Higher education

Former Temple University president is first of finalists for top job at UNI

Neil Theobald set to visit campus Tuesday

A driver drives through the gateway of the University of Northern Iowa on Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (The Gazette/Jim Slosiarek)
A driver drives through the gateway of the University of Northern Iowa on Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (The Gazette/Jim Slosiarek)

CEDAR FALLS — The first University of Northern Iowa presidential finalist scheduled to visit campus this week is Neil Theobald, an embattled former Temple University president who resigned in August under threat of being fired after his board of trustees issued a vote of no confidence.

Theobald, who took over the presidency at the public doctoral university in Philadelphia in 2012, reached an agreement to resign after he unexpectedly dismissed Temple’s provost following a $22 million financial-aid cost overrun, according to Inside Higher Education.

According to media reports, he removed Hai-Lung Dai from the provost post in June after news of the financial aid budget overrun, prompting faculty protest. Dai issued a statement in his defense, refuting complaints against him and arguing responsibility for budget matters ultimately lies with the president, according to Inside Higher Education.

Before Temple, Theobald was senior vice president and chief financial officer at Indiana University.

A resignation agreement with Temple gives Theobald a year’s sabbatical at full salary — $725,000, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. That package includes base pay and what would have been deferred compensation, plus benefits like health insurance — although the payout would be reduced if Theobald lands another job, according to the Inquirer report.

Theobald, while at Temple, also took heat for not coming out more strongly against Bill Cosby, who previously served on the Temple board of trustees and has an honorary degree from the school but has been battling allegations of sexual assault for more than a year.

Temple faculty at one point passed a resolution calling on Theobald to revoke Cosby’s degree. Theobald, through a spokesman, said he doesn’t have the power to strip recipients of degrees, according to media reports.

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Theobald is one of three UNI presidential finalists scheduled to visit the Cedar Falls campus this week.

A 21-member presidential search committee narrowed a pool of 46 applicants to seven semifinalists — six of whom participated in off-site interviews earlier this month.

From those six, the search committee chose four finalists. One withdrew from the process, according to board spokesman Josh Lehman.

The university is working to fill a vacancy created by former UNI President William Ruud, who left over the summer to become president of private Marietta College in Ohio.

Theobald is to visit campus Tuesday and participate in a public forum at 2:30 p.m. That forum is to be streamed live online.

According to Theobald’s curriculum vitae, he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and his doctorate in education from University of Washington in Seattle, where he also earned a K-12 mathematics teaching certificate.

He served as research center director for the Indiana Education Policy Center from 1993 to 2002 and then as senior vice chancellor for Indiana University from 2002 to 2007. He was promoted to senior vice president and chief financial officer in July 2007, and stayed in that role until being named Temple University president in 2012.

According to his resume, Theobald while at Temple — one of three state universities in Pennsylvania — reported to a 36-member board of trustees. During his tenure, according to the resume, Temple improved its U.S. News & World Report ranking 17 places from No. 132 to No. 115, doubled its fundraising to $79.2 million in the 2016 budget year, and set research funding records each year. It also set undergraduate enrollment records every year, according to the document, “with the past two freshman classes being the most academically qualified and diverse entering classes in Temple history.”

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Temple — which includes 17 schools and colleges, nine campuses, and hundreds of degree programs — boasts nearly 38,000 students, according to its website. UNI is a smaller regional public university with a fall 2016 enrollment of 11,905.

Dan Power, UNI professor and co-chairman of the UNI presidential search committee, said he and his colleagues have done extensive research on Theobald, and the press accounts are “not consistent.”

“I don’t know all the facts, and I’ve explored it a lot,” Power said. “We’ll see how he handles it in a public setting.”

Power said the search committee found Theobald “extremely well qualified” based on the list of qualifications approved by the Board of Regents. During Theobald’s initial off-site interview with the search committee, Power said, he discussed the controversy at Temple.

“He did address it in a number of ways, and the search consultants have tried to give us some perspective, too,” Power said. “We’ll all know better after his visit.”

But in the committee’s initial interactions with Theobald, Power said, he seemed like a “genuine sort of person.”

Theobald is to arrive on the UNI campus Monday night for a dinner event before participating in his first formal event at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

“I’m sure people will ask all the candidates hard questions,” Power said, noting his disappointment that one of the chosen finalists dropped out.

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“I did not talk with the candidate who dropped out — I understand it was for personal reasons,” he said. “The person dropped out prior to Thanksgiving, so we’ve been scrambling to readjust.”

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