Updated: Tuesday, December 19, 2017, 1:13 PM
Art Hochner has never shied away from giving faculty a voice, and as he prepares to leave Temple University after a 40-year teaching career — much of it while serving as faculty union president — he hasn’t changed.
Of Temple’s board of trustees? “Too much of a fraternity,” he said.
The university’s plan to build a football stadium on campus? “It would be a mistake.”
How did Temple cope with allegations of sexual impropriety by Bill Cosby, a former trustee and arguably its most famous alumnus?
And of six university presidents he has worked under, not one would he give an A for performance. One, he said, merits a B — current president Richard M. Englert, who’s been at Temple longer than Hochner. He flunked Ann Weaver Hart, who left in 2012 after six years at the helm.
But Hochner, 70, an associate professor of human resources management, is decidedly positive about the school’s outlook and is especially proud of the state of faculty.
“I feel really good about leaving the union at this point,” he said in his office last week. “It’s like I set them on a course for a good future and a unified future.”
Temple this year settled its first contract for 1,400 adjunct faculty after they won a hard-fought battle to unionize. At the same time, the union negotiated a contract extension for the rest of its members, running into 2019. Also under Hochner, the union secured better raises and retirement contributions for non-tenure faculty, who now account for about half of full-time faculty. The union has not resorted to a strike since the 1990 walkout that crippled Temple by shutting down classes for 29 days.
“For decades, he has fought with remarkable success not only for better benefits and wages for Temple’s faculty, librarians, and academic professionals, but more broadly for faculty voice,” said Steve Newman, an associate professor of English and current president of the 2,800-member Temple Association of University Professionals.
Hochner, who teaches negotiation skills, acknowledged his relationship with Temple has been complicated. He loved his career and will continue to teach next month as an adjunct at Temple’s Tokyo campus. Both his children graduated from Temple — one now works a teacher in Hong Kong and the other as a social worker in Philadelphia. But his role as union leader made him a natural adversary.
“Temple was good to me, but Temple also was my antagonist,” he said.
Hochner, a native of New York City, got his bachelor’s in psychology from Queens College in 1970, then went to Harvard for his Ph,D.
He started at Temple in 1978 as an assistant business professor. When it came time to organize a strike in 1986, the union turned to Hochner, who had experience in community organizing. He had only joined the executive committee a few months earlier.
“We got a lousy settlement,” he recalled.
Hochner successfully ran for union president in 1987, motivated in part, he said, by how management had treated him. He was denied a raise and told it was because of the union contract, which wasn’t true, he asserted. It also was a time of high inflation and high unemployment, and faculty needed strong leadership to secure good working conditions and wages, he said.
Three years later, he led the faculty on another strike.
“I thought, we might go down in flames,” he said, “but we’ll certainly wither if we don’t do something.”
The strike began on the first day of classes and lasted a month. About 3,500 students withdrew.
“Temple lost millions,” he recalled.
But in the end, faculty secured a better contract, the start of what would be 14 years of labor peace. The next contract after the strike, in 1994, went so smoothly it was settled early.
“So going from being the evil genius of the 1990 strike,” he said, “I became a hero.”
The next threat came in 2000, when the union learned that David Adamany, former president of Wayne State University in Detroit, would become Temple’s next leader. Hochner heard that he was preparing to call for major changes in the faculty contract.
“When I met him for the first time, he told me, ‘I don’t believe in faculty unions,’ ” Hochner said.
So the union agreed to a four-year deal while his predecessor, Peter Liacouras, was still at the helm.
While Hochner and Adamany were bitter foes, Hochner praised him as an “impressive academic” who “got the trains running on time” and had the foresight to put a new roof on the former Baptist Temple, which has become a showplace for the North Philadelphia campus.
He credited Liacouras, one of Temple’s longest-serving presidents, with rescuing Temple from financial distress in the 1980s.
But he had nothing nice to say about Hart. “She was invisible.”
Hochner also recalled how she rebuffed his overture to work on settling the contract after the union filed an unfair labor practices complaint.
“She got furious that I had deceived her,” he said. “I was doing my job.”
The current president, Englert, has been a calming influence, he said, following the tumult over the ouster of president Neil D. Theobald.
Englert praised Hochner’s teaching in a statement.
“Art’s students have told me he’s a top-notch teacher,” Englert said. “We hate to lose his classroom expertise.”
As he leaves this month, Hochner worries about the school’s growing reliance on temporary faculty and lack of transparency in the budgeting process. The university should be fully under the state’s Right-to-Know law, he added, even though it would mean faculty salaries would become public. Though it receives state funding, Temple is among four universities deemed “state-related,” which exempts them from having to comply with some provisions in the state’s open records law.
“That brings into focus the transparency and accountability of the university,” he said.
He also questions whether Temple is straying from its mission to educate the city’s and state’s children, especially those from the working class.
“The temptation is to recruit out-of-state and foreign students to bring in more money,” he said. “But you shouldn’t be doing that to the neglect of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.”
He hopes the university abandons plans for a stadium, fearing it would hurt the community, get low attendance, and become a financial burden.
He’d also like to see reform on the trustees board, which he said is too large, too male, and too “insular.” Some members should be elected rather than relying on appointments by the board and political officials, he said.
Temple, he also charged, was too slow to distance itself from Cosby as more women accused him.
But he remains optimistic about Temple’s future.
“Financially, the university is in great shape,” he said. “Enrollment-wise, it’s doing fantastic. There’s a lot of enthusiasm about Temple University, and I think the faculty is energized by what’s going on.”