Not much has changed for Hai-Lung Dai.
Days after he dropped his interim title and was formally appointed provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, his most prevalent thought didn’t seem to be about his new role or a feeling of relief that he was chosen.
“I think this week my biggest challenge is answering all of the emails,” Dai said.
In his first major move as president, Neil Theobald named the former dean of the College of Science and Technology and senior vice provost for International Affairs provost after Theobald said Dai “earned the trust of his colleagues” during his tenure as interim provost throughout the last year.
“His broad experience in teaching, research, and education makes him an outstanding choice to be provost, and I am confident that he will be an outstanding contributor to the university leadership team,” Theobald said in an email announcement.
While Dai is described by his peers as an excellent researcher and administrator, the depictions of Dai give little credence to the Taiwan native’s accomplishments across the country and his more than 20 years of experience at the University of Pennsylvania before he came to Temple.
Dai was born in Taiwan and graduated from National Taiwan University in 1974 where he majored in chemistry and minored in physics, when he was 20 years old, before serving two years in the military.
After his service in the military, Dai came to the United States for graduate school and received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1981. He did three years of post-doctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before he moved to Philadelphia in 1984 to work at Penn.
Dai was promoted to full professor in 1992 and then served two terms as the chair of Penn’s department of chemistry. Interim Dean of CST Michael Klein was at Penn when Dai became department chair and lobbied for him to become the head of the department.
“I have enormous respect for his passion for research and education and this coupled with his exemplary interpersonal skills make a formidable leader,” Klein said in an email. “I recognized his rare talents early and campaigned for him to be the chair of chemistry at Penn when he was relatively young and the rest is history.”
In 2002, Dai was named a Hirschmann-Makineni Professor of Chemistry and he also served with the Penn Science Teacher Institute during his tenure at Penn.
TRANSITION TO NORTH BROAD
In 2007, Dai came to Temple as the dean of CST and a Laura H. Carnell Professor of Chemistry. He was later named senior vice provost for International Affairs in 2010.
When asked what the major differences are between the two schools, Dai called Temple the “best value in town.”
“Often people ask me, ‘Is it worth it to go to Ivy League [schools]?’” Dai said. “I say, ‘Come to Temple.’ It’s a much lower tuition and you receive the exact same quality of education.”
Just five years after he came to Temple, Dai was named interim provost in June 2012 shortly after former Provost Richard Englert was appointed acting president.
“He is literally one of the top people in his field,” Englert said. “It’s important as provost who is at the top of his or her field. You always want a provost who’s shown that academically that person is really nationally highly regarded.”
As interim provost, Dai said he approached the job as if the interim title wasn’t attached to the job.
“When I was interim, I didn’t take it as it was an interim,” Dai said. “At that time I worked closely with Acting President Englert and also at that time President-elect Theobald. We actually pushed through several major initiatives.”
During his time as the interim provost, the university worked to implement revamped scholarships for the Fall 2013 freshman class, which the university recently unveiled. The university also began a search for more than 70 tenure and tenure-track faculty positions, which is still going forward. Dai said most faculty hired through the search would start this fall or next spring.
In October 2012, Englert commissioned a search advisory committee to recommend provost candidates to Theobald. The search was limited to tenured university professors and the committee presented three candidates to Theobald on Jan. 30. Therese Dolan, chair of the committee, said Dai had a high academic standard, which made him stand out as a candidate.
“He had excellent academic credentials, he had shown leadership in the past, he seemed to us to be a very solid and distinguished individual that would lead us,” Dolan said. “One of the things that touched many of us…he said he left Benjamin Franklin’s university to do Benjamin Franklin’s work.”
VISION FOR TEMPLE
As Temple approaches the midpoint in the semester, Dai has a series of challenges ahead of him. The university currently has five interim deans and Dai said although the challenge will be “detrimental” to his health, he hopes to have four of the positions filled in the College of Education, the School of Media and Communication, the College of Health Professions and Social Work and University Libraries by the end of the semester so they can start in the fall.
The other interim position is in CST. Dai said he’s in discussion about how to approach that deanship.
“The current interim dean, Michael Klein, is doing a fabulous job,” Dai said. “To add another search, is nearly impossible, or so the timing is off. I’m in discussion with President Theobald as to what we should do.”
During the next several years, Temple will be moving to implement a decentralized budget system, which Dai is familiar with from his days at Penn. Englert said this experience will bode well for him as the university transitions.
“He has first hand knowledge of how the University of Pennsylvania implemented decentralized budgeting,” Englert said. “He, along with [Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Anthony] Wagner co-chaired a task force. That task force was charged with how best to look at decentralized budgeting.”
Klein added that, as provost, one of Dai’s former roles as the conductor for the Philadelphia Chinese Musical Voices Choir will come into play.
“To conduct, you don’t have to know how to play all the instruments, you just have to know how they fit together,” Klein said. “That’s why he fits at Temple.”
Sean Carlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84.