The College of Liberal Arts will begin a national search next fall for a new leader, following a tumultuous year for the school that saw a much publicized fight to retain a divisive African American studies professor and the departure of Dean Teresa Soufas.
Soufas announced her resignation last week in an email letter addressed to students, faculty and staff, citing health concerns and the advice of her doctors in Philadelphia and New Orleans, where she previously spent 21 years teaching in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Tulane University.
According to the letter and an official university statement, Soufas will begin a sabbatical to complete research on a book and several articles in her field of Spanish literature before returning to Temple to teach. Soufas said the sabbatical would last a year.
“During my tenure here in the administration of CLA, I have felt the great honor of holding this position which has allowed me to work with each of you toward the goal of providing an exceptional research and learning experience for all members of the Temple University community,” Soufas’ note said.
Soufas began her leadership of the CLA in July 2007, overseeing the development of several new programs – including in the fields of neuroscience and global studies – and a research budget that topped $15.5 million last year. But in the past two years, the college had struggled to contain internal turmoil within the historic African American studies Department, involving public struggles between two of the department’s professors.
Following the retirement of African American Studies Chairman Nathaniel Norment in April 2012, Soufas was criticized by members of the department and local community for her appointment of a white woman to temporarily lead the department – well known for being the first of its kind in the country to offer doctorate degrees in 1987.
Soufas countered that the faculty pick to lead the department, Temple dance professor Kariamu Welsh, was unacceptable because she was not a member of the department or college. Following a series of public protests in Spring 2013, Soufas accepted the department’s nomination of Molefi Asante, who headed the department from 1984 to 1997, to once again serve as chair.
But unrest returned in the spring of 2014, after Anthony Monteiro, a non-tenured professor in the African American studies department, fought Soufas’ decision not to renew his contract.
Monteiro, who had been vocal in his opposition to Soufas’ handling of the vacant chair position the year before, said the decision not to renew his contract was payback for “standing up to [Soufas] bullying, pointing fingers at black men.”
Soufas said the decision was recommended by Asante as part of a redirection of the department’s scholarship, and Asante also told The Temple News at the time he supported not giving Monteiro a new contract.
“The department is changing directions, away from civic issues in American history to other areas,” Soufas told The Temple News in 2013.
In September 2014, Asante announced that he was considering changing the name of the department to Africology to represent the department’s study of African people beyond geographic boundaries. The name change has yet to be finalized.
Soufas’ departure is also the first departure of a sitting dean under university President Neil Theobald. When Theobald took over the presidency on Jan. 1 2013, four of the university’s colleges were without a permanent dean.
Theobald made it a defining position of his first year at the university to fill all four dean vacancies quickly, while at the same time installing a decentralized budget model that requires deans to control their colleges’ budgets. National searches were conducted to find new heads at three of the four colleges, and one dean was named from within the university.
As with other recent vacancies left at the head of schools and colleges, an interim dean is expected to be announced in the next few weeks. Temple will begin a nationwide search to find a permanent replacement during the next academic year, with an announcement to be made in 2016, according to a university announcement.
John Moritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU