Theobald the likely choice for next Temple president

The bell tower on Temple's North Philadelphia campus.
The bell tower on Temple's North Philadelphia campus. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 04, 2012

Neil D. Theobald was headed on the same career path as his factory worker father until he confessed: "Dad, I think I'm going to college."

"Why would you want to do that?" asked his father, who worked in the mail room at Caterpillar, a heavy-equipment company based in Peoria, Ill.

Theobald, 55, now senior vice president and chief financial officer of Indiana University, went on to get his bachelor's degree, then a master's, then a doctorate. And on Tuesday, he will likely become the 10th president of Temple University.

Temple officials confirmed Thursday that Theobald, an education and finance expert who has spent the bulk of his academic career in Indiana, was the sole candidate for the presidency.

He will visit Temple's campus Monday and Tuesday to meet with staff, students, and trustees, and the board will vote on the search committee's recommendation Tuesday afternoon.

If approved, he will begin work Jan. 1 - a condition that Theobald set because of his remaining obligations to Indiana.

"After reviewing . . . submissions and interviewing dozens of candidates, we came to the unanimous decision that Neil Theobald has the experience, vision, and proven track record to lead this great university," Patrick O'Connor, president of the 36-member board of trustees and head of the search committee, said in a letter to Temple staff early Friday morning.

Theobald has never been a college president, unlike his two predecessors, Ann Weaver Hart and David Adamany, who both had led other institutions before coming to Temple.

But O'Connor pointed out in an interview Thursday that Theobald has had a varied career, serving as both faculty member and researcher and as both academic leader and financial leader - components it takes to understand and run a major university.

He worked in several administrative capacities, including vice provost, over the last decade at Indiana, one of the largest public college systems in the nation with more than 110,000 students on eight campuses - nearly three times the size of Temple's enrollment. He currently oversees the university's $3.1 billion budget and supervises human-resources services for the university's 3,100 faculty and more than 14,000 staff members.

Indiana also has a large sports program, O'Connor noted, and a health system comparable to Temple's.

"Most important, he is a first-generation college student," said O'Connor, vice chair of the law firm Cozen O'Connor. "He came from a blue-collar background. He understands firsthand the importance of accessibility and affordable education, which is Temple's mission."

If selected, Theobald will replace Hart, who departed in June to become president of the University of Arizona after a six-year Temple tenure.

Theobald emerged as one of three new candidates offered to the search committee in May after eight months of searching had produced dozens of candidates but none on whom the committee agreed. The university then appointed Richard M. Englert to serve as acting president so it could continue to search.

"We understand the importance of this position," O'Connor said in May. "We understand the importance of not making a mistake. We're going to be absolutely sure whomever we name will be a transformational leader for Temple."

With more than 39,000 students on its campuses, including its main base in the heart of North Philadelphia, Temple is one of the region's largest universities.

Operating on a $2.5 billion budget, Temple includes 17 schools and colleges and a comprehensive health system - all of which Theobald will oversee, if he is hired.

At Temple, his job will loom large, O'Connor said.

"He understands we need to improve philanthropy and get more scholarship aid to our kids," O'Connor said.

Indiana, like Temple, has faced financial crunches, and Theobald led the effort to cope, O'Connor said. The school endured a $38.4 million state budget cut while avoiding layoffs and granting faculty and staff salary increases of about 2 percent each year, officials noted. The university consolidated purchasing, provided early retirement, and closed its continuing studies school in the last year.

Theobald declined comment Thursday through a spokesman, but said in a statement that he was "thrilled" to be considered for the job.

If selected, he said, "My immediate goal will be to understand what the trustees, faculty, students, staff and community leaders see as Temple's most pressing issues and what they believe the highest priorities should be for early presidential attention."

He garnered high praise from Indiana University president Michael A. McRobbie when he was appointed to his senior vice president role in 2007.

"Neil has an extremely strong academic and practical background, particularly on matters concerning the financing of higher education," McRobbie said in a statement. "Through his work across so many of our academic and administrative units, he has developed a keen understanding of Indiana University, its objectives, and the support it needs to achieve those objectives."

Theobald has won multiple teaching awards and has authored 50 policy reports for state governments.

A graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., which he attended on full scholarship, Theobald earned his master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Washington.

He specializes in education finance and spent nine years helping the state of Indiana look for how best to allocate its K-12 public school funding. He started his education career as a high school math teacher in suburban Seattle and then served on the faculty at the University of Washington and Indiana University.

O'Connor said Theobald's salary and contract terms likely would be released Tuesday. He described the terms as "competitive" with the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University, also state-related schools.

O'Connor noted that Theobald had never applied for a college presidency, and that Temple was the first school he sought. Theobald and his wife, a school psychologist, visited Philadelphia on their own to get a feel for the city and loved it, O'Connor said. They spent a lot of time on campus and visited the new Barnes Foundation building. The couple has three adult children.

"He's refreshing in his candor and his interest, and I think he will be extremely impressive with constituencies he's going to meet Monday and Tuesday," O'Connor said. "He's humble, purposeful, thoughtful."


Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq.

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