Some faculty at Temple University, including members of the chemistry department, are rallying to the defense of Hai-Lung Dai, the provost who was ousted this week with no explanation.
Eric Borguet, a chemistry professor, has started a Change.org petition demanding to know why Dai, also a tenured member of the chemistry department, was abruptly relieved of his administrative duties as provost. The petition asks the board of trustees to scrutinize the decision by president Neil D. Theobald.
By Thursday afternoon, the petition had drawn more than 1,000 signatures, including students, alumni, former colleagues of Dai's, chemistry department faculty, and faculty from other departments, including biology, mathematics, and mechanical engineering.
"To be treated in this way, to be dismissed without explanation, is outrageous," said Borguet, who has been at Temple since 2004 and who had Dai as his doctoral adviser at the University of Pennsylvania. "It's really out of a sense of outrage and injustice that I've decided to launch this."
Temple offered no reason for removing Dai, who joined the university in 2007 after leading the chemistry department at Penn, and had been provost for four years. The announcement came on the same day that the university acknowledged it had exceeded its financial aid budget for its merit scholarship program for 2016-17 by $22 million and had taken steps to balance the budget. Several sources had said that Theobald was unhappy with the shortfall and that a rift had developed between him and Dai.
Some faculty were skeptical of that reason.
"From an administration that is bending over backwards to push forward an ill-advised football stadium in North Philadelphia, it is absurd that Provost Dai should be punished for implementing a successful program that continues to improve the academic standing of Temple," Michael Wilhelm, assistant professor of chemistry, wrote on the petition.
Both the incoming and outgoing presidents of Temple's faculty senate expressed concern as well.
"The information we have available to date doesn't seem to merit dismissal in the manner in which it was conducted," said Michael Sachs, incoming president and a professor of kinesiology. "It might be helpful to have more information."
University spokesman Hillel Hoffmann defended Temple's decision and handling of the matter.
"We don't discuss personnel decisions of this type or their rationale publicly, which can often make public statements about those subjects seem abrupt," he said. "But we do not take these matters lightly."
Both Sachs and Tricia Jones, outgoing faculty senate president and a professor in the School of Media and Communication, said they were still deciding whether to sign the petition. Jones said leaders of the faculty senate in early June raised questions when they heard that Theobald intended to dismiss Dai.
"Provost Dai raised the profile of Temple University as a world-class university," Jones said. "He led the increase in Temple's research profile, expanded international programs, and implemented student-centered initiatives like the Temple Option [which made SAT scores optional for admission] and Fly-in-Four," to help on-time graduation.
Some faculty weren't sorry to see Dai leave.
As provost, "Hai-Lung Dai vetoed a number of tenure cases at Temple, myself included," tweeted Joshua Klugman, an assistant professor in sociology and psychology, who has since gained tenure. "Assistant professors at Temple are celebrating."