Acting Temple University President JoAnne Epps(Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By Chanel Hill
PHILADELPHIA — Temple University’s new acting president JoAnne A. Epps said she wants to hear from faculty, students, community members and stakeholders about any concerns or expectations they may have surrounding the university in North Philadelphia.
“I pledge to the community that I will listen to them,” Epps said. “I will seek out their concerns, advice and recommendations because I think we need to work in partnership.
“I want to hear from everyone,” she said. “I want to know what are the things that concern them and the hopes they have for the university and community.
“I also like to infuse some optimism moving forward and restore a sense that Temple is a great place to be,” she added.
Epps, 71, was named Temple’s acting president this week by the university’s Board of Trustees.
She will lead the 33,600-student university until a permanent president is found. Epps will not be a candidate for the permanent position. Temple will launch a national search for a new president within the next few weeks.
“This university is truly in my blood and in my soul so it’s really an honor to have been asked to lead it at this time,” she said.
Epps’ connection to Temple began in her childhood when both she and her mother worked for the university. For more than 30 years, she’s been a member of Temple’s faculty and has held several leadership roles in the university.
Epps was the dean of Temple’s Beasley School of Law in 2008 and was named executive vice president and provost in 2016. She was previously the senior adviser to former president Jason Wingard, who resigned from being Temple’s 12th president last month.
“There is no one more qualified than JoAnne to assume the role of acting president during this critical moment for our university,” Mitchell Morgan, chair of Temple University’s Board of Trustees, in a statement.
“Her lifelong dedication to Temple and the greater Philadelphia community make us extremely confident in JoAnne’s ability to unite the Temple community and lead a focused effort on developing and implementing solutions to our key challenges,” he said.
State Rep. Jordan A. Harris, D-Philadelphia, praised Epps’ appointment.
“This is an outstanding decision by Temple to elevate JoAnne Epps to the role of acting president,” Harris said on Twitter. “I’m confident JoAnne can do what’s right for both the university and the community it resides in and I’m looking forward to watching her lead.”
However, The Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP) has been critical of Epps’ appointment, saying in a statement that her selection was made without consulting the union.
The faculty union will hold a formal vote of no-confidence for Morgan and provost Gregory Mandel on Friday. The vote is largely symbolic as a no-confidence vote cannot authorize change.
“Publicly funded institutions of higher education shouldn’t need closed-door meetings to make critical decisions affecting thousands of students, workers and the people of North Philadelphia,” the union said in a statement.
“TAUP will request a meeting with our new interim (acting) president to address the concerns of our members. We will continue to seek a new vision for Temple. We will continue to work with our colleagues, students and the community in shaping that vision,” the union said.
Epps enters her new role following a tumultuous year at the university, which had a six-week strike byThe Temple University Graduate Students Association.
The university has also been dealing with public safety concerns after Temple Police Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald was fatally killed in February.
Fitzgerald, 31, had been on the university’s police force since October 2021. He was the first line-of-duty death in the history of the campus police department.
In 2021, Temple student Samuel Collington was killed near campus during an attempted carjacking. Undergraduate enrollment has also dropped at the university by nearly 11% since 2020.
Epps said that safety and enrollment will be the two areas she will be focusing on as acting president.
“Those are the two big challenges that we have to confront,” she said. “I’m going to listen to people and take stock of where we are and what we are currently doing in those areas.
“I think there’s actually a lot going on that people might not know — including me — so I have to learn and that’s how I’m going to approach this,” she said. “I was asked by the trustees not just to be a custodian, but to be encouraged to lead this year.
“Once I get a sense of where we are on enrollment and safety, I will continue to work with the many constituencies, both internal to Temple and external members of our surrounding community in order to continue to address those issues,” she added.
Epps, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia and a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles prior to her time at Temple, said her background will help address the issues of public safety at the university.
“I understand the issues that are involved with law enforcement; they’re complex,” she said. “I understand the narrative and I understand the issues that will confront us. I think my background will help with that as I know some of the players in the city that we will need as allies.”
Temple student Cole Heilman said he’s glad Epps will be making safety a top priority.
“Everyone who lives near this side of Broad Street knows that it can get a little scary at times,” Heilman said in an NBC10 interview.
“To hear that one of the reasons we’re having a new acting president is to address safety on campus is great,” he said. “That makes me feel a lot better.”
Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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