I want to like Visualize Temple. I really do. I’m a big fan of governmental and institutional transparency, and in its most basic form, Visualize Temple allows me the freedom to relate my deepest, darkest Temple-related desires to President Theobald and his cohorts online, in real time. If I want a rotating cage filled with the cast of “Just Shoot Me” in Hooter masks to replace the stone monument at the Alumni Circle, Visualize Temple allows me to exercise my God-given First Amendment rights to demand so via a public internet forum. It even gives me the tools to organize myself a fervent support network. Yet, while I’m proud to say that I attend a university with the audacity to give students a direct line to the folks in charge of budgeting and coordinating paint swatches, I’m just afraid that said line may be going directly to voicemail.
For those not in the know, Visualize Temple represents the next phase in Temple’s “20/20 Plan,” a renovation program initiated in 2009 that has brought Main Campus students a refurbished Pearson & McGonigle sports complex, an arrogantly large dorm for upperclassmen in Morgan Hall, a brand-new architecture building and shockingly less coordination with Justin Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience” tour than we were all crossing our fingers for.
With the exception the new library, now planned for the East of Campus, all of the projects formally planned during the 20/20 era will come to an end when the new Science and Technology Building is opened next year. Many more projects never even left the original mockups for a futurist Temple: including a new building adjacent to Weiss Hall, a redesign of Ritter Hall, and a Morgan Hall look-alike on campus’ north end. Despite the looming end of the plan’s construction projects, Main Campus is about as close to being finished as an adolescent harp seal is close to playing Princess Diana in a feature film, so Temple’s brass has chosen to take to the streets and glean some advice from its student body before setting forth on yet another leg of necessary rebuilding and renovation.
This is where Visualize Temple comes in. Students may post any suggestion their heart may so desire on the site. From there, students may give said suggestion a rating ranging from zero to three stars, as well as comment on said proposals with a glaring disregard for grammar. “Ideas” are then sorted by rating and comment popularity.
And then not much else seems to happen after that.
For Visualize Temple to truly be considered a success, Temple’s Board of Directors must actually listen to our input as students and act on it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been burned before, or perhaps it’s the looming impossibility of actually moving forward with some of the highest-ranking proposals on the website, but the goals of the Visualize Temple initiative strike me as too lofty to complete in any sort of practical fashion and too easy to skirt around when the time comes to actually commit to any sort of plan for construction or overhaul.
Temple’s Directors have absolutely zero commitment to follow through with any of the initiatives put in motion by the Visualize Temple project. Nada. President Theobald can just as easily sign off to turn the Liacouras Walk into the Mid-Atlantic’s largest freshwater crocodile sanctuary without reading a single proposal on the site. No person or idea “wins” anything from Visualize Temple in any fashion at all. Temple retains strict control over what it may change going forward, and will not be locked into any sort of “deal” at the end of Visualize Temple’s existence. Time will tell if students have been granted entry as peers into a larger community of decision-makers at the university, or if we are merely lame-duck royal advisors, whispering suggestions into the ear of a petulant boy-king who planned on throwing our advice out the window from the minute he asked for our opinion anyhow.
If you feel like you’ve seen an initiative like Visualize Temple fail once already, it’s because you have. Nary a year and half ago, the White House website began accepting civilian petitions for its “We The People” initiative, which seemed at the time to be a stunning move toward transparency and responsibility from a government that had shown little of either in about a century. Petitions with over 25,000 signatures were “guaranteed” to be read by a person of note, and the Internet was ablaze overnight with proposals for drug policy reform, stricter gun control laws and naming R.Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” the new national anthem of the United States of America. And yet time passed, zero petitions actually brought about policy change, and the single most noteworthy news story to come from the entire project was that the White House took the time to officially shoot down the hopes that the US would one day build a functional Death Star. The entire project was seemingly all for show.
In light of all of this, I will maintain that Temple students truly do know what is best for them, and that the proposals listed on the website themselves have me painfully excited. The most popular suggestion on the site at this very moment is merely to “Keep Temple Affordable,” a concept that many of my acquaintances would argue already flew out of the window a decade ago, but I’d absolutely love for the university to commit to affordable education for all and am ecstatic that students have the power to demand this from their college. Multiple ideas also call for building or buying a massive performing arts venue in Center City and turning many of our less-utilized parking lots into functional green spaces, ideas that I am entirely behind. While I’m holding out that our ever-persistent hope for a campus Wawa may finally see the light of day, I have a sneaking suspicion that it may ultimately become our very own Death Star. All of this is irrelevant if those in charge of the university aren’t bound to actually listen to a single word we say.
You can ask your parents for a Mustang until you’re blue in the face. It never matters until they go through with it anyway.
Jerry Iannelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jerryiannelli.