Temple is still planning to hold classes on Election Day — despite a student-led push for the university to cancel instruction and deploy some of its resources to help students and other Philadelphians get to their polling places.
A petition for canceling classes on Nov. 8 has garnered over 4,300 signatures, the vast majority of which are from students. Alumni, staff, and over 100 faculty members also signed onto the proposal, said Jared Goldberg, the senior majoring in political science who started and circulated the petition.
The goal of the proposal is to help make sure students, many of whom are commuters, have the time in their schedules to make it to the polls.
“We can help bridge that divide,” Goldberg said, “and also show students that we’re not only telling them that they should register to vote, that it’s important that they vote — but we’re actually taking the accompanying steps to do so as well.”
A handful of Philly colleges and universities give at least some time off on Election Day. Both the Community College of Philadelphia and the University of the Arts have the day off this year. Drexel will close early.
Temple doesn’t typically cancel classes on Election Day, and “as of now” it’s not in the plans, per a Friday statement from the university.
“Temple’s student body has an excellent tradition and record of voting, and we encourage all members of the Temple community to exercise their right to vote on Nov. 8,” spokesperson Steve Orbanek wrote, directing students to the Temple Votes website.
An opportunity for Temple to lead by example
Goldberg got the idea thinking about his own busy schedule, which includes six classes three or four work shifts a week.
He stood outside Temple’s bell tower with a giant QR code to encourage other students to sign on and share the petition, and knocked on professors’ office doors to collect signatures and support.
Goldberg was out at the tower “all day for like two weeks straight … rain or shine,” said Arlo Blaisus, a law student and president of Temple’s chapter of the American Constitution Society, who offered advice on the effort.
The petition, which Goldberg wrote in late August and started to circulate in early September, asks Temple either to cancel classes altogether, or to at least block off time during the day when no classes will be in session.
It also asks the university to:
- Direct shuttle bus resources toward giving rides to students, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and other Philadelphians without access to transportation.
- Work with local nonpartisan groups to help “increase accessibility of democracy for Philadelphians.”
- Use university-wide communication channels to inform students on how they can become engaged in democracy — like becoming poll workers or helping with efforts to get voters to the polls.
- Host an election night celebration at Temple’s Bell Tower with food, music, and faculty speakers.
Temple’s Faculty Senate is scheduled to meet Monday, and Goldberg hopes to see the body pass a measure that would designate Dec. 6, currently a study day, as a typical class day in return for Nov. 8.
Administrators told Goldberg the timetable for making the change this year is too tight, he said — but he’s still hopeful this could lay the groundwork for change in future years.
“Temple, I think, has a real opportunity here to be a leader for the entire country,” Goldberg said. “In that you can take a stand and you can do something, and that you can show your student body that their voice matters.”
A reminder for college students that local elections matter
Some past attempts to get local university administrations to cancel classes on Election Day have been unsuccessful, like at the University of Pennsylvania in 2020 and Temple in 2016, when students circulated a different petition from the current one.
Temple’s Beasley School of Law has already designated Nov. 8 as a “day of civic service,” which means no classes won’t be happening. Blaisus said the push for that started back in March as part of a nationwide ACS initiative. (Penn Carey Law also won’t have class.)
The point is to provide not only the opportunity to vote, but also a chance to get involved. It’s looking like there’s at least some interest among law students in doing just that: around 80 people showed up for a “civic service fair” to connect with orgs like Common Cause and the Committee of 70 ahead of the upcoming election, Blaisus said — “fantastic turnout” amongst overworked law students.
This year is a test run, he said, but the hope is to make it a permanent, every-year thing — especially to ward off the “myth of the off-year election.”
“Having it be every year that you can take a day off on Election Day can really remind students like, oh yeah, local elections are happening,” Blaisus said. “Those matter too.”
Whether or not changes end up happening this year for the university at large, Goldberg hopes that students can feel empowered to ask their individual professors to let them skip class so they have the time to vote or be poll workers. His own professors, he said, were already planning to cancel classes anyway.
He also hopes to see some change in the future.
“I wanted to make a difference for this election, but every election matters,” Goldberg said. “And that’s what I want Temple to teach kids, is that their voice matters every single time.”