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After Temple student’s TikTok controversy, the university clashes with reality | Opinion

It is possible to disagree with the student’s language about the neighborhood and with the Orwellian reaction by Temple’s administration.

Students walk through the Temple University campus on the first day of the fall semester, August 26 2019.
Students walk through the Temple University campus on the first day of the fall semester, August 26 2019.Read moreRACHEL WISNIEWSKI / For the Inquirer

Campus busybodies notched a win last week as Temple University came down hard on a student for posting an off-color joke about its surrounding neighborhood.

Administrators were tipped off to a short video by one male student labeling Temple’s environs a “ghetto” by a tattletale tweet accusing the student of spreading “hate” and “bigotry.” Instead of telling the tattler to deal with the problem herself — you know, as future adults must ostensibly do — the administration jumped in, announced that the student would be barred from helping to welcome incoming freshmen, and that they planned to discipline him with “education.”

While Temple spokesperson Raymond Betzner lamented the “deeply concerning” circumstances, he seemed bullish on the power of conversation: “When you sit down and you talk to students,” lo and behold, “their perspective changes.” It is indeed amazing how one’s perspective changes when faced with the prospect of having one’s future canceled by an incensed bureaucrat.

This all brings to mind a campus phenomenon that is now seeping into everyday life, best illustrated in Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s brilliant The Coddling of the American Mind.

An overprivileged kid expecting not to be offended tattled on her peer; a helicopter administration swept in to solve the problem — just like mommy and daddy do. Was this publicly funded response really beneficial to anybody?

It is possible to disagree with the student’s language and with the Orwellian reaction by Temple’s administration.

It is also possible for Temple to have responded by saying the free speech of one of our students is a protected right and none of our business — peers should work out these difficult debates like the adults we claim we are training them to be.

As Temple takes a strong stance to avoid embarrassment, let’s keep in mind how the school sometimes treats its neighbors: as an inconvenience when they get in the way of its grand plans. As The Inquirer reported last year, Temple has sought to dump 35,000 rowdy football fans on top of its neighbors with a brand new stadium and didn’t even bother to hold a public meeting for them for two years after announcing its plans.

As The Inquirer reported in February 2018, one resident blocks from Temple summed up the administration’s approach: “I’ve got more to say than [Temple] wants to hear.” Another commented, “I’ve got so many questions but no freakin’ answers.”

Sure, Temple would like to upend the entire neighborhood, but when it’s convenient to signal its respect, it’ll issue a press release about how much it values its neighbors.

What is more harmful to those neighbors: the existence of a short video in poor taste, or trampling on the community without even gaining longtime residents’ input first?

And beyond this, who is truly harmed when a random student uses the “g” word about parts of North Philadelphia? While some people take issue with the use of words like “ghetto” (and it is often a disparaging word), it’s worth asking residents themselves if they feel there are legitimate dangers around them.

No, it is not nice for residents to feel scorned by privileged students (of all colors) who attend the university. But worse is living in a neighborhood where “seeing shootings first-hand and hearing constant gunfire” is “distressingly common,” as WHYY reported in its 2017 coverage of Philadelphia’s 22nd Police District, where the university’s main campus lies. Pretending that the area is without some danger and dysfunction does not begin to address the problems visited primarily upon residents themselves, who do not have a private security force patrolling their streets as Temple does. Hushing people who bring up inconvenient facts — even in non-P.C. terms — makes these problems harder to talk about.

Students, especially, should be free to learn from their surroundings, to develop their own ideas, and to debate them openly without harassment from thin-skinned administrators — who forbid students from voicing the incorrect opinion but don’t care much about the neighbors when it comes down to it.

Albert Eisenberg is a Philadelphia-based political consultant. He formerly served as the communications director for the Philadelphia Republican Party and is a founder of Broad + Liberty. @albydelphia