Peter Liacouras’ storied presidency continues to shape the university, as it grows into its North Philadelphia home. Twelve years later, he still affects the university.
When Temple’s 10th president takes the reins, he or she will inherit an institution shaped by so many leaders who came before. Its founder. Its first female president. Its administrators. But the university nestled in North Philadelphia as it’s known today is largely a result of its seventh commander-in-chief, Peter Liacouras.
The 80-year-old chancellor is perhaps the most influential leader of the university to come along since founder Russell Conwell, said Trustee James White, who was the executive vice president during Peter Liacouras’ presidency. History tends to agree.
Thirty years after assuming his presidency, and a dozen years since stepping down, Peter Liacouras continues to embody Temple, even despite personal setbacks.
Peter Liacouras suffered a stroke in November 2010, which left him partially paralyzed. Still, he is able to understand his surroundings and greet friends and family with a smile and a kiss on the hand despite his difficulty communicating, his 46-year-old son Gregory Liacouras said in an email. He’s made it to most basketball and football games this year, too.
Gregory Liacouras said that, true to his father’s tenacious character, Peter Liacouras spends weekdays doing physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and aquatics therapy.
“Everyone is hopeful that down the road, with all of his therapy, that his brain can be rewired and he can at least get some speech back,” Gregory Liacouras said. “Through the therapy, he is maintaining, and even adding, strength to both his strong and weak sides.”
Before his stroke, Peter Liacouras was still active at the university, in his chancellorship and as a trustee, raising money for Temple. He was in the process of writing his memoir. He also traveled at least twice a year to Greece, where he has a vacation home, and continued to swim more than a mile in the Mediterranean Sea, his son said.
When Peter Liacouras joined Temple’s faculty as an associate law professor in 1963, the Philadelphia native had an impressive résumé under his belt. He attended University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Harvard University, Yale University, College of William & Mary and the Fletcher School of Law & Dilpomacy. He moved up the ladder quickly, becoming dean of Temple Law School in 1972.
When Marvin Wachman, the university’s sixth president, stepped down in 1982, Peter Liacouras was named president.
Despite a reported budget shortfall of $52 million, Peter Liacouras spent his initial years making hard decisions to increase revenues and decrease excess spending. When he wasn’t delivering a balanced budget, he was perfecting the university’s appeal.
Under his presidency, Peter Liacouras instructed Tyler School of Art to adopt a seminar to create a crest for the Temple community to rally under. The result was the inception of the iconic Temple “T.”
In line with his marketing skills, Peter Liacouras advertised national commercials for Temple in the early 1980s, some using alumnus and Trustee Bill Cosby, to increase Temple’s prominence. He put banners along North Broad Street, marking the university’s place in the city.
Peter Liacouras envisioned Temple Town, a residential campus equipped with resources necessary for student achievement.
Even with a tight budget, Peter Liacouras planned to build for the future by fundraising money to pair with commonwealth capital appropriations. From 1981 to 1982, the university fundraised $6.49 million. In Peter Liacouras’ last year as president, Temple raised $44.4 million.
It wasn’t uncommon for Temple’s numbers to go up, under Liacouras’ presidency.
The average SAT scores for incoming freshmen went up 109 points. Temple’s endowment grew from $15 million in June 1982 to $109 million in June 1999. Research coming out of the university went up 300 percent. The number of students and staff living within three blocks of Main Campus went up by 205 percent.
During his presidency, the Liacouras Center, Student Pavilion and Tuttleman Learning Center were built. Even though Peter Liacouras is no longer spearheading restructuring projects on Main Campus, his influence has undoubtedly served as the foundation for the university’s present and future landscape.
Known for sticking to his beliefs, Peter Liacouras is remembered by many as a leader who overcame any obstacles that threatened his vision for the university.
“He loved to take a challenge and in terms of his leadership skills, he always looked to challenge the other side to do better and do things in a way that was different,” Trustee Nelson Diaz told The Temple News. “Whether it was the teacher’s union at the university or whether it was a professor who was teaching a course in international affairs or whether it was the hospital in a way of the delivery system, he always looked for a way to challenge the status quo.”
From bringing Tyler School of Art to Main Campus to pushing for a regional rail stop near Main Campus, Peter Liacouras found ways to get the job done, those close with him said.
“He [fed] upon opportunities that the times presented,” said Chancellor David Adamany, Temple’s eighth president and Liacouras’ successor. “That’s what you want in a president. Peter had the ability to seize the opportunities that were presented.”
But even with a large faculty strike in 1990 that setback enrollment for a few years, and community members’ concerns of being displaced, Peter Liacouras showed a commitment to the people of North Philadelphia.
In 1989, when a university armory building caught fire and threatened the homes of community members on Carlisle Street, Liacouras arrived to keep tabs on the situation, White, the city’s managing director at the time, said. Peter Liacouras opened the doors of Johnson and Hardwick residence halls to the evacuated residents, like he did for another incident years earlier.
“I came to the university with great admiration for him as a leader and as a person who always kept the welfare of people upmost in his mind,” White said.
Human dignity and the well-being of students and faculty were important to Liacouras.
White joined Peter Liacouras’ administration not too long after the armory fire, and became a key figure in the major construction projects unveiled in the 1990s. James S. White Hall opened in 1993 on the site of the former armory building.
Under Peter Liacouras’ administration a number of innovative thinkers were charged with advancing Temple on various levels. Provost Barbara Brownstein created a 10-year academic plan and pursued the university’s Carnegie Research I University title. Hall of Fame Basketball Coach John Chaney was hired – a decision that would bring more visibility to the university’s athletic program.
Before stepping down in 2000, Peter Liacouras established relationships with community colleges locally, and approved campuses and university presence in a number of countries. As a result, Temple continues to expand its international presence, today, and the number of students studying abroad continues to rise.
But, on an intimate level, Peter Liacouras created lifelong friendships with members of the university community.
“He was always around the campus, talking to students, talking to employees,” White said. “It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to serve under him.”
Trustee Richard Fox, Board of Trustees chairman during Peter Liacouas’ presidency, said the former president is a “dear friend,” who he misses spending time with.
Gregory Liacouras said his father had a way of bringing the university to his family, too.
“Temple law school students and professors were frequently at our house, and we would often be at the law school at nights or weekends tagging along with dad as he worked,” Gregory Liacouras said.
Peter Liacouras and his wife, Ann, a 1977 Temple Law School alumna, have four children – Gregory, Lisa, Jimmy and Stephen – and three grandchildren.
While sitting in the building renamed in his honor in 2000, the Liacouras Center, watching the men’s basketball team take on St. Joe’s last weekend, the chancellor was surrounded by family members, former coworkers and fellow trustees – many of whom just call themselves friends.
Even more than a year after his stroke, Peter Liacouras’ presence at university events demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the school he once led.
Like the presidents that came before and after him, Peter Liacouras brought something unique to the table, White said. To many, it was escalating the image of the university, sparking a renaissance in North Philadelphia and teaching others how to represent Temple to a “T.”
He tends to be a bit more modest.
“Life didn’t start at this university in 1982,” Peter Liacouras told The Temple News in a 2008 interview. “There was a lot before it, a lot after it.”
Sean Carlin and Angelo Fichera can be reached at email@example.com.