Monday, December 10, 2008
To: President Ann Weaver Hart
Re: Professor Eugene Martin
CC: University Provost Lisa Staiano-Coico, SCT Dean Concetta M. Stewart, BTTM Department Chair Jan Fernback
One of the great honors of my young life was to be named the speaker at my graduation from Temple University on May 22, 2008. My five minute speech to more than 8,000 people in the Liacouras Center focused on what became my passion while studying at the big urban research university of my dreams: community involvement.
When I first walked Diamond Street long enough to realize it doesn’t stop at 17th Street, I didn’t know Eugene Martin. When I first began to realize North Philadelphia was a complex amalgamation of nearly a dozen distinct neighborhoods, I didn’t know Eugene Martin. I started my journey beyond Temple’s Main Campus before Eugene Martin, but it was never the same after meeting him.
It is my understanding that Professor Martin’s services for the Broadcast, Telecommunications and Mass Media department of the School of Communications will not be retained for the spring semester, despite an outcry of student and faculty support. Few announcements have shook my love for and pride in a university whose founding mission – one of Russel Conwell – I believe I have based my life on for longer than I knew a word of ‘Acres of Diamonds.’
Martin is a filmmaker. Martin’s research and curriculum do not fit in BTMM. These are arguments to be made, but not ones I can answer – I do not write curriculum or make decisions on whether a professor’s research is befitting my department.
I can answer a million other questions about Professor Martin, though. Like that I took the maximum two semesters taking Martin’s Community in Media class and then fought for independent study research so I could stay under his wing. I was a political science major; attracting students to BTMM has to be an asset for the university.
Because of Martin I have been in the homes and the cars and on the basketball courts of the people who are often seen as untouchable, invisible in central North Philadelphia. Not because of hatred or even bigotry, because how do you come to know someone you can never know? Professor Martin has transcended socioeconomic canyons, bridged cultural oceans. His work is unfinished, just now growing faster still at the Village of Arts and Humanities and in other institutions around Temple’s Main Campus.
I am very young, President Hart, so forgive me for thinking Martin’s profession and curriculum seem irrelevant to the work he and his students do for this university, this community and this city.
Temple is a business, not a charity. I wrote maybe 50 columns with this same theme for The Temple News, the 86-year-old college newspaper of your university. What I came to find, though, is that educational philanthropy is one of the surest ways toward educational enlightenment.
Martin isn’t filming North Philadelphia teens for his benefit. His curriculum isn’t based on his needs. He is traipsing twice weekly five or six blocks north – where increasingly fewer Temple students understand and almost no other faculty will go – with a collection of Temple students, whose number is growing each semester. He is putting cameras and equipment, multimedia and ideas, in the hands of college students – many of whom are white and increasingly suburban – and having them show the youngest slice of Philadelphia’s other half what their world looks like through a lens.
That breaks barriers, not the least of which are in broadcast, telecommunications and mass media.
Letting Martin leave is to ignore Russel Conwell- to ignore the mission for which Temple University has come to be known. He is a Philadelphian. He is a Temple graduate, a noted and celebrated alumnus. He wants to work in communities that were supposed to have died 25 years ago. He wants to bring Temple with him.
During interviews and on applications to become commencement speaker, these are all answers that would have made me a prime candidate. To be seen as one with the Conwellian tradition. To think a professor like this will be allowed to leave, but the hundreds who do not leave their offices, who subscribe to a type of academia that will only make Temple a standard university in a questionable environment, rather than an exceptional and unique university surrounded by work that is to be done, shakes me to my core. Truly. It’s insulting to me, a recent alumnus who thought this university did take seriously its history.
I hope you can remedy this situation, through mediation, advice or counsel. I always found you to be bright and translucent in your believing in Temple’s mission. Please know there are but a handful of people in this world for whom I would write an impassioned letter on their behalf. One happens to be a professor at Temple University. I hope he can remain so.