Turmoil at Temple U

Weeks after the president ousted the provost, the board says it will remove the president.

July 13, 2016
Neil D. Theobald

Temple University's board announced Tuesday that it plans to fire President Neil D. Theobald next week. The move follows a vote of no confidence in Theobald by the board Tuesday, and a request by trustees that he quit. The board statement said that Theobald declined to resign, leading to the move to fire him.

The news comes just weeks after Theobald ousted the provost, Hai-Lung Dai, leading to a highly unusual situation in which both of the top leaders of a university will have been removed in a short period of time.

Many faculty members have been protesting Dai's removal -- both the decision and the abrupt manner in which it took place, which many on campus viewed as needlessly disrespectful, regardless of what the president thought of the provost. Thousands have signed a petition calling for "scrutiny of the president's leadership" in the wake of his dismissal of the provost.

Dai's removal was announced the same day the university announced a $22 million deficit in its financial aid budget. While the university didn't explicitly link the two developments, leaks have suggested Dai was being held responsible for that deficit.

But the board's statement Tuesday said Theobald was responsible.

"The board’s decision is based in part on the events that led to the removal of Hai-Lung Dai as university provost on June 28, 2016. Specifically, the board concludes that the issues arising from the discovery of a $22 million deficit in the university’s financial aid budget ultimately were the responsibility of President Theobald, and that he must be held accountable," said the statement.

While boards of colleges routinely fire presidents or quietly negotiate their departures, public rebukes of this sort are quite unusual.

Theobald did not comment on the situation Tuesday.

A Temple spokesman told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Theobald knew of the deficit a year ago, when it was $9 million. If a substantial portion of the deficit existed a year ago, that might contradict university statements that the deficit was caused largely by more top students -- who received aid based on grades and test scores -- enrolling this year than had been expected.

Under Theobald's leadership, Temple has made a number of policy shifts, some of which have drawn considerable praise. He has pushed a "Fly in 4" program to encourage graduation in four years. One notable part of the program gives students extra funds so they won't hold jobs that take too much time away from academics, which might be likely to diminish students' chances of graduating on time.

But he has been involved in other controversial decisions as well, such as a push for a new football stadium that is opposed by some local residents and some students. While there are no signs that the stadium issue played a role in the board's turn against Theobald, a group opposing the stadium said on Facebook that it welcomed his removal.

In another highly unusual development Tuesday, Kevin Feeley, the university spokesman, told the Inquirer that Theobald sent some university officials an email Monday saying that he had removed Dai because of sexual harassment allegations. Feeley at the same time said this rationale for removing Dai "is frankly not supported by fact and absurd."

Dai and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment from the Inquirer. Feeley said Temple's board appointed a committee to look into the sexual harassment allegations.

The Temple faculty union, on its website, posted this comment: "Temple's trustees oust President Theobald after he ousted Provost Dai …. Extraordinary times for faculty, staff and students."

Theobald started as Temple president in 2013, after a career as a faculty member and administrator at Indiana University.

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