President Theobald delivered his official inaugural address as the 10th president of the university on Friday, Oct. 18, inside the old Baptist Temple, which was commissioned by Temple’s first president, Russell Conwell, more than 100 years ago.
In his 33-minute speech, Theobald gave a broad description of his vision for Temple’s future commitment to education and continued role as “Philadelphia’s public university.”
Theobald, dressed in ceremonial cherry and white robes and a velvet Tam cap with a large golden medallion of the Temple seal draped around his neck, spoke to the packed audience at Temple Performing Arts Center. The crowd seated behind him consisted of members of his cabinet, Temple Student Government, the Board of Trustees and state dignitaries.
The bulk of the speech was spent laying out six commitments to be highlighted under his administration: students, teaching, the City of Philadelphia, research, the definition of the student body and entrepreneurship.
Other than announcing a $50 million research funding project approved at the Board of Trustees public meeting on Oct. 8, Theobald didn’t formalize any new policy initiatives and didn’t mention several ongoing projects such as Visualize Temple and the state of the athletic department.
Theobald did make the promise to fund urban initiatives in K-12 education and indigent health care as part of his administration’s work with the city and commonwealth. The funding, Theobald said, would not come from student tuition.
The first of Theobald’s six commitments was to students, who the president said need relief from “suffocating student debt” that is restricting higher education to only the wealthiest Americans. The president alluded to “a landmark affordability pact” that would provide incentives to undergraduates to complete their degrees in four years and more investments in advising.
The president’s second commitment was to “excellence in teaching.” He said the the newly formed residential environment around Main Campus was “making a positive impact on how students and faculty interact.”
For his third commitment – to the City of Philadelphia – the president spoke broadly about alumni contributions to the city’s economy. He didn’t mention improving relations between the university and surrounding neighborhoods, a sore subject for many of the community’s local residents.
Theobald’s fourth commitment rested on research initiatives that would have real-world impact for consumers.
Theobald announced that to fund such research, the board will allocate $50 million during a five-year span to the areas of urban ecology, sustainability, genetics, cancer research, bioengineering and bio-materials, among others.
Theobald stressed the need for a clear definition of Temple’s student body in his fifth commitment, declaring Temple to be a diverse and international university.
In his final commitment, Theobald called for innovation and entrepreneurship across the university. The president cited specific needs such as digital networking, in which he said all students must become proficient.
“Our students must learn to adapt to constant change and find success in fields that have not even been created yet,” Theobald said.
In his conclusion, Theobald spoke of how an anonymous donation from several benefactors allowed him to be the first in his Midwestern family to attend college. He connected his own story with Temple’s founding purpose of providing education to those in need.
Theobald ended his speech to a standing ovation from the crowd.
John Moritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU.