Theobald gets good reviews as Temple’s new president

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 08, 2012

By unanimous vote, Neil D. Theobald, a top administrator at Indiana University, was appointed the 10th president of Temple University on Tuesday, following meetings with staff, faculty, and students at which he received positive reviews.

"It is great to be an Owl," Theobald told the board of trustees, staff, and reporters shortly after the vote.

"This is the dream job I've always wanted to have."

His selection culminates a nearly 10-month national search for the next leader of the 39,000-student campus in the heart of North Philadelphia.

Theobald, 55, senior vice president and chief financial officer at IU, will begin his five-year contract on Jan. 1, replacing Ann Weaver Hart, who left in June to become president of the University of Arizona.

He will earn $450,000 in base pay, $120,000 less than Hart but more than the $378,000 he earns in his current job. A deferred compensation package also is being negotiated but only will apply if he stays for three years, said board chairman Patrick O'Connor.

Theobald told various campus groups that philanthropy, financial aid, and Temple's high-profile move into the Big East Conference will top his agenda in the first year.

"We cannot continue to raise tuition," he said, speaking of colleges nationally. "We cannot allow student debt levels to go up."

Asked about his fund-raising experience, he noted that he chaired a $1.2 billion fund-raising campaign at Indiana.

He also cited the importance of cost containment, vowing to compare Temple's spending by area and department with that of other major state universities, such as Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. If one bursar's office is spending $8 million while the others are spending $4 million, that's worth looking into, he said as an example.

The change in the athletic conference, he said, will give Temple exposure in Washington, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Louisville and other cities, and as president, he sees his role as primary in making sure Temple's image is stellar.

"The move to the Big East is huge," Theobald said during a 20-minute interview before the vote. "That puts us into a number of markets that we're very interested in for fund-raising purposes, for recruiting of students, for working with businesses. We've got to take advantage of that."

Theobald, a professor, researcher, and expert in education finance, has spent the last 20 years at Indiana University. He previously was a professor at the University of Washington.

He's a first generation college student, the son of a blue-collar worker for a tractor company in Peoria, Ill. He also was headed for factory work until he scored high enough on his SATs that a guidance counselor told him he could attend college free. He went to Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., on a full scholarship.

His wife, Sheona, a school psychologist, also is a first-generation college student.

"Our goal is to extend this opportunity to Temple students for generations to come," he said.

Theobald started off seriously and cautiously in his first meeting with staff Monday afternoon, but by his sessions with students and faculty on Tuesday he was more at ease, making jokes and looking at home in front of the crowd. He gave brief opening statements at all the sessions and then opened the floor, saying he wanted to know what was on the minds of faculty and students.

"I'm impressed," said Art Hochner, president of the 1,350-member faculty union, who was among about 150 faculty members who came to hear Theobald. "He's very personable and knowledgeable. I was impressed also that he said he was willing to talk with the union, that he believed in strong faculty governance, that he wanted feedback and wanted ideas."

Dealing with a faculty union will be new for Theobald. Faculty at IU and Washington are not unionized. But Theobald pointed out his history in a union family and union town, and said he had negotiated with other unions at IU.

Paul LaFollette, an associate professor in the department of computer and information sciences and one of two faculty members who served on the search committee, praised Theobald as one of their own.

He knows "how faculty think and feel," LaFollette said. "He speaks fluent faculty talk."

Staff members said they also appreciated his straightforwardness.

"I was impressed by his honesty," said Mia Luehrmann, associate dean for undergraduate studies. "I thought his willingness to talk on a variety of subjects, to be completely transparent with things that he was not as knowledgeable about, and his ability to say where his college hadn't done things as well as he would have liked is really impressive."

Earlier in the morning, Theobald addressed about 50 students who later presented him with a Temple hat, which he immediately donned.

"I have high hopes for him," said Mary Archer, a junior from West Chester and chief of staff for Temple's student government. "He's levelheaded and it seems like he really wants to get engaged with the students in a casual environment."

She also liked that he wants to increase financial aid and contain costs. "Affordability - that's the big thing for most students," she said.

Theobald promised to be accessible to students formally and informally, offering to host barbecues and create a student committee that will focus on a problem or issue each year. Indiana has such a committee and students have worked on a variety of issues, such a "repurposing" of the student union and finding ways for non-athletes to get involved with athletics. Their solutions are implemented, he noted.

He plans to teach a class, although not right away.

"I generally don't sit in my office," he said, adding he would be visible on campus.

Theobald said he liked the vibe he got from his audiences.

"I cannot get over how excited people are here, people leaning forward in their seats as I'm talking," he said.

He vowed a close relationship with the business community and said he would seek immediately to join the chamber of commerce.

Theobald also said he would take an active interest in the city's public schools because Temple has an obligation to educate the students who graduate from them.

"Outreach to public schools around here is very, very important," he said.

Theobald and his wife, opera enthusiasts, plan to live in Temple's presidential condo in the city. They have three adult children and recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.

A squash player with an athletic build, Theobald also enjoys walking and reading histories. and cooks dinner for the family once a week. Homemade pizza is his specialty.

He said he had fallen in love with Philadelphia, describing himself as a big baseball fan who is looking forward to living in a baseball town. In Bloomington, Ind., the nearest team - the Cincinnati Reds - is 21/2 hours away.

He's ready to give his heart to the Phillies: "I got permission from my kids."


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

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