Here are a few things to chew on: I chose to go to Temple and am proud of it. Temple is home to some of the finest faculty in the country. We have award winning liberal arts and communications schools and professional schools with international reputations (Surprised to find out that U.S. News and World Report gave us the award for best trial advocacy program at a law school? Thought so). To top things off, Temple is smack in the middle of one of the greatest cities in the world.
But here in Philadelphia, Temple is treated like nothing so much as the red-haired stepchild of the city. UPenn is the one known for its faculty. Drexel is the one known for classroom size. Even lowly Villanova, exiled to the boondocks of deepest City Avenue, is known for attracting better guest speakers.
We are not talking about party scenes, frats or even what the campuses look like. We’re talking about academics, pure and simple. We’re talking about the fact that more than one person has called us a glorified community college. That the city government toots the horn of two certain West Philly schools while pretending Temple doesn’t even exist. That suburban Philadelphians expend their energies on sending their best and brightest to Penn, Drexel and St. Joe’s while leaving Temple for the fallback list.
I transferred to Temple in 2001 from the City University of New York system. Budget cuts, the insanely high NYC cost of living and general disenchantment with their journalism program meant finding a new place to go to school. In the end, I was accepted to five other schools, some with much better reputations in Philadelphia than Temple.
But I chose to go here. My professors spoke of Temple in the same breath as NYU, Northeastern University and Penn State. Neighbors who found out I was applying mentioned how many doctors or lawyers they knew who went through their graduate schools. Even friends of mine from high school who are now stranded in California said good things about it.
Yet here in Philadelphia, we’re the butt of jokes and the school nobody wants to apply to. It’s all because of that uniquely Philadelphian curse, the mix of racial, class and geographic tension that this city plays like a violin.
Temple has three strikes against it: It’s a public university in North Philadelphia with a diverse student body. In a city like Philadelphia where even a mayoral election cannot avoid ending up in race-baiting and innuendo, it is bad news.
Unfortunately, some parents are scared to send their children to a university in a struggling, yet expanding, working-class neighborhood.
Others feel nervous about the idea of a school with a student body mixed in ethnicities and backgrounds. And everyone, white or black, rich or poor, wants the cachet of attending a private college, with all the status and assumptions that come along with being a Penn or Drexel kid.
That’s how we got stuck with this reputation. Through endless assumptions about the character of the school, endless guesses that being in North Philly means inferiority or that because many of us were products of Philadelphia public schools, Temple students cannot handle the work, we have ended up in a rut.
Yet, I don’t see Temple doing enough to fight back for the reputation it richly deserves. For every joke about Temple students or Delaware County parent who panics at the idea of visiting a university in North Philadelphia with their child, Temple just remains silent. There is no boasting about the awards won, about the faculty receiving accolades in the national press, nothing about the quality of Temple’s upper-level classes. Instead we have $15 million of our tuition money wasted on having our football team play in luxurious Lincoln Financial Field and endless television commercials that do nothing but play a catchy jingle.
Temple’s administration seems perfectly happy to be the red-haired
stepchild, and that’s the real shame.
Neal Ungerleider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.