Photo courtesy of Stadium Stompers
By: K Daniel Bryan and Mackenzie Yoffe Morris
Despite its branding as a public institution, in reality the capitalist class calls the shots at Temple University. Patrick O’Connor, the chair of Temple’s Board of Trustees, chairs the board of BNY Mellon Funds Trusts and board of Franklin Security Bank, and also serves on the board of Crowley Chemical Company and the board of the Philadelphia Police Foundation. He is also chairman of Cozen O’Connor, a giant corporate law firm that knows how to get around every state tax loophole and has a whole team of people to do it. Under the direction of people like this, it’s clear where Temple’s loyalties lie, and who its policies are designed to favor.
In order to thrive as such a capitalist institution, Temple University has resorted to an aggressive strategy of gentrification. This means nothing less than the forced relocation and breaking apart of Black and Boricua working class communities in North Philadelphia who have built strong cultural roots in the neighborhood over the course of decades. To replace them, Temple favors new real estate development and rising rents that cater to an increasing number of incoming Temple students from wealthy families. The university’s ambitions are not to serve the community that built it, but to become an internationally renowned yuppie factory.
Two years ago, the Board of Trustees proposed the construction of a brand new football stadium… right in the heart of residential North Philadelphia. Despite its immense short-term financial cost, such a policy is clearly meant to build the long-term foundations for establishing a more serious reputation for Temple in the highly lucrative college sports industry. And, most importantly for those capitalists calling the shots, it is also an escalation of the university’s intrusion into the way of life of a North Philadelphia community it has long considered disposable, an obstacle to facilitating capitalist profit. But now more than ever, the people are fighting back.
Enter Stadium Stompers
A historically unprecedented community-student coalition group called Stadium Stompers quickly sprung up to resist the university’s plans. Part of a pattern of increasing community discontent and student radicalization, this organization has grown into a strong pole of popular opposition that caught the Temple administration off guard. At first, Temple pursued a campaign of dishonest propaganda, portraying the stadium as good for the community. But the escalating direct actions taken by Stadium Stompers through 2016 disrupted the university’s monopoly on the narrative and received national media attention.
As is typical of contemporary universities, Temple’s financial model has entailed taking on a massive debt burden as it sought an immense expansion of its honors program through the liberal use of scholarships. The inept president Neil Theobald, struggling to address budgetary issues, faced with mounting student and community discontent over the stadium plans he had promoted, and bungling his administrative obligations in the eyes of the Board of Trustees, was dismissed in July 2016. The university’s administrative crisis complicated its ambitious stadium plans, a situation the Stompers’ mass resistance had pushed to a breaking point.
The incoming president, Richard Englert, was thrown into a tumultuous situation. Ultimately, the stadium plans were delayed, the university’s propaganda effort was cooled down, and Englert met with community leaders involved with Stadium Stompers as a formal gesture of conciliation on the part of the beleaguered administration. The Stompers astutely recognize that these positive developments in the struggle are nothing more than a new public relations strategy on the part of a university that is still fundamentally committed to its project of gentrification. Rather than backing down as the struggle cools in intensity, the Stompers aim for an increasing consolidation of their coalition, with a commitment to the reality of a long-term struggle against a capitalist institution that could never be reformed overnight.
The role of public universities under capitalism
Under capitalism, learning is never as simple as an honest relation between teacher and student in search of knowledge for its own sake. When a society is built out of the commodification of as many things as possible, so that the owners of the private property used to produce the commodities can get richer and richer, no social institution can escape the logic of capital without a commitment to revolutionary politics. Establishment universities are no exception to this rule. In fact, they have become an increasingly central support for the capitalist economy as the development of technology has made knowledge work more and more important for the accumulation of capital.
The state, as the armed repressive detachment of society through which the capitalist class exercises its political domination over the working class, can never get its hands off the university either. Temple University is a great example of this duality. It is both an institution designed for the realization of private capitalist profit and a state-funded “instrumentality of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” to put it in the official legal terms. In the contemporary “neoliberal” order, the relentless expansion of STEM (“science, technology, engineering and mathematics”) and business programs over and above the humanities is transparently portrayed as a pragmatic decision about available professional employment and capitalist profit-seeking. The myth of disinterested scientific objectivity is being exposed as more mythical than ever, as the reality of the university as a capitalist ideological state apparatus becomes increasingly obvious.
To the Stadium Stompers, this social order is unacceptable. They look forward to the ultimate defeat of the stadium plans, but even more promising than that is the radical mass struggle that has sprung up to win victories against a behemoth institution with the full force of organized capital behind it. Here’s hoping the masses keep on fighting, and maintain this special organization into a future that demands a revolutionary alternative to capitalism.
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