Kenneth Ryesky
Kenneth Ryesky

The Disgraceful Decline of Temple University

I attained my undergraduate degree and my law degree at Temple University in Philadelphia, and take pride in having done so.

In giving an alumnus’s perspective at various Temple University recruitment events, I have proudly related to prospective students and their parents examples of Temple University’s often “behind the scenes” connection to diverse events and institutions, including but not limited to the Philadelphia Zoo, the United States Congress, the National Bureau of Investigation of India, and the Department of Accounting & Information Systems at Queens College CUNY (where I taught Business Law courses and Taxation courses for more than twenty years).

It was with my head held up high that I recounted many of Temple’s noble achievements and innovations back to its establishment.  These included the fact that Temple University’s library (where I had an on-campus job shelving books during my undergraduate years) was already providing materials for visually-impaired users even before the Rehabilitation Act in 1973 required it of colleges that received funding from the United States government.

It is a source of pride for me, as a graduate of Temple’s School of Law, that the Law School developed a program of discretionary admissions which gives serious consideration to applicants who otherwise might not be accepted under the standard criteria of LSAT test scores and undergraduate grade point average, but who exhibit potential to excel as lawyers.  I am not ashamed to say that I was among the approximately 25% of the students in my class who were admitted under this special consideration, and neither am I ashamed to say that other law schools have used Temple’s discretionary admissions program as a model for their own.

But the Temple University in which I take great pride does not now exist!  The institution in Philadelphia that calls itself Temple University is not the Temple University I know.

Temple University is rooted in Russell H. Conwell’s original venture to train Baptist ministers; Conwell quickly expanded his vision to encompass diverse types of education for diverse groups of people, and in 1888, Temple College of Philadephia was officially chartered, attaining status as a university in 1907.  Temple became an obvious natural magnet for Philadelphia’s growing Jewish community as many Jewish immigrants from Europe settled in Philadelphia and raised families; the school stood in contradistinction to the University of Pennsylvania, where prospects for Jewish students were impeded by de facto (if not deliberate) numerus clausus policies placing limits on the numbers of Jewish students who could be admitted.  Early on, Temple thus became a favorite among Philadelphia’s Jewish community, and Jewish communities beyond.

Conwell’s ideal of inclusiveness for the greater communal good made Temple University a culturally-diverse place.  I have always considered Temple’s diversity to be one of its greatest strengths.  Having taught at Queens College CUNY (whose cultural diversity is in the league of the Temple University I knew) and having done a stint teaching at Yeshiva University, I have experienced the difference between cultural diversity and cultural homogeneity.  A culturally-diverse university provides certain advantages which an insular school cannot. In the “real world” after college, a culturally diverse large business can relate to a larger customer base, with obvious implications for commercial viability.

But whether at a school, a large business enterprise, or a governmental agency, diversity requires proactive management in maintaining an organizational norm of accepting the fact that people of differing cultural backgrounds will not view everything in the same light, and in promoting everyone’s respect for if not acquiescence in diverse opinions and attitudes.  Successful diversity management includes fair and orderly methods and procedures for coming to a modus vivendi with the inevitable disputes that will arise if the disputes cannot be resolved; this means that the leadership ensures that everyone is treated fairly and given a safe environment free of any official condoning (let alone instigation) of threats to any particular religious or ethnic group.  This was the usual case at the Temple University I know.

Conwell’s ingrained thirsty quest for knowledge caused Temple to excel as an intellectual powerhouse.  When I moved away from the Philadelphia area to the New York metropolitan area I found that the school which was reputed in Philadelphia as a diploma factory actually carried a highly respected name in diverse professional fields; in the field of law there are many Temple-educated lawyers, myself included, who have prevailed in litigating against accomplished and respected adversaries who hold degrees from much-vaunted Ivy League law schools.  Of my Temple Law School classmates, ten were New York residents (including one who is now a judge); others came to Philadelphia from places such as Florida, California, Connecticut, Maryland, and North Carolina.

In the years following my graduation from Temple Law School, however, Temple University’s diversity management has deteriorated, to the detriment of its Jewish community.  Within the past few days, ZOA President Morton Klein, my fellow two-time Temple alumnus, has expressed and subsequently amplified profound concern over the appointment of Jason Wingard as President of Temple University on account of his chairmanship of the Tides Foundation, an organization that supports enemies of the Jews and of Israel.

Dr. Wingard’s accession to the President’s office suite in Sullivan Hall does not occur on a clean slate.  In 2014, there was a physical attack on a Jewish student at what should have been just another peaceful (if animated) verbal exchange at one of the familiar student organization information tables on campus.  Peaceable information table discussions, which can and do get loud and even angry, are a long standing tradition at Temple, and are an integral part of how Temple University manages its diversity, but the 2014 incident crossed a red line when it turned physically violent.

More recently, Temple faculty member Marc Lamont Hill drew glacial attention for his use of the “From the River to the Sea” phrase, a slogan which in history’s context advocates the extermination of the Jews in Israel.  In an era where the display of the Confederate States of America battle flag (or even whistling “Dixie”) is considered a grievous affront by Hill’s and Wingard’s own people, the “From the River to the Sea” phrase should be all the more alarming to the Jewish people because it is a present real-time threat to Jews all over the world, and not merely an historical artifact from America’s bygone era of slavery.  The other recent controversial entanglements of Temple’s Board do not alter the situation except to make it more grave.

Under the circumstances, seating Wingard in the Temple University President’s chair is inappropriate, and poses risks to the University’s continued viability. As mentioned, the Jewish community has long connected with Temple University and its members have been a significant component of its donorship; this is reflected in buildings on campus with names such as Tuttleman, Paley, Gittis, Annenberg, Shusterman, and Klein (Query: Where is the indignation over Wingard from the donors and/or their descendants?).  Wingard’s political baggage runs the risk of politicizing a large chunk of Temple’s support-paying constituency.

Temple University is officially “an instrumentality” of Pennsylvania’s higher education system, so any further hostility on campus under Wingard’s watch towards Jewish students or faculty may well drag the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in as a party to unwanted litigation.

And neither is the ADL’s optimism about Wingard as President of Temple University encouraging.  It is the colleges and universities that are the primary incubators of anti-Semitism in America, and Wingard’s statements differ little from the usual palabra of college administrators regarding the atmospheres of recurring anti-Semitism on their campuses.  Indeed, as thugs attack Jews, with impunity, on the streets of New York, even Yeshiva University’s own law school is now so tone-deaf that it has directed its focus towards “critical race theory” and “microaggressions.”  Temple cannot continue in a “business as usual” mode while Wingard remains in the President’s Suite.

Wingard’s non-apology apology as reported a few days ago in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent disclaims all responsibility for the Tides Foundation’s support of anti-Semitic organizations, and does not address what if anything Wingard plans to do about the hostilities those organizations harbor towards Israel and towards Jews in general.  This does not bode well for the Jewish people at Temple.

Organizations that have strayed from the intent of their missions can be reset to their proper bearings.  For the Bishop Estate in Hawaii and Adelphi University in New York, such course corrections were compelled by the governmental regulatory agencies.  In 2000, when I was teaching at Queens College CUNY, Queens College President Allan Lee Sessoms was compelled to resign his position by the CUNY Board on account of some major misrepresentations he had made regarding financial matters.

But Temple University does not need to go all the way to Hawaii or New York to find precedent to remove Wingard because in 2016, the Temple University Board itself forced the removal of then-President Neil Theobald from his position.

As a proud Temple alumnus, I do fantasize that my Temple University can be brought back into existence.  As a practical matter, though, the prospects of that occurring are quite slim if they exist at all.  I hope that Temple’s board can prove me wrong on that latter point.

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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