After nurturing a curricular baby, director takes leave to ‘recharge’

Former General Education Director Terry Halbert, the face of GenEd for nearly five years, is now on a one-year administrative leave to write, research and rest. UPDATE: Istvan Varkonyi, an associate professor of German and

Former General Education Director Terry Halbert, the face of GenEd for nearly five years, is now on a one-year administrative leave to write, research and rest.

UPDATE: Istvan Varkonyi, an associate professor of German and former director of the Intellectual Heritage program, was named Halbert’s replacement  June 16, 2010.

About five years ago, when Terry Halbert accepted the position as director of the university’s then-new General Education program, Halbert gave up the pajama summertime she’d grown so accustomed to.

Now, after working nonstop on the planning and implementation of the two-year-and- running GenEd curriculum, Halbert can finally breathe a sigh of relief, recharge and return to the “life of a scholar.” The university granted her an administrative one-year leave, and a replacement for Halbert will be announced by the end of this week, Interim Senior Vice President and Provost Dick Englert said. The replacement is an internal university hire that has worked closely with the program during its development.

“When you’re a professor doing research, you’re not working all alone, but it’s much more isolated than [administrative] work,” Halbert said. “You have all this time to yourself, like all summer. Can you imagine? You have a job, they pay you, and all summer you can veg out, thinking about some really interesting project that you’d like to do, and then working on it without having to get out of your pajamas: that’s the life of a scholar.”

After working at Temple for 25 years, Halbert, also a Fox School of Business professor specialized in business ethics, was persuaded to accept the GenEd director position by Senior Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies Peter Jones and other administrators. For Halbert, deciding to leave the comforts of teaching, researching and writing wasn’t easy. Halbert said she spoke with about 24 friends and coworkers within the Temple community before deciding to accept the position and take on the challenge of weaving together an entirely new curriculum.

“I actually was pretty hesitant to be honest,” Halbert said of accepting the position. “I was afraid to do it because I knew there was a lot of contention and confusion as far as what we were going to be doing [with GenEd] over the next few years when we started. I guess I could blame it on Peter for inviting me in,” she joked.

The adjustment to administrative work wasn’t easy. Noting she had “trouble in the beginning,” Halbert found herself working more than 80 hours a week, including the weekend.

Halbert was not just putting in extra hours: She was serving as the liaison between all of the university’s schools and colleges, including Temple Rome, Temple Japan and advising offices, Student Affairs, Board of Trustee members, both the vice provost and provost’s offices and other administrators. The process, of building an entire required curriculum from scratch, was hard enough, but the even more difficult task at hand was getting everyone to agree.

“GenEd was actually a quite political transformation,” Halbert said. “Initially, there were a lot of ideas about how GenEd should be and some of them were really, really different ideas. We struggled to come to agreement, but we did.”

“The creation of GenEd out of the Core was really very much an effort of networks at Temple,” she added. “It was a collaboration across the whole university.”

Englert, who served as the deputy provost and dean of university college before his first day as interim provost June 4, met with Halbert weekly as her boss and said the collaboration Halbert spoke of was instrumental to the way GenEd unraveled during the past few years and will continue to unravel in the future.

“She was able to create widespread goodwill, support and cooperation from faculty and administrators,” Englert said. “She enthused the entire GenEd program and implementation with a whole energy and enthusiasm and a real spirit of collaboration.”

“One of the things that we want to continue to do is have a close collaboration among faculty, administrators, department chairs, deans, schools and colleges, departments – all collaborating and building on the collaboration that Terry created for us all,” Englert added.

But laying an “excellent foundation for GenEd to build upon,” as Englert said Halbert did, left her “deeply and deeply, heavily tired,” Halbert said.

Though Halbert said she had a great team supporting her – Associate Director Julie Phillips and Executive Assistant Annabelle Jellinek – at the start of the Fall 2009 semester, Halbert began thinking heavily about requesting to step aside.

“What I was waiting for before I stepped away was for the moment when things seemed to be up and running and it looked to me that all the participants could keep it going without needing a whole lot of me,” Halbert said, adding that she had to see everyone working in harmony before a new director took her position.

“It’s definitely reached a point where it’s OK to leave it now,” she said.

But even as she spoke from the comforts of home instead of an office, Halbert couldn’t help but express excitement for the Fall 2010 semester of GenEd and the yet-to-be-named person who has assumed her position.

Halbert’s brainchild, the Philadelphia Experience portion of GenEd fostered the PEX passport, which debuted in Fall 2009. Aside from incoming freshmen and transfer students, an additional 3,000 to 4,000 PEX passports will be available at the Student Center for all students on a first-come, first-serve basis for the 2010-2011 academic year.

And, to make the Philadelphia experience more interactive, the GenEd program’s website will feature a “happenings” section, which will serve as a RSS feed of things to do in the city.

Cultural organizations featured in the PEX passports – which has doubled for the upcoming academic year – will be able to contribute events to the feed so students and faculty will know about particular goings on in the city. Then, if anyone chooses, they will be able to post comments about their experience on a blog-like message board.

“The whole idea about what we we’re doing is connecting the classroom to the city,” Halbert said, adding that students, faculty and the cultural organizations have responded positively to the Philadelphia Experience.

The concept of the connection between a university and its surroundings is something Halbert is looking forward to exploring during her time off.

“I think I’m going to need a little bit more time before I can tell anyone what I’m going to do with my free time,” Halbert said, “but I’m very interested in doing something creative with my time. I’m really interested in how universities in urban settings can influence the places where they exist for the better.”

“When I come back, I want to be involved with deepening students’ engagement with what they call place-based learning,” she said. “It’s happening in other universities, but as far as I know, it’s not happening at other universities in required curriculum.”

Ashley Nguyen can be reached at

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