Temple board ready to dismiss president Neil Theobald

Temple's president Neil D. Theobald watches as Temple plays Indiana.

Temple University's board of trustees on Tuesday took a unanimous vote of no confidence in president Neil D. Theobald during a private session, and announced its intention to dismiss him.

The board's action, announced by spokesman Kevin Feeley, came after a regularly scheduled meeting.

News of the planned ouster came less than a month after Theobald removed provost Hai-Lung Dai from his post and blamed him for a $22 million shortfall in the university's merit scholarship program. It means the university could lose its top two leaders in less than a month.

The announcement stunned the Temple community.

"It's shocking and it's unprecedented, losing the two top leaders outside of the health system at once," said Art Hochner, president of the faculty union. "I'm unsure what this means for the university as a whole, but it certainly is an earthquake."

The board plans to vote on Theobald's ouster on July 21, Feeley said. Theobald was given the chance to resign, he said, but refused.

The intention to dismiss Theobald - an expert in education finance - is "largely based on Theobald's handling of events" surrounding Dai's ouster, Feeley said, as well as the $22 million deficit.

Feeley said Theobald knew of the deficit a year ago, when it was $9 million.

"Instead of insuring that the problem had been corrected, which is a core function of a university president, the deficit was allowed to grow," he said. "Dr. Theobald is responsible for the budget. Dr. Theobald is responsible for the deficit that grew."

Theobald, 59, who has led the university for 31/2 years, did not return an email or phone call for comment. He attended the private meeting at which the board met to discuss its lack of confidence in him, but left before the vote was taken. He did not attend the public meeting.

Word of Theobald's possible departure came after a meeting at which the board unanimously appointed JoAnne Epps, former dean of the Temple law school, as the university's new provost.

The university, Feeley said, plans to appoint Richard M. Englert, a former administrator, as acting president once the board has voted on Theobald's dismissal. Englert has previously served as acting president.

Feeley said Theobald had sent an email to university officials on Monday suggesting that he removed Dai because of sexual harassment allegations.

"The suggestion that somehow that's what's responsible for Dr. Theobald's decision on Hai-Lung Dai is frankly not supported by fact and absurd," Feeley said.

As recently as June 29, he said, Theobald had told a board member he wanted to keep Dai at Temple and had made him a "generous offer" to serve as vice president of and oversee the department of international affairs.

Feeley quoted Theobald as saying, "I thought we were close to an agreement, but Hai-Lung hired an attorney, and those discussions went nowhere."

Feeley said the board had appointed a committee to look into the sexual harassment allegations.

Neither Dai nor his lawyer, Patricia Pierce, returned calls for comment Tuesday evening.

The board's no-confidence vote followed a private meeting of the board last week at which Feeley said the matter was discussed.

He said the board also was concerned that Theobald had proposed assessing juniors and seniors a $1,000 surcharge to help cover the financial-aid fund deficit. Board members did not support that idea, he said.

"The board was gravely concerned to learn that that was even considered," Feeley said.

The financial aid shortfall was made public late last month, the same day the university announced its decision to remove Dai as provost. He remains a tenured member of the chemistry department.

The university said in a statement at that time that the over-allocation of financial aid occurred because of an increase in students who qualified for financial aid under its merit scholarship program. It said the school had already found a way to cover the shortfall, which Dai and Theobald had clashed over.

Some faculty started a Change.org petition denouncing Dai's ouster and calling on the board to scrutinize Theobald's decision. Thousands signed the petition, including Temple faculty and students and academics in Taiwan, Dai's native country. Faculty Senate leaders also questioned Dai's removal.

Theobald began his five-year contract on Jan. 1, 2013, with a base salary of $450,000, plus deferred compensation, to oversee the 38,000-student university in North Philadelphia.

He came from Indiana University, where he was senior vice president and chief financial officer. Under his tenure, Temple 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 launched a plan to build a football stadium on campus.

On Temple's website, the university praises Theobald for "relentless progress" and highlights fund-raising records during his first three years. It also notes that Theobald was named "Most Admired Education CEO" in 2015 by the Philadelphia Business Journal.

ssnyder@phillynews.com

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Staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.