Around 11 a.m. on Friday, after throngs of freshmen crossed Broad Street into the Liacouras Center for their convocation, Neil Theobald passed through a mostly empty Main Campus wearing sneakers and a wrinkled Oxford shirt tucked into khakis.
Just a few months ago, Theobald was wearing fitted suits — and occasionally a Temple “T” lapel pin — to the Office of the President in Sullivan Hall. But after a feud with the Board of Trustees over his decision to fire Provost Hai-Lung Dai, the Board voted to remove Theobald as Temple’s president. To replace him, the trustees selected Richard Englert, who has a storied career at the university. Englert, a former provost, chancellor and dean, has worked in various other roles at the university for 40 years.
Across Broad Street, Englert, as Acting President, was in full academic regalia preparing to address the Class of 2020. Theobald was just wrapping up a morning of reading when an editor from The Temple News bumped into him on Broad.
Theobald said a nondisclosure agreement limited what he could tell The Temple News about his removal. He said that he is a faculty member in the College of Education, and that he would be on sabbatical for the next 12 months. He declined to comment further.
At convocation, Englert spoke about when he was hired to teach in the College of Education in 1976.
The new provost, JoAnne Epps, discussed her career path and advised the freshmen to stay on track with their classes, not party too much and graduate in four years.
While Epps used her own story, Englert’s speech focused on the faculty and on the achievements of students rather than shine the spotlight on himself.
“I think it’s important that we’re accessible, that people know who we are,” Englert told The Temple News at a barbecue following the ceremony. “The real action at our university comes from our faculty, from our physicians, from our advisors and our coaches. … Most students don’t care who I am or who’s sitting in my chair. My job is to support the faculty, students, coaches.”
Temple, which has had three presidents in the last 16 years, enters this school year with two new faces at the top. But how did the university get here?
Theobald is Hired
- June 2012: Former President Ann Weaver Hart steps down, citing her mother’s health as priority.
- The Board of Trustees names Richard Englert as acting president.
- September 2012: Neil Theobald, the CFO at Indiana University, signs a 5-year contract to serve as Temple’s president starting in the following year.
Establishing a program
- Winter 2013: Theobald begins his reign with a commitment to making Temple more affordable for students.
- Theobald hires Hai-Lung Dai, the chair of the chemistry department, as Provost.
- Dai establishes a merit scholarship program that grants students awards based on test scores and high school GPAs. The university sees an uptick in applications and in the number of students with high scores.
- Spring 2016: Theobald approaches Provost Dai about overspending on student scholarships.
- Theobald removes Dai as provost without consulting the Board of Trustees, Board spokesman Kevin Feeley says.
- Theobald emails the Board and the faculty saying that Dai had been dismissed.
- The Inquirer reports that Theobald removed Dai in response to a $22 million deficit in the merit scholarship program.
- Theobald nominates JoAnne Epps, the dean of the law school, to replace Dai. The Board approves the appointment at a public meeting in July.
Board ousts Theobald
- July 12: The Board votes “no confidence” in Theobald’s leadership, stemming from his handling of the deficit and for his firing of Dai without first notifying the Board.
- Feeley tells reporters that Theobald knew about the deficit in the scholarship program and hid it for nearly a year, allowing it to grow from $9 million to $22 million.
- Philadelphia magazine reports that Theobald, in an email to the Board, hinted that Dai was accused of sexually harassing one of his subordinates. Theobald insinuated that the Board’s attempt to dismiss him was to keep him quiet about the allegation.
- Theobald was offered the chance to resign but refused, Feeley said.
- Two hours before the Board was scheduled to vote on removing him, Theobald agrees to step down as President.
- After four years, Richard Englert is again appointed as Acting President of the university.
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