The Temple News: An open letter to President Ann Weaver Hart

My final column after four years writing for The Temple News:

An open letter to President Ann Weaver Hart

By Christopher Wink | May 12, 2008 | The Temple News

I am graduating. After four years on North Broad Street – two more than you – I have plenty I want to share with you. Space is limited, so forgive my suddenness.

Throw your students into the surrounding communities.

For 45 years, this university has tried to figure out how to trick middle-class students into studying amid one of this country’s densest collections of black people, many of them poor and uneducated. So we built walls and took publicity shots facing south. We closed North Park Avenue, tried to close 13th Street and turned inward.

So, each year, a portion of accepted students confuse Temple with shootings at the Norris Apartments and confuse Philadelphia with an abandoned row home at 20th and Diamond streets.

That’s backwards. Have Provost Lisa Staiano-Coico amend our new general education requirements to involve 10-credit hours of “community education.” The engineering students can take a class on the most efficient means of backfilling condemned buildings, architecture students can figure out what’s wrong with the North Philadelphia subway stop, and students of the social sciences can work with the nonprofits that are trying to help our neighbors.

Leverage our intellectual capital and market it as the most unique academic experience in the world.

End Temple’s shuttle-industrial complex.

At a time when environmentalism is cool, Philadelphia is hot and SEPTA is actually sufficiently funded, Temple should buy in. Many Philadelphia grade school students get monthly TransPasses for free because of state funding. In Pittsburgh, college students can get free access to the city’s mass transit. Sell half your busses – sell off the rest when you solve that nagging Ambler campus problem – and buy passes to give to students. Send us into the city.
Embrace Philadelphia.

I almost gagged when I read that the Office of University Housing and Residential Life dropped all its listings, aside from a handful of private partnerships that surround this university [“Housing removes listings,” Mary Hagenbach, April 28, 2008].

There is an enormous difference between a city college and a college in a city. For much of our existence, Temple has been the first. If we keep attracting students to rowhomes around Main Campus, we’ll create another thick, invisible wall between the community and us.

Go to the 2000-block of Carlisle Street. Just four years ago, it was filled with mostly premanent residents. Now just three remain.

Give students a TransPass, a bicycle, and have the Owl Ambassadors tell parents how many Temple students live in Center City or Francisville or Mantua. Have them boast to parents how many students live in Philadelphia, not on campus.

Walk into the Howard Gittis Student Center and find room 217 on your own. If you can’t do it, then you need to get someone to renumber the rooms if it’s meant to be a center of student activity. Buy artwork from Tyler students to decorate this university. Do something about the Bell Tower – it’s embarrassingly ugly, like a monument to urban blight and the worst of 1970s architecture.

Lastly, cherish traditions. We don’t have many. Spring Fling. A men’s basketball game against Duke University.

The community, trains and Philadelphia could be others. Develop them. Nothing brings in money like tradition, a feeling of belonging and a sense of individuality. That means keeping Temple unique.

I think some of these ideas would do just that. I wish you the best of luck, President Hart.

See it here on The Temple News Web site.