by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
It’s not so easy to fire an associate professor of African American Studies who has forged strong ties with the surround Black community. Philadelphia’s Temple University is finding that out, in the case of Dr. Tony Monteiro. Protesters converged on campus, this week, and their anger was directed as much at “Afro-centrist” Prof. Molefi Asante as at Teresa Soufas, the Dean of Liberal Arts who fired Monteiro.
Reinistate Dr. Anthony Monteiro, and Reinvent U.S. Higher Education
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“A lot of people want to study the prison industrial complex but not study the effect of neoliberal, corporatized universities upon communities.”
Temple University took on the wrong adjunct professor when they terminated Dr. Anthony Monteiro’s contract, without warning, in January. And Dr. Molefi Asante, the proponent of “Afrocentricity” who Monteiro and his student and community allies propelled to the chairmanship of the African American Studies Department after a bitter struggle with the administration, last year, chose the wrong man – and the wrong movement – to stab in the back.
Hundreds of community, labor and student activists gathered on Temple’s North Philadelphia campus, on Monday, in a rally that began with the demand for Monteiro’s reinstatement, and ended with a call for a “new paradigm” for the university and its relationship to the surrounding Black community. The activists’ anger was directed as much at Asante as at Teresa Soufas, the Dean of Liberal Arts who fired Monteiro. University president Neil D. Theobald confirmed that it was Asante who asked Soufas to kick Monteiro off the faculty. Asante’s name is now, deservedly, mud.
Dr. Monteiro was no stranger to the crowd outside Sullivan Hall, where Temple’s board of trustees was meeting. They had participated with him in countless acts of solidarity with Mumia Abu Jamal and other political prisoners, and against imperial wars, perpetually high Black unemployment, police brutality, and Temple’s own huge role in the gentrification of the city’s neighborhoods. Many of these same activists had answered Monteiro’s call for help in maintaining the autonomy of the African American Studies Department, after Dean Soufas appointed a white woman as interim chairman. The confrontation ended in Dr. Asante’s appointment as chairman, with Monteiro’s steadfast support.
“We are committed to alleviating poverty, alleviating sexism and racism, and how can we do that without appointing our own professors that we know will give us the quality education that we need to go out into these fields?” said Temple student Kashara Omira White, a member of PURP, People Utilizing Real Power, a student-community youth organization. “We’re here trying to learn, trying to get this knowledge. So, we need Dr. Monteiro to be reinstated with tenure.”
Henry Nicholas, the venerable president of Local 1199c of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, the largest representative of workers on campus, urged the crowd to take their grievances directly to the university’s leadership. “We should be at the trustee’s meeting right now, not here,” he said.
“University president Neil D. Theobald confirmed that it was Asante who asked Soufas to kick Monteiro off the faculty.”
Veteran Philadelphia anti-hunger and homelessness activist Sacaree Rhodes agreed. She blasted both Asante and Soufas as enemies of the people. “Soufas is a goddamn racist,” said Sacaree. “Her friend Dr. Asante needs to atone for what he’s done. Dean Soufas stated that Dr. Asante came to her and asked for her to fire Dr. Monteiro. If you are romancing about what Dr. Asante did [when he created the first doctoral program in African American Studies, in 1987], he didn’t do it by himself. If it wasn’t for the Black community, this department wouldn’t be here. We can’t let Asante or anybody else, Black, purple or blue, bullshit Black people and poor people in this community. Now, if he is working with her [Soufas], he’s gonna have to atone. Because Dr. Monteiro came to me and the community almost in tears, begging and pleading, asking us to stand up for Asante. Then [Asante] turns around and takes a knife, and stabs him in his back – and he’s working in concert with Dean Soufas, who said there is no Black community.
“Asante knows what he did is wrong. We’re demanding that Soufas’ ass be put out, and she’s gonna say, He ain’t got no game no more. Do you think she’s gonna leave him here?
“People like Asante sit around and plot on Black people. And then use the word African-centricity. What the fuck is that? You’ve got to stop romanticizing about treachery.
“This man [Monteiro] has been an honorable Black man in this community.
“We need to let them know that we know where they are and that we demand justice for Dr. Monteiro, we demand justice for those children in public housing, we demand justice for these Black men in the City of Philadelphia that who don’t get none of this goddamn work when they’re building all these ivory towers. We demand justice for all the Black people who are being gentrified in this city. You cannot stand here, you have to take the fight to them.”
“Now, you Temple police, come on, ‘cause I’m going in this damn building.”
“We’re demanding that Soufas’ ass be put out.”
Sacaree Rhodes and about 30 other people demanded to be let into Sullivan Hall, and ultimately succeeded taking seats at the trustees’ meeting. “Where are the Black people on this board?” Sacaree demanded. Board chairman Patrick O-Connor declared her “out of order” – to which Sacaree responded, Al Pucino-style: “You’re out of order!” O’Connor adjourned the meeting, amid chants of “Justice for Monteiro!”
More demonstrators poured into the building, staging a sit-in in the second-floor hallway. Dr. Monteiro and a handful of student and community representatives were allowed to be part of a second meeting, this one presided over by university president Neil Theobald, who confirmed Dr. Asante’s role in Monteiro’s dismissal. Theobald agreed that holding regularly scheduled meetings with community representatives was “a great idea – I’m in favor of it,” but balked at Rhodes’ contention that it was his duty to discuss whatever issues the community thought pertinent, including raging gentrification. He congratulated himself on deigning to meet with community members (“This just shows you how open we are to listening to you") and promised to review Monteiro’s firing.
Afterwards, Dr. Monteiro, who had maintained a low-key presence at the meeting, called the events a “game changer” because “they saw there was a wide representation of people from the community who were supporting the students.”
Corporate Globalism in Higher Education
Monteiro had earlier shared his comprehensive vision of the struggle at Temple with the massed protesters outside Sullivan Hall. It was a tour de force:
“In recent decades, Temple has become a powerful institution, with large real estate holdings as they gentrify north-central Philadelphia. Temple now has a global reach extending into Asia and Europe…. It sees itself as a 21st century university and a global force. Pride, rather than the spirit of service to humanity, is the culture that guides most of the top administration of this university. They see themselves as part of the global 1%. We, on the other hand, constitute a part of the global 99%.
“Indeed, Temple is a powerful institution. But Temple is not a great institution. Temple cannot be great unless Temple commits itself to serve.
“Temple has existed in North Philadelphia for over a hundred years. It is a neighbor to Black Philadelphia. Russell Conwell, the founder of Temple, founded this university on the principle of serving the poor and working class. However, his vision was incomplete because he did not see the Black poor and the Black working class…. In the late 1950s, Temple hired a president, Marvin Wachman, a Jewish socialist who had previously been the president of the university that I graduated from, Lincoln University. I was particularly proud that Temple had decided to appoint as its president, not only a socialist but an anti-racist. Marvin Wachman attempted to extend and deepen the philosophy of Russell Conwell. However, several presidents since Wachman have whittled away at a moral vision of inclusion and service to the poor and working class. We are, therefore, where we are today, because of the abandonment of the vision of service to the working class; a university that wants to be a player in a global order that oppresses billions of people.
“Along with the demand for my reinstatement with tenure, is the demand that Dean Soufas be removed from her position. Her tenure has been troubled. It has been based upon a demonstrable misperception, a demonstrable lack of knowledge, and a flawed racial philosophy. It is time for a new beginning in the College of Liberal Arts.”
The Invisible Community
Dean of Liberal Arts Teresa Soufas, who infamously waved her finger in Dr. Molefi Asante’s face at the height of the battle over her choice of a white woman academic with no expertise in African American studies as interim head of the department, personified the university’s contempt for Black people, said Monteiro.
“Her own statement that she did not see a Black community in the center of this great city…this all manifested a flawed racial philosophy that suggested that the poor were poor because there was something wrong with them.
“If you don’t see a Black community, you’re saying that they can’t be stakeholders in what this university becomes.”
“Temple strides the two poorest zip codes in the city of Philadelphia. A poor zip code in the City of Philadelphia means that you have extreme poor people and extremely poor children. And, as they build tall buildings, they look down upon poverty and they don’t see it, because they don’t see a Black community. But, if you don’t see a Black community, you’re saying that they can’t be stakeholders in what this university becomes. You’re saying, they have no moral vision that has any significance for this university. You’re saying that they should forever be marginalized, imprisoned, impoverished, and made unemployed.
“But, to this problem of the pointing of fingers in the faces of Black men, and this assumption that Black men are, in essence, a threat to academic normalcy. That if you want to take the African American Studies Department, or the Philosophy Department, or the Sociology Department, or the College of Liberal Arts, in a creative direction, think about eliminating the number of Black men because they represent something that is pathological and abnormal in American society, and therefore, you can justify pointing a finger in the face of a Black colleague of yours.”
No Retreat on Principle
Red-baiting has all along been the subtext of the university’s – and Molefi Asante’s – hostility to Monteiro. He addressed the issue, directly:
“If it’s a question of, Dr. Monteiro, you’re too political – well, if I’m too political when I’m standing with Mumia and political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, then are you telling me I should not have stood with Nelson Mandela?
“Some will say, You’re a Marxist and a socialist (cheers). That you teach W.E.B. Dubois’ magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America. That you teach C.L.R. James and Amiri Baraka. Are you telling me that you can have a Department of African American Studies without teaching the radical tradition and the traditions of socialism? And, if that’s what you’re telling me, then you’re telling me that you want a department built on a lie.
“I am not going to back up and say that my life-world is going to be transformed because rich people now want to inhabit the cities. I’m going to fight that. And, in fighting against gentrification, we are fighting against poverty; we’re fighting against the prison industrial complex.
“A lot of people want to study the prison industrial complex but not study the effect of neoliberal, corporatized universities upon communities. These institutions are as negative in the life of communities as the prison industrial complex is.
The Sins of Asante
Dr. Molefi Asante, the proponent of Afro-centricity, initially claimed to have been passive in Monteiro’s termination, adding that he considered his colleague and one-time ally’s presence in the department superfluous. However, Asante was outed as an instigator of the firing by both Soufas and university president Theobald. Although Dr. Monteiro avoided speaking Asante’s name, everyone knew who he was talking about:
“It has been said by some, even written in newspapers, that Dr. Monteiro’s not that important, that we can replace him with scores of professors; they’re out there.
“They say that they’re moving in a new direction, ill-defined though it be. And in this new direction we don’t need the Black radical tradition. I think, to those people, we would ask that they come forward with their proposal, not just for African American Studies but for the university as a whole. And if you think that African American Studies can go forward without the African American community, you must believe that you can have Black art and Black music without Black people.”
Where do we go from here?
It will be a long struggle, said Monteiro, one that requires that community and students take the offensive and envision the reinvention of the university.
“I propose that that person proceed from the philosophical grounding that I call the Russell Conwell, Marvin Wachman, WEB Dubois paradigm for higher education.
“Russell Conwell’s commitment to the poor and working class, all be they immigrant and white.
“Marvin Wachman’s socialism, arising out of the European holocaust against the Jews, teaching and heading an historically Black college, Lincoln University, and then coming here to Temple to infuse that ideology, and extend Russell Conwell’s vision.
“But then, higher education cannot be higher education without W.E.B. Dubois, without his understanding of the function and purpose of higher education.
“And so I would propose that a project for all of us that we think of the type of Dean of the College of Liberal Arts that we need, and that Philadelphia needs, and that North Philadelphia needs. And that person should be acquainted when they come here with the philosophy of Russell Conwell, Marvin Wachman and W.E.B. Dubois. I don’t care how long your resume is, but if you don’t understand basic principles you can’t do the job.”
In the immediate term, Monteiro urges other academics to join the 200-plus list of teachers and scholars demanding his reinstatement with tenure, including Angela Davis, Cornel West, Chris Hedges and many others.