High marks for Temple candidate

Indiana University administrator Neil D. Theobald may become Temple University's next president.
Indiana University administrator Neil D. Theobald may become Temple University's next president.
Posted: August 05, 2012

Temple University faculty say they are cautiously optimistic that the Indiana University administrator expected to become their next president has the right mix of financial and educational experience to lead the university.

They especially like that Neil D. Theobald - senior vice president and chief financial officer of IU - has been a researcher and professor, and is a first-generation college student from a working-class family in Peoria, Ill.

"We had heard rumors that it might be someone who was political or in industry, but it sounds like he brings the educational and financial background that obviously is important for higher education today," said Karen M. Turner, an associate professor of journalism and past president of the faculty senate. "He's been on the ground, so he knows what it's like to be a faculty member."

The faculty are not bothered by Theobald's lack of presidential experience.

But they are concerned that they did not have a greater say in the selection and that Theobald will be presented to the campus community in the heart of the summer, when many are away.

Faculty were alerted to the selection in an e-mail from board of trustees chairman Patrick O'Connor early Friday.

"I wish the process had been more open. I don't think it's fair to do this," said Art Hochner, president of the 1,350-member faculty union at Temple. "But I have an open mind about Neil Theobald. I'm looking forward to meeting him."

Hochner said he wished the committee had presented finalists to the campus and sought input from key groups, including faculty. Others agreed.

"This is the middle of the summer," law professor Marina Angel wrote on the Temple faculty listserv. "There are virtually no classes and, therefore, no faculty or students on campus. The faculty is given one hour, 11:15-12:15, Tuesday, to 'meet' Dr. Theobald before he is crowned by the trustees later that afternoon."

University officials and members of the search committee say some candidates request confidentiality, which would make disclosure of their identities to staff difficult, although that's what the university did when last filling its provost job.

Two professors served on the 12-member presidential search committee, giving faculty a voice, officials added.

Theobald received the committee's unanimous endorsement, O'Connor wrote in his e-mail. He emerged as one of three new candidates offered to the search committee in May after eight months of searching produced dozens of candidates but none on whom the committee agreed.

Theobald, 55, who has his bachelor's degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and a master's and a doctorate from the University of Washington, will meet with staff Monday afternoon, then students Tuesday morning, followed by faculty. The board is to vote on his candidacy Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Theobald would start Jan. 1 to oversee the 39,000-student university based in North Philadelphia. Operating on a $2.5 billion budget, Temple includes 17 schools and colleges and a comprehensive health system.

He would replace Ann Weaver Hart, who left in June to become president of the University of Arizona after six years at Temple. Theobald has declined a request to be interviewed before he arrived on campus.

Theobald has worked at Indiana University for almost 20 years, first as a professor and then in administrative posts for the last decade, including a stint as vice provost. In his most recent position, he is one of five key administrators who work directly under the president, said Patrick Shoulders, vice chairman of the IU board of trustees.

Shoulders, a lawyer and member of the board for a decade, called Theobald "the most knowledgeable person I've ever been around relative to the challenges of university finance."

His employees are devoted, and there has been very little turnover on his staff, Shoulders said.

"He really empowers his employees," said MaryFrances McCourt, IU's treasurer. "He expects you to do your best, and he doesn't look over your shoulder."

McCourt, who reports to Theobald, called him a baseball enthusiast who is committed to his family - his wife, a school psychologist, and three adult children. He is also interested in accommodating his employees' family needs, she said.

"If you have a family situation, he's right there with you," she said.

William W. Cutler, professor of history emeritus and past faculty union president at Temple, saw Theobald's background in educational finance as a plus, given the financial challenges facing public universities. It doesn't matter that he has not been a president, Cutler said.

"He's worked in a large university system," Cutler said of IU, whose student population is almost three times as large as Temple's. "He knows the landscape."

U.S. Circuit Judge Theodore A. McKee, a trustee and member of the search committee, said the committee realized it would be overlooking significant talent if it considered only sitting presidents.

He said he expected Theobald to get high marks from his colleagues on the board.

"His credentials are stellar. I just can't see any problem at all," McKee said. "He's got incredibly strong fiscal, as well as people and academic, skills."


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

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