The first day of the Fall 1990 semester was scheduled to be Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day – but classrooms remained empty.
Instead of going to classes throughout the first month of the semester, many students wore T-shirts that read “I have no class” and chanted “Peter, Peter, tuition eater” in response to then-President Peter Liacouras’ refusal to budge in negotiating Temple Association of University Professionals’ contract.
TAUP had been pressuring Liacouras and the rest of the administration to rethink its offer of a 13.2 percent salary increase over two years and a health care package that would have required faculty members to contribute $260 per year in co-payments.
After weeks of negotiating in circles, the faculty voted to reject the administration’s final offer on Aug. 30 and took to the picket lines along Broad Street at 7 a.m. the following Tuesday, leaflets in hand.
“They threatened to shut the university down for the semester, and they cut off our health benefits,” said Art Hochner, president and chief negotiator of TAUP, which represented 1,100 faculty members at the time of the strike. “They were really playing hardball – but so were we.”
Though Hochner said tensions have eased between the negotiators and the dust has since settled, it was not without a price.
More than 3,500 students withdrew from the university during and after the strike, which began exactly 20 years ago this week and lasted for 29 days.
James Hilty, a professor of history and author of “Temple University: 125 Years of Service to Philadelphia, the Nation and the World,” said the strike cost Temple more than $12.5 million, and enrollment numbers did not recover until the 1999-2000 academic year.
“It’s never been about ‘them’ versus ‘us,’” Liacouras told The Temple News earlier this week. “Temple has come a long way – and for the good – since that unfortunate chapter in our glorious history.”
In the Emergency Strike Edition of The Temple News on Sept. 14, 1990, Liacouras, who currently serves as a university chancellor, was quoted as saying: “Do the students really think I’m going to give into pressure? You can put a gun to my head, and if I still believe my principles are straight, then pull the trigger.”
While mainstream media often portrayed the struggle between administrators and faculty as one about co-pays and salaries, Carolyn Adams, a professor of geography and urban studies, said the faculty’s hard feelings were rooted much deeper.
“In reality, [the strike] was about what faculty members saw as a paternalistic style of administration,” Adams said. “Many faculty members openly said they hoped by striking to force the president’s resignation.
“Many professors thought the president was disrespectful of the faculty, [making] decisions affecting the academic programs without faculty input, [elevating] real estate development and athletics above academics.”
Interim Senior Vice President and Provost Richard Englert, who served as the dean of the College of Education during the strike, said distrust played a major role on both sides of the playing field.
“Some faculty members on the picket lines were angry with other faculty members who crossed those lines to teach,” Englert said. “Many of those hard feelings lingered past the strike.”
Members of TAUP held several meetings in the auditorium of the Berean Presbyterian Church located at the corner of Broad and Diamond streets, to discuss protest tactics and informally vote on the union’s next actions.
“There was a good sense of solidarity and excitement at the time,” said James Korsh, a professor of computer and information science.
Throughout most of the 29 days, the feuding parties remained in an almost-constant deadlock, at one point spending 17 hours in negotiations that resulted in no agreement.
“Frankly, President Liacouras was not very popular among the faculty,” Hochner said. “He just wouldn’t back down.”
While TAUP and faculty members continued to lobby for respect and contract reform, students took their education into their own hands.
On Sept. 13, members of the groups Students in Solidarity with University Professionals and Students United for Education marched from the Bell Tower to Liacouras’ office in Sullivan Hall, where they staged a peaceful sit-in and refused to budge until classes resumed.
“It’s just a fact that students tend to feel close to the faculty, because they see us every day,” Hochner said. “They don’t feel close to the administration because of the hassles with financial aid [and] registration. But it was a very confusing situation.”
Faculty members united with student protesters on Sept. 24 for a demonstration that would lead to the arrest of 26 students for obstructing traffic at the intersection of Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. The student protests became a daily ritual during the strike’s duration, often beginning at the Bell Tower and migrating to Broad Street.
Students without the patience or the funds to remain at Temple sought a degree elsewhere. During the strike, enrollment took the biggest blow in 20 years – a 10.8 percent drop overall.
Adams said the students who suffered most during the strike were members of the Graduate Student Employees Association, who were forced to cross the picket lines to adhere to their teaching responsibilities.
“It was painful to watch,” Adams said. “Some graduate students agonized about whether to risk having the administration terminate their financial aid or to risk having their faculty mentors turn against them.”
During one protest, seven GSEA members and one undergraduate student were charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after pounding on Temple Police vans and shouting “Shame, shame,” in front of Sullivan Hall.
But Englert said it was the students’ well-being administration had in mind all along.
“As an administrator, my prime concern was to ensure our students received the education and services they were entitled, and that a fair settlement be reached in the best interests of the entire university family,” he said.
AN UNSATISFYING ENDING
On what would have been the 30th day of the strike, Oct. 3, faculty members returned back to work by 8 a.m. – but begrudgingly so.
The university had asked the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on Sept. 26 for a preliminary injunction to order faculty members back to work, claiming the strike created a “clear and present danger or threat to the health, safety or welfare of Temple University and the public.”
Hochner called the administration’s contention of clear and present danger “nonsense” in the Sept. 27, 1990 issue of The Temple News.
In a courtroom packed to capacity with about 130 faculty, students and administrators, Judge Samuel J. Lehrer read his decision for TAUP and administrators to return to work and resume negotiations.
Englert said he was one of the administrators who testified on behalf of the university “to document the irreparable harm that would have come from a lengthy strike.” He said a long disruption would have damaged the students’ academic plans.
Adams said professors were able to make up the missed time during Winter Break, so most students finished their Fall 1990 courses in time to start the Spring 1991 semester as scheduled.
Members of TAUP agreed, by a slim margin – 200-199 votes, to return back to work.
The agreement was not settled until after 14 hours of negotiations on Feb. 4, 1991. The new contract included a 5 percent across-the-board salary increase for three years, with an additional 1 percent in the fourth year and 2 percent in the fifth.
“When we went back to the classroom, a lot of faculty went back very angry, and they let the students know,” Hochner said. “My aim was not to personalize it, because we had to live with each other after it was over.”
Hochner said he recently bumped into Liacouras on, coincidentally, Liacouras Walk and said their conversation was a friendly one.
“During all relevant times, I considered Art Hochner and his colleagues to be honorable leaders sincerely pursuing their agendas,” Liacouras said. “Still do.”
Maria Zankey can be reached at email@example.com.