Kenyatta among Pa. lawmakers rallying in support of striking Temple grad students

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, a Temple graduate, speaks at the Temple University Bell Tower on Tuesday, 2/14/23 (Pennsylvania Capital-Star photo by Michala Butler).

By Michala Butler

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta had a simple message for Temple University administrators on Tuesday as he returned to his alma mater to rally in support of striking graduate students.

“Last Tuesday, the state House Democrats won the house majority. Temple administrators sitting over in Sullivan Hall should be ready to see us out here time and time again,” Kenyatta said. “However, next time we hear you knocking on the doors in Harrisburg, it should be after you signed a contract agreement and treated the people out here on strike with dignity and respect.”

The university’s Graduate Students’ Association represents more than 800 graduate employees who have entered their third week on strike on Tuesday, demanding better wages and working conditions, and longer parental and bereavement leave from the administration of the state-related university.

On Tuesday, Kenyatta praised TUGSA members for standing together in this fight, but questioned the retaliation that students are now facing from the university after their tuition was rescinded for participating in the strike.

State Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia) a former adjunct professor at Temple from 2012 to 2016, voiced his concern towards their decision not to meet their demands given his past experience teaching at the university.

“This feels like deja vu for me because when I was an adjunct professor here, I was involved with the Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP) alongside approximately 1,500 other professors,” Rabb said.

“During the time I was a member, we were also fighting for similar demands, but won by an avalanche of support. However, after my participation in the fight for our rights, I did not receive an invitation to come back and teach. That sounds like retaliation to me,” he continued.

Since his election to the House, “the university has been really friendly towards me all the sudden,” Rabb said. “Their kindness could potentially be because I am one of the people that will sign bills that provide the university with state money.”

State Rep. Darisha Parker (D-Philadelphia) said lawmakers will refuse to speak to Temple’s representatives and lobbyists if they continue not to negotiate.

“I will not answer Temple’s emails or phone calls until there are agreements that are signed for these TUGSA members,” Parker said. “We are not going to sign anything for Temple until everyone in this audience is satisfied. We are also not going anywhere until these demands are met.”

Temple University Provost, Gregory Mandel, and Chief Operating Officer, Ken Kaiser, sent out a joint email on Tuesday morning to the student population providing an update on the TUGSA strike.

“Please be assured that the university remains steadfastly focused on bringing it to a swift and fair resolution,” Mandel and Kaiser said in the email. “For a year now, we have been negotiating in good faith, and we look forward to meeting the union representatives today. We sincerely hope that we can come to terms soon and that all members of TUGSA will have the opportunity to vote on these terms.”

Last week, university officials removed tuition remission for the spring semester.

“You now owe the full balance listed in TUpay, which is due by Thursday, March 9,” officials wrote in a Wednesday email reviewed by the Capital-Star. “If the balance is not paid in full by the due date, students will be assessed a $100 late payment fee and a financial hold will be placed on their student account. This hold will prevent the student from future registration, which would affect their academic progress in their respective program.”

Michala Butler is a correspondent for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this article first appeared.

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