TEACHING, LEARNING, LEADING
Temple President Neil D. Theobald takes the first year of his tenure by storm.
Story by ASHWIN VERGHESE, SMC ´08
After more than 30 years in education, President Neil D. Theobald finds himself back where he began, standing in front of a classroom of students. But the onetime high school teacher is now leading a freshman seminar in organizational change. And he is serving up the lessons he has acquired during his first year as Temple´s 10th president.
Since arriving at Temple in January 2013, Theobald has spearheaded dynamic changes across the 130‐year‐old university, from overhauling Temple´s budget process; to hiring 54 new faculty members, a new provost, five new deans and three new vice presidents; to developing a clear vision that will define Temple´s future.
Those changes have led to record‐breaking admissions, fundraising and research milestones over the past year. There also are many initiatives on the horizon, including bold strategies to reduce student debt and a new campus master plan.
The wait‐and‐see approach? Not for this first‐time president. With year one of his tenure in the books, Theobald has a robust body of achievements to look back on, and much he hopes to achieve in 2014 and beyond.
“I am privileged to be the president of Temple University, a role I am enjoying tremendously,” he says. “As good as Temple is, though, we have to get better—we must strive to improve continually.”
The results of Theobald´s first year speak for themselves. At the beginning of the 2013–2014 academic year, Temple welcomed its most ever academically qualified class of new freshmen and transfer students. Its average SAT score (1129) was 20 points higher than last year´s average and nearly 140 points higher than the most recent Pennsylvania average. In addition, more than 500 freshmen joined the Temple Honors Program.
In keeping with Temple´s history, the new class also grew in diversity. The number of African‐American undergraduates increased by 7 percent, while the number of new Latino undergraduates increased by 18 percent. There also was a nearly 4 percent rise in students from Philadelphia.
“Our success in recruiting excellent students is not only of importance to the university,” Theobald says. “We also provide southeast Pennsylvania with its most valuable resource: human capital. One in seven college graduates in the five‐county region is a Temple graduate.
“Our potential to be an even greater asset to the city, the region and the commonwealth is simply immense as we continue to improve the diversity, accessibility and quality of our undergraduate student body,” he adds.
Temple also helps the community through its research, ranging from developing innovative cancer treatments to helping the Philadelphia Police Department patrol effectively. In the past fiscal year, Temple experienced an impressive rise in external research funding to $224 million. There also was a nearly fivefold increase in revenue generated from the licensing of Temple‐developed technologies.
Additionally, Theobald´s first year saw a new fundraising record of $65.8 million. That record total was driven by an unprecedented 88 percent rise in new gifts and pledges to student scholarships.
“The past year has seen Temple reach one milestone after another,” says Board of Trustees Chair Patrick J. O´Connor. “Much of that has been due to President Theobald´s leadership. He made it clear that Temple must do more for our students and our community, and the university has risen to his challenge.”
As his second year gets under way, Theobald has many more changes planned for Temple. A campus master plan incorporating input from students, faculty, staff and alumni is on the slate for 2014. One component of the plan—a new library in the heart of Main Campus—is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
In January, Theobald unveiled Fly in 4, a partnership between students and the university that will provide incoming freshmen with the tools and incentives they need to graduate on time. That initiative will launch in the fall.
“Taking longer than four years to graduate can add tens of thousands of dollars in debt. It also delays a student´s entry into the higher‐paying, college‐educated segment of the workforce,” Theobald says.
President Neil D. Theobald addresses students during his class on organizational change, in which students are asked to identify problems at Temple and develop strategies to solve them. Photo by Joseph V. Labolito.
“Fly in 4 gives students who commit to graduating on time the ability to reduce their debt and advance more quickly into careers that will allow them to pay off the debt they do acquire. Our students must not keep their futures waiting.”
Not all the changes Theobald has overseen have been easy. In December, the university announced it will reduce its number of varsity sports from 24 to 19 at the end of this academic year. That reduction will put Temple in line with the number of teams supported by other universities in the American Athletic Conference. The athletics cuts also were a part of a national trend of universities reducing their sports programs in a period of financial strain in higher education.
“It was an extremely difficult decision,” Theobald says, noting that student‐athletes on the affected teams will retain their scholarships, and the university will help them transfer if they choose to do so.
He knows there are more challenges ahead, from securing state funding to supporting Temple University Hospital, which provides $62 million in healthcare to the indigent in Philadelphia—the largest city or county in the U.S. without a public hospital.
VISION THROUGH ENGAGEMENT
One way Theobald is likely to address those challenges is by getting out and talking to alumni, students and faculty. He has held large town‐hall meetings in New York and Philadelphia, and small dinners in other cities, to gain insight from Temple´s graduates. On campus, he has flipped burgers on his Weber grill at staff and student barbecues, and he has informal lunches with professors regularly.
With his wife, Sheona Mackenzie, Theobald also teaches a yearlong seminar on organizational change, where freshman students are asked to identify problems at Temple and develop ways to fix them. The class also is an opportunity to assemble a group of students who will be prepared to assume leadership positions during their remaining three years, the president says. His students know it is a unique opportunity. “He´s great. He´s very engaging,” Caroline Housel, one of his students, says. “He always asks us about things going on around campus and tells us how helpful it is to have students´ opinions when he´s making decisions for the university.”
Housel and her classmates were among the members of the Temple community who were invited when Theobald was inaugurated formally as Temple´s president in October. Speaking before a packed house in the historic Baptist Temple—once the church of Temple Founder Russell Conwell—Theobald laid out his vision for what the university can accomplish in the years ahead. That vision included six commit‐ments for Temple´s future: keeping education accessible and affordable, contributing Temple´s expertise to the city and the commonwealth, conducting life‐changing research and more. (Also see: Temple, winter 2014, “A New Day.”)
“As we address the six commitments, the result will inevitably be that Temple will take its rightful place as one of the very best public research universities of the 21st century,” Theobald says. “More importantly, success in these six crucial areas will help Philadelphia—and Pennsylvania—emerge as a major force in the 21st‐century global economy.”
When President Neil D. Theobald traveled to Harrisburg, Pa., in February to make Temple´s annual appeal for state support, he was met with praise from state‐elected officials for Fly in 4 and Temple´s 20/20 Scholarships. The latter program helps residents from neighborhoods surrounding the university pay for a Temple education.
State Sen. Patricia Vance remarked that she was “impressed by the Fly in 4 initiative.” Rep. Cherelle Parker commended Theobald for his efforts to keep Temple accessible and affordable. “What [Temple] is doing with Fly in 4 will help to ensure that people will have access to a quality higher education, whether or not they were born into a wealthy family,” Parker said.
Theobald told senators the goal of Fly in 4 is to help students graduate on time by providing classes when needed and relieving the burden of working excessive hours at outside jobs, thus reducing their college debts.
State Sen. Jake Corman, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, highlighted the growing commitment Temple has made to the city of Philadelphia through programs such as the 20/20 Scholarships. “Thirty years ago, Temple was a commuter school,”Corman said. “Today, [it] has become a residential school that is fully engaged with the community.”