Community activists and elected officials demand diversity on Temple’s presidential search committee

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia on 9/21/20 (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — Community activists, elected officials and union leaders are calling on Temple University’s board of trustees to form a more inclusive search committee for its new president.

On Sunday evening, Temple board of trustees Chairman Mitchell L. Morgan announced the addition of two women of color to the Presidential Search Committee.

The new members are Faculty Senate Vice President Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, an educator and mentor in the School of Theater, Film and Media Arts, and Valerie Harrison, senior adviser to the president for equity, diversity and inclusion. The two women were added to a 16-member committee that includes two Black men, a Latino man, two white women and 11 white men. However, elected officials and community members contend adding two women of color to the committee is not enough.

“It ain’t good enough to add two people after the fact,” state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta said during a press conference Monday morning at Broad and Montgomery streets.

“Temple University is not acting like a public university. A public university will listen to the Black and brown people that make up the majority of the community in which it sits. A public university wouldn’t have to be forced and shamed in doing the bare minimum in ensuring that if you’re going to decide who the next president is, it makes sense that Black and brown people in the neighborhood be a part of that decision.

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“We really need to understand as a matter of principle what Chairman Morgan’s definition of equity and equality is,” said Kenyatta, whose district includes Temple and its surrounding neighborhoods. “We need to understand from him what diversity means from his perspective. Give me a sense of how you as chairman is going to push forward the type of racial change that we need to see in terms of how Temple treats the community in which it is housed.”

Temple’s move to add two women to the search committee came in response to criticism about its initial makeup.

“I am delighted that there is so much enthusiasm and excitement about the selection of the next president of Temple, and I want you to know that you have been heard,” Morgan wrote in his announcement. “The level of awareness and concern about the future of Temple in so many different corners gives me even greater confidence that we will make a great choice for the next president and be able to move forward together. Some of the conversations over the past week have been challenging. But it is important that we have had them, and I am grateful for the strength of those willing to speak up.”

The Rev. William Moore, pastor of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church, said Temple’s new president must be culturally competent.

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“During a period when the 2020 Census will inform us that the United States has become more diverse now than ever, Temple’s new president has to model that kind of competence for students, administrators, faculty, board members and its community,” Moore said. “If Temple plans to be effective at all in the new normal, Temple’s new president will have to be a person who is comfortable with working in partnership with small, diverse business owners and community organizations that are the university’s neighbors and with diverse parents who want their children to be Temple graduates.”

“If any of that is important to Temple, it must ensure that at this critical period, at this point of intersection in this university’s history, that the committee charged with selecting the new president is itself comprised of people with culturally competency,” Moore said.

State Sen. Sharif Street, whose 3rd Senatorial District includes Temple, addressed the importance of ensuring that the university’s presidential search committee is diverse.

“We cannot have in 2020 a selection committee that was as originally proposed was 75% white men,” Street said. “There is nothing wrong with white men. Their voices should be included, but they cannot be the only voices that are included. The voices that make the selection of who is the president must be as diverse as this city and as this community is.”

As a publicly financed institution, Street said, Temple’s polices and leadership must reflect that of the people.

Steve Newman, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, said the institution needs to learn from its mistakes and start listening to its neighbors. He said at least one seat on the Presidential Search Committee should be reserved for a community member.

“Temple has much to reflect on and to atone for and it can start by continuing to revise the makeup of the Presidential Search Committee by making it more diverse and by committing to an open and transparent process,” Newman said. “This would be a needed first step to healing the breaches among the various members of the wider Temple community.”

Gail Loney of the Stadium Stompers, a group that staged opposition to Temple’s proposed stadium, wonders why the Presidential Search Committee is not comprised of more African Americans from the surrounding community.

“What I need to know is where are Black people? You mean to tell me that they could not find more than two qualified Black women or women of color or people from the community?” she said.

“This community is filled with people of color who are qualified, educated and more than capable of doing a search and research for a president for this university.”

Temple’s Presidential Search Committee will host a series of hall meetings via Zoom and in person in the coming weeks to receive input from students, faculty, staff, deans, alumni and the community regarding the selection of the university’s next president.

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.