Theobald reflects on first semester at helm

President Neil Theobald talks with The Temple News in his office last week. | ANDREW THAYER / TTN
President Neil Theobald talks with The Temple News in his office last week. | ANDREW THAYER / TTN

Four months into his tenure as president, Neil Theobald has had little time to relax.

“He’s in early every day, just constantly working,” said Assistant Vice President for the Executive Office of the President Anne Nadol. “He’s nonstop and that extends into the weekend.”

Though the title entails a bigger time commitment, Theobald said his role at Temple doesn’t differ much from his role as senior vice president and chief financial officer at Indiana University. He ended up working on academic planning in addition to being the CFO, because the university doesn’t have a provost, Theobald said.

Theobald has maintained throughout his tenure as president-elect and his few months as president that his main goals include providing an environment that lowers student debt and encourages students to graduate in four years.

“We’re going to look at how we create plans for students,” Theobald said. “Clearly we want people to make smart decisions, and they need to have information to make smart decisions. But decisions you can make are based upon the options available to you.”

So far, the university has introduced courses aimed at improving students’ financial literacy in an effort to curb student debt, and the president and provost are working to provide an adequate supply of classes and “doable” paths to encourage students to graduate in four years.

“It’s a student’s choice to graduate in four years, you’re not forcing anybody into a box,” Theobald said. “But if a student comes up and says, ‘I’d like to graduate in four years,’ we need to be able to lay out, ‘OK, starting day one, you need to go here, here, here and here,’ and have those things available.”

Fundraising has also been a focus of Theobald’s administration, a part of Indiana that he plans to build at Temple.

“[The] difference between Indiana and Temple is Indiana started [fundraising] very intentionally in the early 1950s,” Theobald said. “They’ve been doing it for 60 years. So, when I chaired the last fundraising drive at IU, I was about the 10th person to do that. We’re starting from where we are and we need to grow that.”

Part of his plan includes improving the way Temple brands itself. Earlier this year, he created the position of senior vice president for strategic communication and marketing. Karen Clarke of the University of Houston was appointed to the position and will start May 1.

Starting on April 11, the university embarked on what perhaps was the toughest string of days of the president’s first semester. Reports emerged on April 11 that the university found threatening messages referring to the Columbine High School shootings in a Gladfelter Hall bathroom and did not issue an advisory to students and faculty. He said the university brought in the FBI, Homeland Security and the Philadelphia Police Department after the discovery.

“Their advice to us was to not make a public notice initially,” Theobald said. “We will remain vigilant through commencement. This is an indication that we need to be paying attention to this and we are going to. Again, student safety is the paramount issue here.”

A few days later on April 17, Spring Fling ended tragically when a 19-year-old West Chester University freshman was killed after falling from a third-floor roof on the 1900 block of 18th Street.

Theobald said he’s appointed Provost Hai-Lung Dai, Vice President for Student Affairs Theresa Powell and Senior Vice President for Construction, Facilities and Operations James Creedon to look into the purpose of Spring Fling.

“They’ve been given that charge, they’re meeting and they’ll come back with a recommendation of what we do,” said Theobald, who added that there should be a response by the end of May.

Looking forward, he offered a preview into his agenda, which he’ll be unveiling on Oct. 18. Theobald said it emphasizes the importance of affordability, research and faculty, among other components.

“The university is built on its faculty. How do we recruit great faculty and support them when they’re here?” Theobald said, adding that, “research has value when it’s useful to someone. A great idea is wonderful, but a great idea that solves a problem is fabulous.”

As summer approaches, the president will still be working every day, but said he’ll be taking the time to learn more about the different schools and colleges across the university.

“I need to take this summer – and I’m going to be here all summer – and just make sure I know what are the schools, what are the different student groups,” Theobald said. “It’ll be a full summer, but it’s less doing and more learning.”

Sean Carlin can be reached at sean.carlin@temple.edu or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84. 

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