A Report on Strategic Initiatives to the Board of Trustees of Temple University

In April 1997, Liacouras personally asked the Temple student body via email to complete a survey on the university and respond to questions about student services including academic advising, the quality of their classes, financial aid, campus security and student recreation facilities. Many students complained of being ignored during registration for classes and being saddled with an incomprehensible bureaucracy. On the issue of campus safety 12.6% rated it as "excellent", 45.7% said it was "good."

None of the students commented that the school lacked diversity, in fact, diversity was mentioned as a strong selling point for the institution according to many respondents. The idea of a university working for non-traditional students was echoed best by one:

Hello, I'm a third year student in SCAT and have greatly enjoyed my educational experience at this university...I also work and live on campus...I do however feel that many of the changes Temple is making of late are not in the best interest of the student body past, present and future. I realize that these changes are being enacted to recruit students on a more selective basis. I understand that these changes are being made in order to keep Temple competitive in the college market place. However, I feel the need to remind the powers that be that much of the university's success is due to many students that fit into the non-traditional categories of the student populas [sic] i.e. nontraditional age, economically disadvantaged socio-economic group, or late bloomers in the pursuit of academic excellence. Individuals such as these have comprised the back bone of this university for some time and to both their credit and the university's now compose the creme de la creme of academia and corporate america [sic]. To now turn our backs on these groups of people or to in any way make the process of getting in to college more challenging, I very much feel would be a grave mistake.

The feelings expressed by this student and others in the survey were patently ignored when the Board of Trustees at Temple University approved A Special Report by the President on Strategic Initiatives on June 26th of 1997, approximately two months before the format change at WRTI. In this report, Liacouras stated that the Strategic Initiatives represented "...the next phase of a future that was begun three years ago in The Plan to Renew Temple's Mission." This double-think phrase, which was the title of an earlier trustee report, depicting this plan as a renewal of Conwell's mission served to hide the fact that "renewal" meant, in actuality, a move by the administration to forsake Temple's original mission and the six strategic "Priority" points made in the "Strategic Initiatives" report by Liacouras fully support this appraisal.

Some of the aims outlined by Liacouras were precariously based on problems that he felt compelled the university to make changes, problems like "...an abrupt decline in undergraduate enrollment from the suburbs, and particularly among white males, together with a decline in admissions selectivity of undergraduates." Liacouras wrote under "Priority 1" that in order to accomplish the goal of attracting white male students with higher SAT scores, it was imperative that "mindsets that equate ‘Temple' with ‘City' and ‘North Philadelphia' and ‘crime' be changed", a problem based on the immediate stereotypical assumption that it was crime keeping students away, not institutional problems. He also wrote that the suburbs "...have a large and expanding pool of qualified applicants...they are better prepared academically for a rigorous university curriculum. They are more likely to graduate. Their financial condition is better than the average city resident, which means that retention and graduation are more likely too."

Liacouras' personal hackneyed portraits of minorities and a financially poor student's ability to achieve academically flies in the face of recent research done by the President's Council of Economic Advisors. Council chairwoman Janet Yellen recently said that "There seems to be very little merit to the counterargument that putting people with less preparation into college harms them. Everybody who goes to an elite institution tends to do better."

What is interesting is that directly after allowing his own written "Bell Curve" logic to have full resonance with the trustees and arguing his systematic proof of the intellectual inadequacy of inner city residents, Liacouras criticized local television for doing the same thing. In the section titled "Priority 2" he rightly complained how inner city stereotypical images were being generated nightly from Philadelphia's Channel 6 and how it hurt the university!

Presently, 80% of Temple's students come from within the televised beam of Channel 6, 20% from outside. In comparison, the University of Pennsylvania's mix is the exact reverse. This means that, within this regional market, a highly publicized series of crimes in the city, even on the Penn campus, potentially affect Temple's future enrollment...the statistical safety of a specific city-based campus is drowned out by stereotypical generalizations about all city-based campuses..."

Four paragraphs later Liacouras bragged about all the new buildings going up on campus (including his beloved Apollo) that will "...stimulate other investments in the area by the private sector and create a sufficient Temple-connected ‘mass' to separate Temple's identity from an undifferentiated North Philadelphia. (Author's Italics)" Trotting out a reassuring, but thoroughly transparent caveat, Liacouras added: "In all these developments, Temple will continue being a good and progressive neighbor in North Philadelphia while working together to improve the ambience of the community." Ambience? Separation? Good neighbor?

In "Priority 4" Liacouras outlined changes in undergraduate admissions stating that Temple, who had been a leader in remedial education for city students had now decided that "careful analysis challenged the wisdom of that policy." He also explained that though Temple had worked closely with the Philadelphia school system over the years to prepare students for higher education, the work had yielded "marginal success" and he quoted "Gresham's Law" that "‘weak' students could be driving away ‘good' students." Like Sylvester eyeing Tweety Bird, Liacouras betrayed his mental image of the desired Temple student, drooling over Main Line boys like Yankee dollars, and dismissing the inner city students as worthless Confederate bonds. There is no question after perusing the report who the "good" students are that Temple desires and at the end of this particular section of the Trustee report, Liacouras duplicitously has the trustees silently answer his own rhetorical questions.

The issue for Temple is not race or gender or national origin or religion or sexual orientation. The issue is; Who can benefit and add to the University's mission? Who is likely to graduate without undue remediation? Who will be motivated and rewarded through the education offered by a loyal, outstanding, committed faculty?"

The reasonable answer is plain: wealthy white boys. The coded use of stereotypical and prejudicial images of intellectually inferior inner city youth would drive public education planning at Temple (and at the state funding level) from now on, where the outrageous became reasonable and civic problem solving devolved into the mutual shrugging off of responsibility.

To compliment Temple's makeover and widen it's appeal to the surrounding Republican suburbs, Temple's administration might have been worried that the black, urban sound of jazz, a music that still seems to be politically useful, in a conservative sense, when demurely linked with vice and corruption, a music whose dissonance (as Stravinsky said once) tended to have an air of sinfulness about it, would eventually have to be modified at generally left-leaning WRTI. Now that its repeater stations broadcasted to the entire Delaware Valley and beyond, it was seen as a vast resource that could be used to advertise for Temple, for the white suburban students they wanted so desperately now. WRTI's abrupt cancellation of the broadcast of the prison diaries of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the Spring of 1997, and the controversy that surrounded it, gave Temple the excuse to reevaluate all programming content and cemented the decision that listener-supported Jazz-FM would ultimately have to go. [More]

Next: WRTI and Mumia Abu Jamal: Falling Outside the Thinkable
Back to Part Two