Neil Theobald officially started as Temple's 10th president on Jan. 1. But it would be wrong to think he's just getting started. Throughout the fall semester, even as he was finishing his duties at Indiana University, Theobald was getting to know Temple University.
With the help of Richard M. Englert, who served as acting president through Dec. 31, Theobald gained a good sense of the issues facing the university as the two communicated almost every day, either by email or phone. During visits to campus in the fall semester, Theobald met with students, faculty and staff and asked for their views on Temple's strengths, challenges and opportunities for the future.
As he settles into his new role, the Temple Times asked him several questions about his experience so far.
Temple Times: You have already been talking with numerous Temple students, faculty, staff and alumni. What are your initial impressions?
President Neil Theobald: First, I want to thank Dick Englert. He was an amazing colleague and took his time to help me gain an understanding of Temple and what it means to be the president of this great university.
Dick Englert is not alone. Temple has many talented, committed and passionate students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. I plan to learn everything I can about Temple from the people who know it best. My goal is to use this information as we put together a 5- to 10-year agenda for the university, which will be unveiled at an October inauguration.
TT: What kinds of comments are you hearing? What priorities are people concerned about?
Theobald: One clear concern is the number of key leadership positions that are open. We need to fill these positions as quickly as possible with the best people available. We'll start with the provost. As you know, we're doing an internal search for the provost, so I expect to have recommendations on finalists in the next several weeks. Dean searches are also underway, so we are making great progress.
People are the key to a great university. One of the most important things we do at Temple is recruit and retain the best faculty and staff. We need these talented people at Temple so that we can provide an excellent education for our students and research innovation for the region and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
TT: What are you hearing from students?
Theobald: Students love their Temple experience! I'm always fired up after talking with students. But they have concerns, too. It's clear we need to help students and families in limiting student debt. This requires Temple to provide robust financial aid packages and to help undergraduates earn their degrees within four years.
We also need to focus on containing costs while simultaneously maintaining the high quality of a Temple degree. Students also need to graduate with a degree that prepares them for the job market.
TT: Decentralized budget planning is something was very much a part of the structure you helped oversee at Indiana University. What can members of the Temple community expect?
Theobald: There is already a great steering committee overseeing this effort, and the university's staff and faculty will become more engaged with the new process over the next 18 months. We will decentralize our budget in 2014-15. Our goal is to allow Temple to operate in a more cost-effective manner by allowing those closest to the action to make critical funding decisions.
TT: There are clearly a lot of changes coming in the future. What Temple qualities will you build on in the months ahead?
Theobald: Temple is known in the city, the state and the nation as a quality university where high school graduates with strong academic ability will find a home. We have a reputation for providing an affordable educational opportunity that is second to none. Temple rightly cherishes that core characteristic and we need to keep it central to our mission in an increasingly complex funding environment.
TT: If members of the Temple community want to tell you their ideas or concerns, what should they do?
Theobald: Talk to me. I would invite those who see me at campus events to come over, say hello and let me know what you’re thinking. And if you prefer, you can also send me your thoughts via email at email@example.com.
TT: Any closing thoughts?
Theobald: I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be here at Temple and in Philadelphia. My wife, Sheona, and I plan to spend the spring exploring this great campus, the community around us and this historic city. And I am looking forward to setting down roots here and working with so many really great people.