At 64 years old, Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street has a political career older than most students at Temple. When he disclosed that he had no specific plans after office, Gov. Ed Rendell suggested he teach.
University President Ann Weaver Hart announced Nov. 8 that Street will join the political science department at Temple this spring as an adjunct professor. The 1975 alumnus of the Beasley School of Law will teach two sections of urban politics and policy, an upper level undergraduate course.
“I feel a certain loyalty to Temple,” Street said. “They gave me a chance to go to law school when I couldn’t afford to attend an elite school.”
Street will earn $30,000 for his teaching contributions in the coming semester. This number may pale in comparison to the $144,000 he currently earns as mayor, but the figure is almost four times the average salary of an adjunct political science professor at Temple. The average salary is $4,000 per class, according to Joseph McLaughlin, assistant dean in the College of Liberal Arts.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Aaron Stewart, a senior music major and the son of a Temple adjunct professor. “Two classes do not equal $30,000.”
In response to such attitudes, the mayor suggested that adjuncts are overworked and underpaid.
“I’m sure President Hart would love to give them more,” he said. “I’ll have additional duties.”
With a slight hesitation, he said, “As mayor, I’ve formed relationships with leadership in Congress which will be useful to the university.”
By attracting policy-making notables, Street’s political ties may be useful directly in the classroom as well. Every living former Philadelphia mayor will attend his classes as guest lecturers, he said. Mayor-elect Michael Nutter will also appear.
If the classroom is, in fact, a microcosm of the real world, Street will have to contend with detractors as he did in office.
But he said he doesn’t intend on devoting class time to defending his mayoral policies.
“It’s not a referendum on anything,” he said. “There’s no right or wrong in an academic setting. It’s about analysis.”
Students can anticipate commentary specifically on Philadelphia policymaking.
“A lot of scholars that study urban politics would like to be sitting in that class taking notes,” McLaughlin said.
Political science majors and non-majors alike seized the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of local political procedures. Whether they approve of him or not, there are no empty seats left in Street’s classes.
“Just because he was mayor doesn’t mean he has a pedagogy,” Stewart said. He questioned whether the mayor is qualified to teach.
For Sharif Street, the mayor’s eldest son, the answer is an emphatic yes.
“He has a deep understanding of how government works in this city tempered by very practical experience,” Sharif said.
Sharif said he believes his father, with 28 years of political tenure, will be a real asset.
“Most professors haven’t had the opportunity to apply their theory,” he said.
Sharif said the mayor’s expertise is more far-reaching than local government policy.
“Beware if you think he won’t pay attention to details – he is a former English teacher,” Sharif said. “All of his students will be good writers.”
The mayor admitted school was never easy for him – he always had to put in a lot of hours. Beyond the intricacies of local government policy, he would like to instill in his students the rewards of hard work and preparation.
Straightening his posture and leaning slightly closer, he said, “Temple students are my kind of people.”
He clarified that Temple students might not have the resources to attend the elite universities, but they have the same capacity for success through hard work.
With the lack of funding for the Philadelphia education system, some may find it ironic that the mayor has such a vested interested in education.
“People need to know how the decisions are made – why we invest in waterfronts and stadiums,” Street said.
He cited Baltimore officials’ refusal to fund a new stadium for the Colts and their subsequent relocation to Indianapolis in 1984.
“How would you like to wake up without the Phillies, Flyers, Eagles and Sixers?” Street said. He alluded to the effect their relocation would have on Philadelphia’s economy.
The mayor is currently devising an exercise that will engage his students in a similar process of making spending decisions.
“I haven’t figured it out yet,” he said.
Above all, he wants to proliferate a message in the student community.
“Your life may not change very much when presidents change office, but the nature of your community is influenced by local government,” Street said. “People take that for granted.”
The mayor will receive the same amount in retirement that he earns currently in office.
“It’s not a money thing,” Street said.
Trudy Steigerwalt can be reached at email@example.com.