Posted April 10, 2013

Neil Theobald: The first 100 days

New Temple leader has accomplished much in his first days as president

Joseph V. Labolito
President Neil D. Theobald meets with students at a Temple Student Government forum in February. In his first 100 days, the president has met in formal and informal settings with Temple students, faculty and staff, as well as elected officials and regional business leaders.

If a university president's first 100 days are an indication of what to expect during that president's tenure, the Neil Theobald years at Temple University are going to be busy. The 100-day anniversary for the new president is this week.

There has been a full schedule of meetings — formal and informal ­— with faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and local leaders. He's had dinner with students at Johnson and Hardwick halls, met informally with faculty members over lunch, talked with local elected officials and spoken to business leaders in Center City. With an eye toward next year's undergraduate class, Theobald has also spent some time with prospective students and their families during the popular Experience Temple days this spring.

"It's been a busy and fruitful period, in many ways," said Theobald. "People keep asking me if I have had time to take a breath, but the fact is I have drawn enormous energy from the people around Temple. They have tremendous enthusiasm for this university and I can understand why. Temple is a truly remarkable place."

Theobald can also point to a significant list of achievements: the appointment of new leaders as provost, dean of libraries and vice president of strategic marketing and communications. Searches are also well underway for three other dean positions. Mix these high-level personnel actions with significant progress in work with the governor and state General Assembly on the annual commonwealth appropriation, a new budgeting model and a financial literacy initiative, and it's clear the president's first 100 days have been full.

Although the 100-day clock started ticking officially when Theobald started as president on Jan. 1, he actually began work long before. For example, the search for a permanent provost began in November, while Richard Englert was acting president and consulting with Theobald, who was finishing his role at Indiana University. The two wanted to make sure there was a smooth handoff of the university's functions.

"It was clear we needed to hit the ground running, and I believe we've done that," said Theobald. In his short term, he's begun to build a strong leadership team:

  • In perhaps his most important appointment, Theobald named Hai-Lung Dai as the permanent provost on Feb. 5 following an internal search. Dai came to Temple in 2007 from the University of Pennsylvania. He was the dean of the College of Science and Technology, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Chemistry and later also the senior vice provost for international affairs. He was appointed interim provost in 2012.
  • Five weeks later, Karen Clarke was selected as Temple's first vice president for Strategic Marketing and Communications. Clarke begins her new role on May 1, and comes from the University of Houston. She will lead a division that combines the strengths of University Communications and the marketing communications staff in the Office of Institutional Advancement.
  • The most recent appointment was Joseph Lucia as dean of libraries. Lucia is University Librarian and Director of Falvey Memorial Library at Villanova University. He begins his new role at Temple on July 1.

In addition, searches are well underway for three dean positions in the School of Media and Communication, the School of Education, and the College of Health Professions and Social Work.

While the activity level on campus has been high, the president has also been busy in Harrisburg, establishing good relations with the governor and members of the state General Assembly regarding Temple's annual commonwealth appropriation.

In past years, Gov. Tom Corbett proposed significant cuts in the appropriation for state-related schools including Temple. This year, the governor proposed maintaining level funding for the state-related schools, which would mean Temple would once again receive $139.9 million.

Theobald said his ongoing conversations with the governor and elected officials in Harrisburg have shown there is a growing appreciation for the impact Temple has on its students and on the state.

"The actions of the governor and state elected leaders give us an opportunity to plan for the upcoming year. That is extremely valuable when you are making decisions about budgets and tuition rates," said the president. A final vote on Temple's appropriation is expected later this spring.

Another major initiative is a new program designed to help students reduce and manage debt. A financial literacy task force has been developing campaigns to help inform students of important budgeting practices and other literacy tools. This fall, the university will launch a series of new and enhanced courses designed to help students understand the complexities of college financing and promote responsible budgeting. 

“The idea is to teach students how to make smart choices about budgeting, savings and debt," said the president. "Students need to learn this now, because their choices will have implications for years to come."

At the same time, Theobald is preparing to teach his first class at Temple. This fall, he and his wife, Sheona Mackenzie, will co-teach a leadership course with students selected from the freshman class.

"We want to bring first-year students together and ask them: What drew them to Temple? What we should keep? What should we do to make Temple a better university? Then we'll explore ways to make their ideas real," said Theobald. The class is similar to one he taught at Indiana University, but with one big difference: Temple's class will be for freshmen students.

"When we taught this class at Indiana, the students were often seniors and they left campus just as they were understanding how to be a campus leader," he said. "At Temple, I want to be sure that our students will become the campus leaders that tackle tough projects during their four years here. Each year, we will be teaching a new group of campus student leaders."

Overall, Theobald said he has been pleased with the first 100 days at Temple. With all that has happened, the president says he expects the coming months to have even more activity.

"It's been a busy period so far, but the truth is we're just getting started," he said.