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October 8, 2014
“Being the only black person in a room can become violent,” Kai Davis remarked, an English and African American Studies honor student at Temple University, in a poem of hers which she recited at a rally on May 8th on the corner of Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Ave.
Her stark words, which echoed off the newly constructed, monolithic Mitchell and Hilarie Morgan Hall, expressed her frustration as a black woman towards a white classmate’s defense of the university as a “non-white school.”
“My blackness stopped clawing at the chalkboard and started clawing for throats, and ropes, and knives. In one sentence, this girl denied how an entire culture can survive but still die; denied that the one drop rule does not apply in the classroom. Just because you think there are enough niggers does not mean we have taken over on a college campus; in a city that is nearly fifty percent black we represent fourteen percent of the student body in the classroom.”
Davis’ indignation is aimed at gentrification, a process of “redevelopment” in poor and working-class neighborhoods of color in cities like Philadelphia, which displaces the former community to the margins of poverty and replaces them with wealthier residents.
The rally that Davis spoke in was in support of North Philadelphia resident and vocal critic against gentrification Dr. Anthony Monteiro. Monteiro, a non-tenure track professor at Temple University since 2003, was dismissed this January from the African American Studies Department (AASD). Monteiro has been stripped of his professorship from a university which, looming over North Central Philadelphia, is entrenched between two of the poorest zip codes in the country.
This same university, which proudly claims to be the “Diversity University,” recently released statistics that denote otherwise. University wide, blacks represent 5.6% of the faculty members while Hispanics represent 3.2%. This is taking place in a city where blacks comprise 44.3% of the population and Hispanics 13%. In addition, in 2008, 16.8% of Temple undergraduates were African Americans. In 2013, that number has dwindled down to 13.5%.
Monteiro led protests on Temple’s campus condemning Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Teresa Soufas’ decision to appoint then-Vice Dean Jayne Drake, a white woman whose expertise was not in African American Studies as the head of the African American Studies Department.
These numbers show a form of “ethnic cleansing” committed by the university, similar to the ethnic cleansing it is committing off-campus, in the form of gentrification. Monteiro was fired because he challenged the authority of the AASD chairs and the administration of the College of Liberal Arts. During the spring semester of 2013, Monteiro led protests on Temple’s campus condemning Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Teresa Soufas’ decision to appoint then-Vice Dean Jayne Drake, a white woman whose expertise was not in African American Studies as the head of the African American Studies Department.
In addition to his disapproval of Soufas’ appointment, Monteiro also called for the reappointment of Molefi Keti Asante as chair of the department. Asante resigned as former chair in 1996 after faculty members voted for him to step down and his tenure was removed after allegations of plagiarism and sexual assault.
In January, after several direct actions led to Asante’s appointment as chair, Soufas informed Monteiro in a letter that his contract would not be renewed after June 30th.
“All decisions about the renewal of contracts of non-tenure-track faculty members are made jointly by the department chairs and the dean’s office. Often when departments revise their curricula, it is necessary to change faculty resources in the non-tenure-track ranks to match the new course directions,” Soufas explained to the Philadelphia Tribune. “Dr. Asante…is making some exciting curriculum changes in the department and wanted different fields of study to be covered by instructors.”
Asante also defends the decision against renewing Monteiro’s contract as not only necessary for his vision of the AASD—Afrocentricity rather than, in the words of Soufas, “civic issues in American history”—but also because his one year contract was up. Asante is not only admitting that he and Soufas have worked together to change the curriculum of the department, but he is also protecting the rights of the board of trustees, the owners, and their administrative staff to hire non-tenured and non-tenure-track faculty, so that capital can be removed from small departments like AASD and be invested in big money attractions—mainstream sports, residential buildings, and commercial businesses.
Monteiro’s firing and gentrification in North Central Philadelphia are both products of a phenomenon affecting the poor, the working class, students, and academics across the United States—the neoliberalization of public bodies like the university. Neoliberalism is a dogmatic reemergence of laissez-faire economic thought attacking the Keynesian welfare state formed out of the Great Depression and the Second World War, which, in the 1970s and early 1980s, faced intense stagflation1 and unemployment. It is the belief that there is no other option but to end state involvement in the economy and to liberalize public institutions, that is, to corporatize their administrations. If the market is “free,” then individuals are “free” to pursue their aspirations and the poor remain so due to their own personal and cultural shortcomings.
In The Death of American Universities, published in Jacobin, Noam Chomsky identifies the characteristics of the neoliberal university. Like any other corporation, a college or university has owners. Temple University’s owners are its board of trustees, which, as written in the university bylaws, “exercise ultimate institutional authority.” Chomsky, a Philadelphia native, argues that trustees of any university, even state universities, want to keep their costs low and ensure their labor is cheap and obedient. By keeping employment unguaranteed, they force professors to accept tiny salaries, teach multiple classes, and tolerate any administrative policy set forth by the board. Indeed, Cange claims that Dai admitted to purposefully hiring the least amount of tenured and tenure-track professors he possibly could.
Chomsky contends that this attitude toward university labor can be traced back to the 1970s, when there was administrative concern over the student activism that had begun occurring on college campuses during the 1960s. In fact it is known as “the time of troubles.” Temple’s board of trustees and administration do not want to continue to employ a man who, despite being respected enough to have his contract renewed for the past ten years, challenges the operation of the university. They do not want Monteiro around because he uses his position to educate the community—specifically at his Saturday free school at the historic Church of the Advocate—rather than to marginalize and disenfranchise it.
Temple’s tumultuous relationship with North Central Philadelphia residents began after the state government passed an urban redevelopment act in 1945, which leveled entire blocks for its expansion. The university used eminent domain to grow by more than 70 acres by 1976, which means city, state, and federal authorities aided in the displacement of hundreds of families. Temple University continued its development rampage into the new millennium through its proposed 20/20 plan and its current Visualize Temple Initiative. There have been 80 to 100 capital expenditure requests sent to its board of trustees in the past two years, who recently approved an $800,000 demolition of four vacant properties on the 1500 block of North Broad Street in October.
North Central neighborhoods, such as North Gratz, now fear the private developers like Columbus Property Management will renovate and effectively force them out of their homes in order to rent them to Temple students. These fears became all the more real last Fall, when residents received an ordinance by Council President Darrel Clarke that would create a Neighborhood Improvement District, or NID. Clarke’s measure outraged residents, who discovered that Clarke had orchestrated the plan behind closed doors with the Temple Area Property Association (TAPA), a trade group of local area landlords. Norris Homes residents are anxious over the city’s bid for the proposed thirty million dollar CHOICE Grant from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would demolish 147 low-income housing units between Berks and Norris Streets and replace them with 297 “mixed-income” housing units, 2,000 square feet of commercial retail space, a tennis court, and other development projects.
However, Asante, Soufas, the rest of the university’s administration, and the board of trustees underestimate the radical spirit alive in the residents of North Central Philadelphia. Riots in 1964 and 1965 along Girard Avenue, Ridge Avenue, and Columbia Avenue over police brutality predated the national race riots that spread across the nation after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Cecil B. Moore, the president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, who is credited with quelling those riots, led the picketing against Girard College that forced its eventual desegregation.
There is also a radical tradition within the field of African American Studies. Temple’s department, which was the first in the country to offer a PhD, writes on their website that it “emerged during the cauldron of the Black Power Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s when African American students demanded courses and black professors that were relevant to a contemporary education in a racist environment.” Black students at Temple began petitioning and appealing to the administration for a Black Studies Department, and long delays in their response led student demonstrators to block Paley Library and to close down Broad Street. The city responded with armored cars and police dogs, which in turn incited riots.
The Student Coalition for the Reinstatement of Dr. Monteiro has remained true to the radical legacy of the university’s AASD and the North Central community at large.
On March 10th, students, faculty, and community members gathered to hear local labor and community activists call for Monteiro’s reinstatement. Demonstrators eventually occupied a board of trustees meeting and forced a meeting with President Neil Theobald, who promised to personally review the case. Student representatives later met with Senior Vice President for Government, Community, and Public Affairs, Ken Lawrence, who promised to schedule a meeting with Soufas and a representative of the provost office. After no such invitation was received, the student coalition held its first rally in early April at the center of campus. Nearly 100 students marched to Sullivan Hall, delivering a petition to the university’s deputy provost with approximately 2,000 student signatures that had the following demands: (1) Monteiro’s immediate reinstatement with tenure; (2) the dismissal of Soufas; (3) student and community representation on the board of trustees; and (4) a mutually beneficial relationship between Temple and the North Central Philadelphia community.
A subsequent community rally was later held on campus featuring Glen Ford, the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report. After a month without a response from the administration, a student power rally was hosted in the center of campus by the student coalition, the Asian Students Association, the Black Student Union, Temple Students for Justice in Palestine, Temple United Students Against Sweatshops, and the Temple Area Feminist Collective. This rally coincided with a sit-in on the twelfth floor of Anderson Hall by nine coalition members that forced a meeting with the university’s provost, Hai-Lung Dai.
According to the three representatives who met with Dai (Paul-Winston Cange, Kashara White, and Walter Smolarek, all former students of Monteiro), he had promised a personal investigation into the departmental decision-making process to see whether Monteiro’s dismissal was agreed upon by the faculty or was a part of Asante’s and Soufas’ ideological agenda.
After meeting with the three representatives of the student coalition on May 1st, Dai met with Dr. Molefi Asante (Department Chair), Dr. Iyelli Ichile (Undergraduate Chair), and Dr. Ama Mazama (Graduate Chair). “All of them represented to me that the Department’s faculty examined its academic programs and came to a consensus for moving in new directions,” disclosed Dai in an email to members of the Student Coalition for the Reinstatement of Dr. Monteiro. “The procedures and basis for the program changes are appropriate, and as we discussed in our meeting, properly within the responsibility of the faculty in the Department.”
After no promise for Monteiro’s reinstatement was made, a community rally was held May 8th, where students and prominent academics, including Marc Lemont Hill and Dr. Cornel West, publicly called for Monteiro’s immediate reinstatement. A day after Dai’s response was sent to the three coalition members, Dr. Johanna Fernandez of City University of New York and Dr. Mark Lewis Taylor of Princeton Theological Seminary sent a letter to Temple’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Theobald, and Dai. This letter was sent just a few days before the 60th anniversary of the seminal Brown v. Board decision, which supposedly ended segregation in education across the U.S. In it they addressed a list of charges waged by Asante on his public Facebook page against the student coalition and the May 8th rally. Asante labeled Monteiro a “charlatan,” and a “low-level purveyor of Marxism and anti-African ideals.” He also demeans Hill and West specifically, claiming that they were either “doing their leftist duties” or that “they were duped.” He ridicules the entire national campaign’s “Call for Dr. Monteiro,” whose signatories include Angela Davis, Chris Hedges, and Lewis R. Gordon. Further, Asante accuses the student coalition of being a “cadre of white leftists” using “the Monteiro issue to hijack the African-American Agenda.”
Fernandez and Taylor write, “Dr. Asante’s brazen demonization of student protestors and his deployment of these racially divisible attacks are morally bankrupt and incompatible with his ethical responsibilities as chair of an African American Studies unit at a University.”
Ultimately, the student and community coalition agree with Fernandez and Taylor, who believe that “Dr. Asante’s use of a naked and anachronistic anticommunism to justify baseless attacks on Dr. Monteiro’s integrity as a scholar and a teacher pose a dangerous threat to academic integrity and academic freedom…they reveal a deep-seated, prejudicial contempt that has been longstanding.”
Asante has made it clear that the decision not to renew Monteiro’s contract was “retaliatory,” a reflection of his and Soufas’ clandestine agenda for the AASD and a symptom of the overarching neoliberalization of the university. As a member of the student coalition, and one of the nine students who occupied Anderson Hall, I cannot stress enough Monteiro’s value to the university as an entity originally founded to serve North Central Philadelphia. His dismissal is an issue of university democracy, labor, and the well-being of poor and working class people of color. Monteiro’s reinstatement is the first step in tackling the intersectional forces of neoliberal capitalism and white supremacy practiced by Temple University, but can only succeed if students, faculty, North Philadelphians, and allies across the country come together in solidarity. Power to the people!
1. Stagflation is a term used in economics for a situation in which there is high inflation, slow economic growth, and high unemployment.