On The Inauguration of President Neil Theobald
By Mark Radert, Charles Klein Professor of Law and Government, and Vice President of Faculty Senate
On October 18, 2013 Neil Theobald was officially inaugurated as Temple University’s Tenth President. Taking place at the Historic Baptist Temple that goes back to the University’s earliest days, President Theobald’s Inauguration was at once both majestic and intimate, formal yet also forthright, combining the time-honored traditions of an academic ceremony with the straightforward clarity that has always been one of Temple’s hallmarks. It was also very much a faculty-centered event. Faculty members thronged the preceding academic procession, helped to fill the hall for the ceremony, crowded the luncheon tents along Liacouras Walk afterwards, actively participated in the several symposia that studded the campus during the afternoon, and came to the reception and concert that evening. Those who attended the ceremony heard an array of speakers, but the centerpiece of the event was President Theobald’s powerful inaugural address, in which he set out six ambitious but achievable commitments for his presidency that I think all of us can enthusiastically share.
As President of the Faculty Senate, I had the honor of representing the faculty on the dais, and of offering our greetings to our President. One rarely gets the chance to be part of such an auspicious and historic occasion, so I decided to use my five minutes of fame to say a few words about Temple’s special character, the challenges we face, and what we the faculty are seeking from our leader.
After the event, several individuals suggested that my remarks should perhaps be shared more broadly with faculty members who may not have been able to attend the ceremony. After discussion with other leaders of the Senate, we decided that the best option was to have them published in the Faculty Herald. They are reprinted below. I hope they capture for you, as they do for me, something essential about Temple’s special role as a Commonwealth University, the contributions that we as faculty make, and our hopes for Temple’s future at this challenging juncture in the history of American higher education:
Chairman O’Connor, President Theobald, honored guests, and members of the Temple community:
I am here on behalf of Temple’s faculty to honor and congratulate President Theobald on this momentous occasion. Temple’s full-time faculty is over 1500 strong, and we are joined by an equal number of highly skilled and committed part-time faculty members.
We are a diverse and accomplished group that includes teachers, scholars, and professionals of nearly every description. The excellent students we teach today will become doctors and lawyers, nurses and accountants, pharmacists and teachers, entrepreneurs and managers, scientists and inventors, artists and performers, journalists and public servants, and members of countless other professions, who will contribute in every imaginable way to the quality of life in our community, our nation, and throughout the world.
Yet diverse as we are, we all share one thing in common: a passionate dedication to Temple University – its proud traditions, loyal alumni, able students, and its bright future.
Temple is a Commonwealth University, and there is merit in reflecting on that designation. It signals our role in achieving, expanding, and preserving the common wealth of Pennsylvania. The wealth we safeguard is far more than mere economic wealth. It is a wealth of the human spirit, of knowledge and understanding, of ideas and creativity, of responsibility and community, and of freedom.
As a great public university, we at Temple bear responsibilities not only to our students, but to our city, region, nation, and world. We also owe a duty not just to the “here and now,” but also to the “there and then,” binding past, present, and future in a constantly developing and evolving vision of progress toward a better society.
Temple’s mission was famously described by Russell Conwell as mining the “acres of diamonds in our own back yard” – discovering the as-yet unearthed gems of human potential that lie all around us, then shaping and polishing them into something that is brilliant, lasting, and of immense worth. Temple has always embraced that core value.
To do so, we must teach our students skills that make them ready to meet the world. We must help them discover new opportunities in a rapidly changing global community. We must keep the cost of their education affordable. But we must do more. We must open their eyes, expand their horizons, inspire and channel their passions, and enrich their lives by cultivating the mind and spirit.
Temple’s diverse and talented faculty is equal to the task, but to accomplish it requires leadership. President Theobald, that is where you come in. We need your vision and guidance to give our efforts unity, direction, and purpose. That is why your inauguration as President matters so much. It captures and reflects all the best of what Temple has been, and all the potential of what Temple can be.
Leadership is much more than telling us what to do or how to do it. It involves inspiration, motivation, encouragement, resources, and the constant articulation of a future vision that engages our intellect, unites our energies, and ignites our enthusiasm. Leadership also requires special gifts of personality – the capacity to make connections, to model integrity, to encourage boldness, to summon courage, and to convey a sense of common purpose.
President Theobald, we have already seen that you possess these talents in abundance. We need them.
Temple University faces steep challenges. This is a great university, but one of limited means. We are situated in a great city and region, but one that is experiencing substantial cultural, structural, and economic change. We are poised at the epicenter of a groundswell of revolutionary change in higher education that promises to transform nearly everything we do.
We can neither hide from nor escape these challenges, but must meet and transcend them. To do so, we need a leader who will chart our path forward through an increasingly labyrinthine thicket of financial, organizational, political and technical complexity. President Theobald, we are confident that you are that leader – an extraordinary person who will successfully guide this great institution through extraordinary times.
The theologian Paul Tillich is credited with the claim that “being is becoming.” Whether true or not for the individual, it is surely true for an institution like Temple. We must always be evolving and changing – becoming – or we will decay and wither. We must continually grow in maturity and understanding of ourselves, our society, and the University’s role in achieving a brighter future. President Theobald, on this day we share great confidence that with your leadership and guidance, Temple will grow and mature, will flourish and endure, contributing to the common wealth of Pennsylvania, the region, the nation, and the world, for generations to come. •