Temple University’s Sitting on a Diamond and Doesn’t Even Know It
by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Some people just don’t know when they’re well off; or when they’re sitting on “Acres of Diamonds” – which is the title of a famous speech delivered by Temple University’s founder and first President, Russel H. Conwell. It appears that the Dean of Liberal Arts, Teresa Soufas might well have studied this little 16 page missive before taking on the apparently stupid task of getting rid of Temple University’s Star Professor of African Studies, Anthony Monteiro. In a move that can only be described as “shooting yourself in the foot” she decides to terminate Monteiro by not renewing his contract for Fall 2014.
I originally received the news in January from Pam Afrika while covering a wonderful tour de force with comedians Dick Gregory and Paul Mooney. But clearly this was no laughing matter. It was just prior to the homegoing services for Amiri Baraka, which was held in Newark., NJ.
I had hoped to have had the opportunity of sitting down with Dr. Monteiro after Baraka’s services to find out what was going on. However, the immense crowd made that impossible. Reaching him later by phone, he verified the fact that his contract had not been renewed, which essentially meant he had been fired. When I asked him if I could post an article on this in my blog, I was advised to hold off until he had had an opportunity to meet with the Dean and find out what his options were.
Soufas, apparently, is no stranger to stupid moves, having put her foot in it in 2012 when she appointed a white woman to head up the African American Studies department, after the retirement of the department chair at that time. Monteiro confronted her about the move, stating that it was disingenuous, and through a series of demonstrations and negotiations was able to have Molefi Asante declared the new Chair of the Department. And for a while, it appeared that all had been right with the world. It’s apparent, however, that Soufas is known for making dumb decisions – and this is yet another in a long line of them.
Not only is Monteiro one of the star professors in Temple’s African American Studies department, he is both nationally and internationally known for his work. It is alleged that because he is a non-Tenure Track (NTT) Professor, whose contract is renewed annually, it makes him expendable – nothing could be dumber, or further from the truth. In fact, on balance, one Anthony Monteiro is worth ten other mediocre professors put together. Even in the aggregate they wouldn’t measure up. Individually or collectively, they neither possess his knowledge, acumen, passion, compassion, professionalism, or scholarship in the realm of African Studies, and more importantly in the arena of the philosophical impact of WEB du Bois. Additionally, Monteiro is perhaps one of the few professors in Temple’s employ who is whole-soul devoted to the students and their success.
Harking back to Conwell’s aforementioned seminal address, “Acres of Diamonds,” Soufas is guilty of going off on a tangent looking for diamonds elsewhere, not realizing that she had them right there under her very nose, in the personage of Anthony Monteiro, all the while.
But to add even more insult to injury, when it was pointed out to her that such was the case, instead of graciously admitting the oversight, she sought to bring in cohorts via the board to back her up, under the rubric that there is strength in numbers. But who wants to back a dumb move when it is the height of stupidity? And while there may have been some who sought to get along by going along, it’s pretty hard to pretend that it’s a dumb move, and to sweep it under the rug. It’s like trying to bury an elephant by covering it over with a few shovels of dirt, and declaring that the deed is done and irrevocable.
It’s like saying, “pretend you don’t see that diamond there, we’re going to go somewhere else and hunt for them in other fields,” that one’s not big enough. But Anthony Monteiro’s diamond is shining right there in front of your face, and you can’t ignore his brilliant brightness, no matter how many blinders you put on, or how you tell your cohorts to look away – the light just keeps coming through.
Philadelphians know this; the people in the community surrounding Temple University know this; the students at Temple University know this; the faculty and staff know this, though they’re afraid to say anything for fear of losing their jobs, or their tenure; the unions know this; the international community knows this. But somehow or other this appears to have escaped the Dean.
It makes no sense for Temple University to hold itself out as an institution of higher education and opportunity, and then be shown to be the total opposite. Sadly it appears that Soufas is the only ignorant person in the whole group, who then wants others to back her ignorance because she holds the title of “Dean.” To try to pull the board and others in with her in a co-conspiratorial farce in order to save face, makes the board look irresponsible as well.
The preponderance of evidence makes whatever rules they have conjured up look more like a joke than anything else, not to mention being racist in the extreme. On the face of it, it’s a simple remedy – reinstate Anthony Monteiro’s contract, without prejudice, and place him on the tenure track with consideration for time already “served” at Temple University. As Emerson stated, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of narrow minds.” So to continue to say that “those are the rules, end of story,” as though extenuating circumstances have not seen rules bent, broken, or amended, especially when it’s in the best interest of all concerned, is to show that this decision is, in the main, is not only foolish, but based on racism, as opposed to Monteiro’s competence or performance.
Indeed, Anthony Monteiro’s position at Temple University has been a drawing card and a motivator for other students in the Philadelphia area, and beyond, to attend Temple and seek higher education. Rather than ignore that fact, it should be augmented and accentuated. He should be the poster child for a Philadelphian, “born and raised,” who brought his skills, talents, and abilities back home to his neighborhood, and has served and continues to serve Temple well.
While Temple is to be commended for housing the Charles Blockson Collection, it’s interesting that the locale for it is underplayed, and not open to the public at hours that would make it conducive to for the surrounding community, which is still 80% African American to have access to it. Instead, it closes at 5:00PM, and is not available for students or community groups to have evening hours.There is no signage even indicating that it exists – in fact Pollett Walk, where it’s located, should have had an information plaque added to it quite some time ago.
It also appears that as a “good neighbor,” Temple leaves a lot to be desired – with a student body population that is more than 70% white, it is definitely not working very hard to recruit or open its doors to students from the immediate community – leaving that to colleges outside the Philadelphia area. Perhaps this is why Soufas sits back and appears to think that it’s of no consequence to summarily dismiss Monteiro. Perhaps her move is indicative of a larger issue with Temple University in the main. Perhaps they have become so accustomed to turning a blind eye to the “Acres of Diamonds” to be mined in the surrounding community, that they don’t know one when they see one, even when it’s right under their very noses.
Newly hired President, Neil Theobald may well want to review how “liberal” the Liberal Arts department and its education really is. And whether he wants to continue in a mode that could very well set the college at odds with the surrounding community, as opposed to working out some positive, amicable solutions that would benefit all concern.
Rather than making it a win/lose situation, forging a win/win resolution, would not only set his first years as president on a positive and solid footing, but stand him and Temple University in good stead, locally, nationally, and internationally.
Anthony Monteiro has been a great asset to Temple University and her students; the City of Philadelphia, the Black community of Philadelphia as well as Black people the world over. It’s not only a good move in terms of “good will” it makes good financial sense as well, with the increased grants and underwriting that accrue to those programs that have viable affirmative programs that foster education opportunities and options for African Americans and people of color. Something that Monteiro has been well versed in throughout his career.
One can only hope that President Theobald knows a diamond when he sees one, and will make the wise and prudent decision to reinstate Monteiro and move forward with his mission to make Temple University one of the world’s greatest educational institutions.
Stay Blessed &
bullet Columnist Gloria Dulan-Wilson Is a veteran New York City Journalist. Her experiences, perspective & sense of history are an invaluable combination. “check out my blog:” www.gloria-dulan-wilson.blogspot.com