Temple University: We create your desires. You create our needs.

According to the November 1996 issue of Temple Times, the president of Temple University, Peter J. Liacouras wrote in a message to the university community that his number one priority was to,

Demonstrate a coherent, honest, aggressive and meaningful presentation of Temple to the many audiences served by the University. Temple is under-appreciated and therefore under-valued because of confused public perceptions [author's italics] of the University.

He emphasized that the University had recently received a commissioned and long awaited report from A.T. Kearney, a management consultant company hired in December of 1995 to assist Temple in restructuring its student services, and that, because of the findings of this report, President Liacouras had consolidated the university's enrollment management, marketing and communications functions into one office headed by freshly hired vice president Tom Maxey. It is noteworthy that Liacouras would use this report to legitimize his claim that the public had confused perceptions about the University, because the Kearney Report's strategic conclusions never mentioned this at all, let alone suggest it should be Temple's number one priority. In fact, what the report found, in a nutshell, was that Temple University had been and was currently failing its students by not concentrating on financial and career counseling and academic courses that would allow the normal undergrad to graduate in the regular four years, the most important student service issues a university should be involved in. Picking a college is serious business for most folks, and the public wasn't buying. The percentage of people who "Chose Temple" (an earlier marketing campaign that failed to attract students) had been dropping because the university hadn't been student centered for a long time.

President Liacouras was correct in that Temple University needed restructuring due to state funding cutbacks, a rapidly declining enrollment from the Philadelphia suburbs, and an increasingly bothersome needy bunch of city students that required financial aid and remedial academic help. The university was knee-deep in financial problems, according to the administration, because of the seemingly impossible to attain altruistic mission of its founding father, Russell Conwell, who dreamed of educating the middle and working classes of Philadelphia, citizens typically locked out of higher education in the 19th century and most of the 20th.

Let every man or woman here, if you never hear from me again, remember this. If you wish to be great at all , you must begin where you are and with what you are, in Philadelphia. He who can give to his city any blessing, he who can be a good citizen while he lives, he who can make better homes, he who can be a blessing whether he works in a shop, or sits behind a counter or keeps house, whatever be his life, he who would be great anywhere must first be great in his own Philadelphia. [Russell Conwell from his "Acres of Diamonds" speech.]

Unfortunately for Mr. Conwell's legacy, the Reagan years contributed to a sharp decline in the economic fortunes of the neighborhood surrounding Temple University. The nationwide financial abandonment of the cities by the federal and state governments along with the mass middle class migration to the suburbs, the arrival of crack cocaine, and the lack of jobs and basic infrastructure caused a critical mass to be reached in North Philadelphia. It became a crime- burdened, despairing jumble of poverty-stricken families struggling to survive, and Temple University was smack dab in the middle of it. Temple must have wondered what to do about the situation initially, but it would eventually decide to simply build a wall around itself, both metaphorically and physically, locking out the surrounding community. Temple wanted to become an urban island in a sea of crumbling neighborhoods so Conwell's sage and public oriented advice to "begin where you are" would be incrementally abandoned by the school in the 1980s and 1990s, and an out of sight=out of mind mentality, for the most part, would be adopted instead to keep the barbarians outside the glistening gates.

As the inner city neighborhoods declined along with the state funding to support city elementary and secondary schools, the cost of higher education throughout the nation (both state supported and private) skyrocketed throughout the 1980s, not because the colleges were spending more to educate students, but because the prestige factor was very important to attract students within a higher income bracket. This meant billions were spent nationally on new buildings, sports teams, non-teaching big name faculty, more programs and more administrators. Terry Hartle, the vice president of government relations at the American Council on Education, said in The Austin-American Statesman that "the old notion of low-cost, public higher education being accessible to all families is in danger of being obsolete in some places." (Liacouras, quoted in the same article, said higher education should be run "like a business"). So public higher education started becoming obsolete at Temple, not surprisingly, with the hiring of Peter J. Liacouras as president in 1982, whose mandate was to keep expenditures low and attract students at the same time.

Only four years after beginning his tenure, Liacouras was embroiled in controversy with the faculty who criticized him for not paying enough attention to academic affairs and for "...ignoring their voices in decision-making...(Author's Italics)" at the school. A 19-day faculty strike ensued and a scathing report issued that year on Liacouras' conduct by a commission appointed by the faculty senate. By October 1990, that same faculty membership called for his ouster, voting 116-1 to put a resolution to that effect on a ballot mailed to full time tenured professors. Granted this was during a contentious union battle over a 5% pay increase, but President Liacouras' illegal strategy a month earlier to engage in strike breaking by offering a 13.2% pay hike to professors who crossed the picket line didn't endear him to his employees. Unfair labor practice charges were filed against him by the Temple Association of University Professionals with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

That fall season was not an easy one for Liacouras with campus police having to arrest some seven protesting graduate students, out of a hundred and fifty in his office. In what must have been his shrillest vocal timbre, he declared, "You're not going to ramrod anything, except through legal process and through civilized, disciplined discourse [author's italics]. You may outnumber me 100 to one, but that doesn't bother me!" The polyphony of dissent surrounding Liacouras' plea for a "disciplined discourse" gave irrefutable testimony that he was not well liked by his colleagues or his students and the situation was exacerbated by the Temple administration's ideological struggle over a decision which would ultimately determine the main priority of the institution: community education or status building. Ideally these objectives shouldn't have been mutually exclusive, but because Temple had already given up on the community surrounding it (why educate them?), the administration mindset could not integrate the two ideas and the quarrelsome voices that would have to be heard to do both. It was one or the other and the other that won the day was the one that Temple thought would bring in the most money: status building.

In addition to Liacouras' ongoing labor and interpersonal management problems, he was lambasted in 1992 by Philadelphia Inquirer writers B. J. Phillips and Bill Lyon for "...spending millions of dollars on a football team in times of real hardship," and for pressing comedian Bill Cosby, a trustee of the university, to contribute $500,000 so the university could buy off one ill-hired football coach and his staff and hire another. Sports writer Bill Lyon said a year later that "Liacouras is...a raging egotist who wants to build a monument to himself...whose only interest is self-gratification."

The "monument" Lyon was referring to was Liacouras' plan to build "Temple Town," a pricey expansion of the University into the North Philadelphia neighborhoods whose sparkling centerpiece would be the Apollo Sports Complex, a projected 80 million dollar (the ultimate cost would be 107 million dollars) 11,000 seat arena surrounded by movie theaters and retail space. But a fight ensued between Philadelphia City Council and the university over who would control the measly 5 million dollar housing fund that would be established to provide new homes for low and moderate income residents of the area surrounding the university. Temple wanted ultimate authority. City Council wanted a community group in charge of the money and stated they would hold up construction until it was resolved. On June 30, 1995, Gov. Tom Ridge, sympathetic to Liacouras' troubles, signed legislation to exempt Temple University from city zoning ordinances in order to bypass the wishes of the City Council and allow construction to proceed, effectively making an end run around the local opposition and local decision making. Further evidence of community abandonment and dwindling local input would surface a month later when Temple would close its highly successful and much relied upon neighborhood day care center.

While Liacouras and the trustees at Temple were dreaming about a new cosmopolitan center in North Philadelphia, state subsidies took a big dip the next year with Gov. Ridge proposing an end to a tuition grant program, begun by Gov. Bob Casey, that gave increases to state universities who kept their tuition low. Liacouras said that Ridge's proposal would leave a $7 million hole in Temple's budget. Republican conservative control of Harrisburg and the legislature's refusal to appropriate needed funds to Temple, or to the entire Philadelphia school system for that matter, continued to haunt the city and the local leadership found itself being forced to cower to a cruel bootstrap ideology camouflaging a real neglect of public needs.

The Kearney report came out in June 1996 stating that Temple had seriously ignored the educational needs of its students during Liacouras' tenure; however Temple administrators used the report as a disingenuous rationale to scuttle Conwell's mission to educate the people in their own backyard. It was the big bucks out of town they were after. Eventually Temple would complain that it wasn't the university's fault, it was the low caliber of city students. Temple's administration even managed to clumsily stigmatize their own recent city graduates in a blunderous attempt to reconcile its admittedly low opinion of current city high school students by impugning the intelligence, competency and education of their own city alumni!

In order to cultivate this new and improved advanced formula, lean, mean academic machine image, it was important to start a marketing campaign that would reach out to the wealthy parents in the surrounding areas. So advertising executive Tom Maxey was hired in October of 1996 and was made vice president of the university to counteract these so-called "confused impressions" of the suburban populace. Instead of engaging the North Philadelphia neighborhoods in an equal partnership with the university to rebuild a community-based infrastructure and support networks Temple would simply, via advertising, sweep North Philly into a tiny corner of the urban kitchen where the undesirables might not be noticed. They needed a savvy advertising guy who wasn't troubled by the big ethical picture and who had pockets filled with Madison Avenue legerdemain.

According to a glowing announcement in the administration's spin sheet, The Temple Times, Maxey was a vice chairman and chief operating officer for the advertising firm N.W. Ayer and Son, Inc. [Maxey had been with the company since 1973] and extolled his competence and "the-buck-stops-here" authority by saying that he had been "... responsible for staff functions throughout the entire corporation, including finances, human resources, legal mergers and acquisitions." The article said he was also responsible for the "Be All You Can Be" campaign for the US Army's volunteer force, and had managed the U.S. marketing program for DeBeers Diamonds. What the announcement neglected to say was that, in 1986, N. W. Ayer and Son ignominiously lost the $80 million United States Army account, along with its company reputation, because auditors had determined that Ayer had overcharged the Army by more than $400,000. (A creative vice president pleaded guilty to receiving kickbacks from suppliers and was fined $50) This embarrassment induced other Ayer and Son clients, like Burger King, to take their advertising business elsewhere and the loss of revenues hit the company very hard.

Village Voice advertising columnist Leslie Savan, for an article that was published by The New York Times, visited the New York world headquarters of N. W. Ayer to interview company executives (primarily about the company falling on hard times) and noted wryly that on the tastefully decorated executive 35th floor there were "...four TV monitors each flashing one word - ‘WE CREATE YOUR DESIRES,' alternating with ‘YOU CREATE OUR NEEDS.'- the various combinations pretty well summing up relations between consumers and ad makers." Lavan also described Ayer as an old boy company network who didn't get around to diversifying its board until 1990 when it finally hired a white woman. No blacks had ever been offered higher positions in this 120 year old company.

Savan also questioned their work on the De Beers Consolidated Mines (diamond cartel) account since, when many American companies were divesting themselves of doing business in and for South Africa, Ayers and Sons employees were "just dying to get on the De Beers account." Savan quoted Donna Katzin, director of the South Africa programs of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, that "De Beers and its sister company, Anglo-American, provide the bulk of the export earnings that have sustained the apartheid system."

Tom Maxey was the person next in line to the chief executive of the company and de facto diversity didn't seem important to him then or to the company he headed. Not until he was the point man for Liacouras during the format change at WRTI did the term "diversity" become the rallying cry for reaching out to the whiter and wealthier suburbs. The idea of "diversity" would be used, by Temple, as the obfuscating linch pin for a strategy to ignore inner city problems in a national political climate ubiquitous with self-righteous calls for the end of affirmative action, preferences and racial quotas. Temple would turn a broad based inclusive, multiculturalistic word on its head, consciously altering it for the desired effect of controlling the discourse. For the most part, Temple's verbal footplay would go unchallenged by local politicians, both black and white, and the local mainstream media. One could almost visualize the power brokers of Philadelphia collectively gripping their white wines and nodding their reasonable heads to Temple's tune saying: You know they're right. Temple does have too many poor, dumb, black, Hispanic and women students. For the sake of diversity, we have to get more rich white boys. [More]

Next: A Report on Strategic Initiatives to the Board of Trustees of Temple Univ.
Back to Part One