We Lay Waste Our Powers: what Corbett's destruction of Temple University will cost all of us

Though I know that we all stand together or we all fall separately and all that, there is always the moment of relief reading or listening to a budget address when you realize this or that was spared. There were those moments in Governor Corbett's address yesterday. We are not yet New Jersey. Free legal services will survive for now, as will important welfare programs. Prisons may not expand forever.

But the glaring casualty (apart from the cuts to the Department of Community and Economic Development - including the end of the grab bag that is 'walking around money', one double edged blade for the Governor) is education. In addition to sharp reduction in public school budgets likely designed to create a back-door Wisconsin situation by pressuring teachers' unions to the breaking point, there are 50% cuts to Temple and the other public and publicly-affiliated universities. Under the Governor's proposed budget, if Temple does not die, it will survive as something altogether different and worse.

This is not hyperbole. Starting with a 50% cut, even a compromise amount could be massive. As Temple's funding has been progressively reduced in past years, its student composition has likewise shifted. It's a complicated set of reactions, but there are clear trends: tuition is still low, but it's higher. Test scores and GPAs of admitted students are up. Students are more suburban, whiter, more privileged. Temple is a solid choice for kids with choices, not necessarily the one ladder out of a hard neighborhood with bad schools and a family where no one has advanced degrees or degrees at all. But for some kids, Temple is still that ladder and those kids are important. They are from Philadelphia. And Temple might also employ their parents, family members, neighbors with solid union jobs.

I've written before here about how I graduated from Temple before I graduated from Penn Law. Now I work in City Council, for Maria Quinones Sanchez, helping to represent neighborhoods filled with kids I desperately want to see have the chance to attend Temple and have access to the same amazing social and intellectual community I got to join.

There is no way they'll have that chance under the Governor's budget. Temple's president said in a video posted quickly yesterday afternoon that she would have to exercise all possible measures: layoffs, program closures, tuition hikes. Think though any one of those and see what a mess we are in. Start with tuition hikes: unless Temple ends anything close to normal financial aid practices, for every dollar you increase tuition, there will be students who need that much more aid. So you end up having to raise fees more sharply for those who can pay to make up for those who can't. At some point those who can pay stop looking at Temple as a surprisingly good deal with solid academics, and start looking somewhere more flashy and with a campus in a more idyllic setting than North Philadelphia. Enrollment drops. Even more jobs have to be cut, from one of the largest and most significant employers and economic engines in the whole city. "Inessential" programs and disciplines get cut or closed and the very scope of academic inquiry possible at Temple has fundamentally changed and contracted. Whatever that possible future Temple ends up looking like, it will be worse. Less competitive, less accessible, less of an economic and development force.

Corbett quoted Faulkner and Wordsworth in his address yesterday. Wordsworth was invoked at length - "'Getting and spending / We lay waste our powers.' Note the subtlety there. It's not that we use up our powers. We lay them waste. We lose them outright. Getting and spending we lose track of our real purpose" - minutes after he justified not taxing natural gas extraction at Marcellus Shale with these words:

These resources, by the way, belong to the people who own the mineral rights. Those people are getting their fair share by working out their own leases with the companies doing the drilling. That's how it should be. That's the American way. What Pennsylvanians will gain is the jobs, the spinoffs, and if we don't scare off these industries with new taxes, the follow-up that comes along. You see underneath the Marcellus Shale is another bonanza. It's called the Utica Shale. And where Marcellus promises 50 years of energy the Utica promises riches going into the next century. Let's make Pennsylvania the hub of this boom. Just as the oil companies decided to headquarter in one of a dozen states with oil. Let's make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural gas boom. I'm determined that Pennsylvania not lose this moment. We have the chance to get it right the first time, the chance to grow our way out of hard days.

That vision is not Pennsylvania as Texas. It is Pennsylvania as 19th century England. It's the nightmare of industry that acts only for itself. Who can still fetishize a made-up golden age of unbridled souls, free to bargain with unregulated industry? When has that worked out for the unbridled souls? Playing fields aren't level, information is not symmetrical, sometimes the only job available could kill you and wants you to work overtime with no additional pay, and if you can't organize for better conditions or leave what good is any theoretical free agency you might have? Likewise, how can you stand before the people of your state in March of 2011 and tell them to trust that by letting industry help itself, we will be helping all of us? What poem can he quote us to justify the recent subprime lending crisis and this ongoing recession?

I read Wordsworth as a student at Temple. I read "The World Is Too Much With Us," and "Tintern Abbey." I thought about the industrial era reacted to by those poems, and the post-industrial forces that were shaping the neighborhoods right around and behind Temple's campus. I took classes at in-state tuition rates with brilliant professors like Steve Newman, who has already written incandescently about the Governor's proposed cuts. I went to Rome for the price of that same tuition. I got work study money that helped me live, paid out of special state funds dedicated to creating a supportive bridge to college for local students who otherwise would not have gotten in and who often flourished once there. I mentored those students, I tutored them, I hung out with them, and we brought each other closer to the kind of academic inquiry Temple fosters: we rigorously engaged with texts and ideas, and embedded all that work in the reality of our and other's lives and communities. Because literature is not just there to turn into political rhetoric, nor is history, economics or philosophy. They are not there to excuse taking money from Temple and Philadelphia to give it to the people who happen to have bought some mineral rights, and to wrap that theft in tones of authority. Temple would have taught the Governor to read and use all the sources at play in his speech with a sharper sense of care and responsibility. I hope he comes, immerses himself there even briefly, and tests his claims against what he sees.


Wow, Jennifer - this is a fantastic, eloquent, and justly outraged post. Thank you for putting the case so well.

Poetic and passionate

So much more to say about this budget, but this post is a lasting testament to the tragic consequences of, to paraphrase Wordsworth, having "given our hearts away": "For this, for everything, we are out of tune."

Awesome post! The whole

Awesome post! The whole Temple thing is a real tragedy.

And, on the opposite end of

And, on the opposite end of the educational spectrum, there's talk that the Governor's proposed education cuts will lead to the end of full-day Kindergarten in Philadelphia. So, in one fell swoop, Corbett manages to kneecap both the start and end of Philadelphia kids' educational lives. Quite an achievement, dontcha think?

Can we recall him yet?

Thanks Jennifer for this powerful, beautifully written post.

Thanks Jennifer for this powerful, beautifully written post.

Will all of those folks who were too busy, too tired, too disillusioned to vote finally realize that failure to participate in elections has consequences?

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