Temple’s first black president quits

Jason Wingard agrees to leave after less than two years in charge

March 29, 2023
Temple University
Source: iStock

Temple University has announced the exit of its first black president, Jason Wingard, after less than two years in the job, amid a series of confrontations and anxieties over labour, campus security and sagging enrolment.

Mr Wingard will step down on Friday, according to a statement from Mitchell Morgan, a real estate executive who serves as chair of Temple’s board of trustees, which noted “the urgent matters now facing the university” but gave no specific reason for the presidential transition.

Temple, however, has just endured an emotional 42-day strike by graduate student workers, saw an on-duty university police sergeant shot dead amid fears of higher crime rates around its Philadelphia campus, and has experienced sharp declines in enrolment numbers.

The university’s faculty were also getting close to a scheduled vote of no-confidence in the president in relation to concerns that include the labour disputes, the decreasing enrolment and financial issues that include allegedly lavish executive spending.

Students have also appeared to be abandoning Mr Wingard. The student newspaper The Temple News surveyed more than 1,000 students and found that 92 per cent disapproved of his performance as university president, with safety their biggest concern.

Temple was founded as a Baptist college in 1884 and shifted in 1965 to the status of a state-funded, independently operated institution. It is known primarily for its professional programmes in the fields of medicine and law.

Mr Wingard became Temple’s president in July 2021 after serving as dean of Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies and vice-dean of the business school of the University of Pennsylvania.

He issued no statement about his planned departure, though he had repeatedly expressed his understanding of the various challenges facing the university and his intent to keep fighting for progress on them.

Animosities have run high, however, fuelled by incidents that include the university’s decision to cut off health coverage for some 700 striking graduate student workers and demand that they pay their tuition fees. The university later reversed that approach and the walkout was settled earlier this month.

The wider sense of fear, meanwhile, was amplified by the killing in mid-February of a campus police officer, Christopher Fitzgerald, who was described as patrolling by himself when shot while responding to reports of a robbery.

The actual trends in crime around the university remain debated, but the rates have historically been high and the perceptions have been tied to enrolment woes. The institution has about 34,000 students, down by more than 6 per cent from last year and by 14 per cent since 2019. And student deposits for next year appear to be down by 25 per cent compared with the same time last year, a university official told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Mr Wingard also promised some months ago to become the first Temple president in decades to live in the neighbourhood, but became subject to questions about when he actually planned to fulfil that commitment.

His resignation comes less than a week after a president at another selective US institution, Katherine Bergeron of Connecticut College, also relented to persistent pressure to leave.

Dr Bergeron agreed to step down at the end of the current semester, largely driven by students upset at the college scheduling a fundraising event at a private Florida social venue, the Everglades Club, with an extensive history of discriminating against black and Jewish people. The planned event – later cancelled – had earlier prompted the protest resignation of Connecticut College’s dean of institutional equity and inclusion, Rodmon King.

“I fully accept my share of responsibility for the circumstances that have led us to this moment,” Dr Bergeron told the campus community in a resignation letter. “I have thought hard about the events of the past weeks and I know I will continue to learn from them.”


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