Temple University's next president gets ready, postpones inauguration

Neil D. Theobald takes office Monday but will put off an inaugural speech to October.
Neil D. Theobald takes office Monday but will put off an inaugural speech to October.
Posted: December 29, 2012

Temple University's incoming president will take office Monday, but will postpone laying out his agenda in an inauguration speech until October.

Neil D. Theobald, whose inauguration had been scheduled for April, said he wanted more time to learn about the 39,000-student university before formulating a solid plan for the future.

"The goal is to listen - what should our priorities be? - and discuss them," said Theobald, 56, who has just finished his tenure as senior vice president and chief financial officer at Indiana University.

Temple's board of trustees selected Theobald in August as the university's 10th president. He will earn $450,000 in base pay and replaces Ann Weaver Hart, who left in June after serving six years to become president of the University of Arizona.

A professor, researcher, and expert in education finance, Theobald spent 20 years at Indiana and previously was a professor at the University of Washington. The son of a tractor company worker in Peoria, Ill., he is the first in his family to graduate from college.

Although his agenda is a work in progress, Theobald said in an interview Friday, he has decided a few things. One is that Temple will adopt a decentralized budgeting process that gives deans and faculty more say over how they spend money. Fifteen Temple employees recently visited Indiana to learn more about the process, which he said will be introduced at Temple in the fall of 2014.

To better keep in touch with students, he will teach a freshman seminar at the main campus in North Philadelphia beginning next fall.

"The President's Leadership Seminar" will be "a way to stay engaged with students every week," he said.

He also plans to fill the provost job - considered the number-two position on a campus - by Feb. 1. In an unusual move, the university restricted the job to internal candidates. Theobald said he expected to receive a list of three to five candidates from the university search team.

"You had to be a tenured faculty member at Temple to apply," Theobald said. "I'm an outsider, so I need to have a partner here who understands the various schools and doesn't start from scratch as I do."

Over the last semester, Theobald spent several days on and around campus each month, meeting with faculty, students, alumni, and business leaders. He has also talked with area college presidents and local government leaders, including Mayor Nutter and State Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D., Phila.), whose district includes Temple.

The resounding concern from students was the cost of a college education, he said.

"Affordability comes up in almost every conversation," Theobald said. "It's a huge, huge concern."

Temple in June announced that it would not raise tuition for 2012-13, a first since 1995, though it did raise room-and-board costs 3.9 percent. In-state students are paying $13,006 in tuition this year. Officials soon will deliberate on costs for next year.

"We've got to be a leader in keeping cost down," Theobald said.

He will look at ways to make sure more students graduate in four years, which also helps to contain college costs, he said.

Fund-raising will top his list of priorities. Temple this fall launched a $100 million, five-year campaign to provide financial aid. So far, about $15 million has been collected, he said.

Theobald said he was not planning to begin a new capital campaign immediately. He chaired a successful $1.2 billion fund-raising campaign at Indiana.

"There won't be anything announced certainly in the next six months," he said.

Two senior administrators have left since Theobald was named president. David Unruh, senior vice president for institutional advancement, whose office oversees fund-raising, stepped down this month. The vice provost for research, Ken Blank, also left earlier this month to lead Rowan University's newly organized health schools.

Theobald and his wife, Sheona, a school psychologist, will arrive in Philadelphia on Sunday. He will attend the men's home basketball game against Bowling Green State University at 2 p.m. New Year's Eve as part of his first day on the job.

Also next week, he will have lunch with Drexel University president John A. Fry, meet with Temple faculty, and have dinner with community leaders. He has five visits to Harrisburg scheduled over the next 60 days, including a meeting with Gov. Corbett.

"I'll be learning the context I'm going to be in," he said, "and hitting the ground running."


Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com

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