Among the slew of blindly-ignored listserv emails from Temple advising, Temple Student Government or any Main Campus-related authority, a dry, unprovocative memo found itself in my inbox late Monday morning, Nov. 14. Though it was already nearing noon, the email reluctantly extended an invitation to meet with Witt/Kieffer, “the search firm engaged by the university to assist in the selection of the next president of Temple,” in order that I, along with “representative groups of students, faculty and staff,” might help to inform these “search consultants” of “the opportunities and challenges the president will need to address in the next few years.”
All euphemisms aside, here’s the reality: Despite the university’s recent fiscal pressures, department closings and a growing, omnipresent distrust of Temple administration, a private contractor is being hired–at no small cost, might I add–to find a suitable replacement for outbound president, Ann Weaver Hart.
Not only do the piney hairs on my neck jump at the thought of importing yet another $532,000 idealistic figurehead with a background in commercial management, but the hiring of Witt/Kieffer sends an offensive, antagonistic message to the faculty and students of Temple, who are more than capable of finding an appropriate, emphatic representative of both Temple and Philadelphia interests on their own.
Though Witt/Kieffer has apparently been used in the past within Temple, even Hart seems delightfully aloof to any inherent contradictions in using external resources to fill a leadership position.
“In higher education, it is a custom–unlike in major corporations–for faculty, staff, students and primarily trustees to be solely responsible for the selection of the new president,” Hart said Oct. 11 to The Temple News in an article, “President Hart discusses financial aid, neighborhoods.”
Clearly there is some communicative disconnect within the Office of the President.
Others around Main Campus are questioning the very function of the president, during a period of severe dissatisfaction within both the faculty and student body.
Dr. Joseph Schwartz, a senior professor in the political science department, said that Temple, “should consider both internal and external candidates, but only those who believe in working closely with our first-rate faculty and in putting first the needs of our student body.”
Thus, Schwartz said the president should exist solely as a support for academic pursuits by “focusing on raising money,” and not “rely[ing] on exploited part-time faculty labor.”
In the past, effective executive leadership certainly stabilized Temple operations during times of fiscal crisis. However, beginning with Marvin Wachman’s term (1973-1982) this “bottom-line” attitude changed Temple into an institution that seldom supports academic programming or fair labor practices. Instead of pretending toward any sense of affinity with the faculty, the Office of the President seems keener on gawking at profit levels and clearing space for more dormitories.
On the other hand, perhaps my criticisms are too harsh. As Schwartz said, “we all should unite [students, faculty, and administrators] to fight against cut backs from Harrisburg…so as to enhance revenue during a recession.”
On paper, this mutual-interested union certainly sounds feasible, and came close to making a difference during the spring. In addition, a survey is available for any participant to voice their expectations and concerns in the search for a new president.
However, as with the aforementioned listserv email, awareness remains staggeringly low. Many students, like senior French major Matthew Francis, believed that the leadership change would be resolved wholly within the university.
“It’s just absurd that even more of Temple’s administrative budget is being funneled into an unreasonably expensive job title,” Francis said.
After filling out the survey, Francis still feels that preoccupied students and faculty are being ostracized by the search committee, rather than their own apathy.
Meanwhile faculty who feel the most passionately about the search, like Schwartz, are represented by a severe unbalanced minority in the search committee.
“All teaching personnel should have good wages, benefits, and humane working conditions–and right now, adjuncts, teaching assistants and non-tenure track faculty are exploited, to one degree or another,” Schwartz said.
So while the faculty and professional students insist that a great university “is not a private corporation,” and should be characterized by “research-active faculty who are also committed to educating students to become…engaged and informed citizens who think critically,” Schwartz said, the employment of Witt/Kieffer has negated any claims to university-wide representation made by the Presidential Search Committee.
Joel Faltermayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.