Deal struck for Temple president's resignation

Richard M. Englert (left) with Patrick O’Connor, Temple University board of trustees chairman, at Thursday’s announcement. Englert will temporarily replace Neil D. Theobald as university president.

Temple University announced Thursday that it had reached an agreement for its embattled president, Neil D. Theobald, to resign effective Aug. 1.

The agreement came as the board was poised to meet and vote on dismissing Theobald, faulting him for a $22 million deficit in the university's financial aid budget and his dismissal of provost Hai-Lung Dai three weeks ago.

Theobald will receive a year's sabbatical at full salary - $725,000, including base pay and what would have been deferred compensation - plus benefits including health insurance, according to sources familiar with the settlement. If he gets another job, the payout would be reduced, the sources said.

He also will have the right to return to Temple to teach as a tenured education professor, and he will be permitted to live for 90 days in the Rittenhouse Square apartment Temple has provided for him.

Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for Temple's board of trustees, declined to discuss details of what he called a "mutual resolution." Theobald had a year and a half remaining on his five-year contract.

At a meeting Thursday afternoon, the board appointed Richard M. Englert, a longtime university administrator, to serve as acting president, a position he has held before.

By early evening, Englert's picture and biographical information were posted on the Temple president's web page. All references to Theobald had been removed.

Also Thursday, the board appointed philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest as vice chairman of the board and chairman of the executive committee, giving him a higher-profile role in leading the board. Lenfest, a member of the board of Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes the Inquirer and the Daily News, replaces U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Anthony J. Scirica, who has left the board.

Theobald's impending departure caps a tumultuous three weeks for the North Philadelphia university, which in less than a month lost its two top leaders.

"It's an unfortunate turn of events and we're glad it's resolved," said Patrick O'Connor, chairman. "This is painful, but it's over. We move forward."

In a statement to the university community, O'Connor thanked Theobald for his service and wished him well, a departure from the acrimony that had built over the last month.

Lenfest said reaching an agreement with Theobald was the best route for Temple.

"The momentum of Temple will continue now," he said. "It won't be drug down by prolonged bitterness between Dr. Theobald and the university."

The board plans to launch a search for its next leader, but not immediately, Feeley said.

Theobald, 59, did not attend the meeting. His lawyer, Raymond D. Cotton, an expert in negotiating exit deals for university presidents, declined to comment.

The discord erupted publicly on June 28, when Theobald announced without explanation that he had relieved Dai of his administrative duties.

On the same day, the university acknowledged it was facing a deficit in its merit scholarship budget, and Theobald blamed Dai for the gap. Some faculty members decried Dai's removal and started a petition to save his job that drew over 4,000 signatures.

Last week, Temple's board took a unanimous vote of no confidence in Theobald and set a meeting to vote on dismissing him.

A board spokesman also said it was investigating a sexual-harassment complaint against Dai, who has hired a lawyer and called the allegations "fabrications."

In a statement Thursday, Dai praised Temple's board for its "morally courageous acts" and said he remains "proud as one among many who care about Temple and have contributed selflessly to its success."

"I will continue to assist in whatever way possible to ensure the university's well-being and its continuing mission of access and excellence," said Dai, who remains a tenured chemistry professor.

Dai also gave a nod to his successor, former Temple law dean JoAnne Epps, who was named provost this month.

"I am confident the mission of 'access to excellence' will continue to flourish in the able hands of my colleague," he said.

Theobald, an education-finance expert, came to Temple from Indiana University, where he was senior vice president and chief financial officer.

During his tenure at Temple, he launched a "Fly in Four" program to encourage students to graduate in four years, removed the requirement that students submit SAT scores for admission, and settled a faculty union contract in a manner described by the union president as "the most cooperative negotiation we've ever had." His tenure also saw record fund-raising and increased research prominence.

But he also endured a bruising battle over the decision to eliminate some popular sports programs in 2014, and in the last year has been leading the charge on controversial plans to build a football stadium on campus.

In recent months, Theobald's relationship with board members grew fractured over the financial-aid gap, which emerged a year ago and grew, and his handling of Dai's dismissal.

A Facebook page, "Support President Theobald," was launched last weekend and as of Thursday had 141 likes.

Among those supporting Theobald was Sara Goldrick-Rab, a nationally known professor in educational policy studies and sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who started at Temple this month.

"I examined his commitments and actions carefully before deciding to join Temple," she wrote on the Facebook page. "I was impressed, and it's a major reason I came. This university's commitment to creating real opportunities for all students is essential, and it must go on. So at the very least, the process that's occurred here deserves closer scrutiny."

But others said they were glad to see Theobald go, including members of Stadium Stompers, a group that opposes plans for the stadium. The group has called on the university to abandon plans for the stadium. Members demonstrated on Thursday outside Sullivan Hall, where the board meeting was held.

"While President Theobald was one of the main people pushing the stadium, we want the board of trustees to know this fight is going to continue," said Chuck Cannon, a 2015 graduate and member of the Stompers.

O'Connor said Theobald's departure would not have an impact on whether a stadium is built. The university is conducting a feasibility study for the project.

Asked about the stadium Thursday, Englert did not take a stance. He said he wants to see the results of traffic and parking studies first.

"Our focus will be opening school in August and September and making sure we're off to a good start," he said.

ssnyder@phillynews.com

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Temple Presidents

Russell Conwell, from Oct. 4, 1887, to Dec. 6, 1925. The founder of the school, Conwell served as president until his death on Dec. 6, 1925. He delivered his famous "Acres of Diamonds" speech more than 6,000 times nationwide.

Charles Beury, from Jan. 22, 1926, to Aug. 30, 1941. He resigned after losing all administrative control during a power struggle with the university and its hospital.

Robert Johnson, from Sept. 17, 1941, to March 1959. An unpopular choice because he didn't have an academic background, he gained respect from university trustees. He stepped down to become Temple's first chancellor.

Millard Gladfelter, from July 1, 1959, to Oct. 1, 1967. Temple became a state-related school under his watch, in November 1965. He became chancellor after stepping down.

Paul R. Anderson, from Aug. 1, 1967, until resigning on June 1, 1973. He battled faculty unionization and student protests during his tenure.

Marvin Wachman, from July 1, 1973, until retiring on June 30, 1982. He faced financial issues for much of his tenure. The grind led to his retirement.

Peter Liacouras, from July 1, 1982, until retiring on June 30, 2000. He was at odds with faculty during much of his tenure, and left to write his memoirs

David Adamany, from May 17, 2000, until retiring on May 3, 2006. The faculty viewed him as a micromanager. Upon retiring, he said he had expected to serve a "few more years."

Ann Weaver Hart, from May 4, 2006, until retiring on June 30, 2012. She never settled in, and left to become president of the University of Arizona.

SOURCES: Temple University, the Inquirer, Temple News, university historian James Hilty.