and including the disruption in the workforce due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wingard wrote in his preface.
At his inauguration in September, Wingard discussed five pillars for increasing the value of Temple’s education — “access, educational value, thought leadership, community engagement and reputational excellence.”
“Education should be our number one priority as a university but honestly, it’s not,” said Alexis Carter-Steward, president of Temple’s Progressive NAACP. “Our number one priority right now is safety. And the numbers are going to continue to drop within the university if President Wingard cannot grasp what truly matters, which is honestly our safety at this point.”
Despite his planned move to North Central, his large social media presence, which includes his #WingardOwlProwl, some feel Wingard is inaccessible.
“I feel like Wingard is all about appearances and not about actual substance,” wrote an anonymous student who responded to the survey. “It feels like he’s running Temple like a company with students and their education being akin to a product he’s trying to sell rather than what it actually is – a place of learning with real human beings.”
Ray Epstein, president of Student Activists Against Sexual Assault, believes her organization’s mission as a resource for sexual assault awareness and survivors should incentivize Wingard to reach out.
“I feel like we know probably better than anyone the prevalence of sexual assault on this campus because people confide and I feel like that should be incentive to reach out and communicate with us and we should definitely be able to talk to him and I feel like he’s this unobtainable person, he’s more of a concept to me, because I have never gotten to interact with him, and he’s unreachable,” said Epstein, who is running for vice president of Innovate TU.
However, Quattrocchi claims Wingard has made his office very accessible to him. TSG and Wingard have formal meetings throughout the semester, along with other initiatives they collaborate on, like TSG’s campus safety town hall, Quattrocchi added.
Additionally, roughly 92 percent of student respondents do not believe Wingard is relatable to students.
“A lot of Temple students and Wingard are from very different paths in life, so we can see that he is more affluent than compared to the Temple community,” said Rohan Khadka, the TSG presidential candidate for Empower Owls.
Wingard should reach out to students on Main Campus, Khadka said.
“Maybe [Wingard] can go to orgs and ask, ‘What do you need? I’m here to help, how can I help you?’ Rather than ‘Hey, would you like to take a picture with me then move on?’” Khadka said.
Prior to his academic leadership positions, Wingard served as managing director and chief learning officer at Goldman Sachs, and in multiple cross-functional executive and consulting roles for organizations like the Aspen Institute and the Vanguard Group.
“Jason Wingard should not be in an education administration position,” wrote an anonymous student who responded to the survey. “He has the same vibe as a businessman who becomes a politician because he thinks his success in business will carry over into all leadership roles.”
When examining the nearly 10 percent national decline in student enrollment, Wingard compared it to a company losing profit.
“Imagine if a company lost nearly 10 percent of its profits in two years,” Wingard wrote for Inside Higher Ed. “The situation would be catastrophic. Drastic changes would be expected. We have lost nearly 10 percent of our students, but where is our sense of urgency? What will it take for us to recognize that the status quo is not working?”
When asked whether they felt Temple was heading in a positive direction about 92 percent of respondents feel it is not.
If elected as TSG president, Szyszko would aim to hold the university accountable to ensure students’ concerns are heard.
“I think students should be getting a newsletter every month or maybe two times a month about what’s going on with the crime trends we have, the resources that they can use,” Szyszko said. “I think there is just a lot to be talked about that hasn’t been talked about. It’s just been kind of radio silence.”
If students have concerns about administration, TSG hosts biweekly town halls and is open to their feedback, Quattrocchi said.
“I believe in feedback and like if a student wants to say ‘I want to see more of this, or less of this,’ I am, as the representative of the student body, I’m comfortable bringing those concerns to the administration,” Quattrocchi said.