A well known leader in Philadelphia academic circles died Thursday after a prolonged illness.
The acres of diamonds speech, that anyone could get ahead through hard work is familiar to many Temple University graduates from the 1980’s and beyond. University founder Russell Conwell said he’d given that speech thousands of times, and his successor Peter Liacoras took the North Philadelphia acreage of what was then mostly a commuter school and expanded it into a major force in the region’s educational system.Liacoras ran Temple from 1982 until 2000 and current Chancellor Richard Englert says he was the man who transformed the main campus.”He was a master strategist what I liked about him, and so admired, he didn’t just read the future, he actually shaped the future, an outside-the-box thinker that was enormously creative and believed if you brought people to campus, Temple University would sell itself,” Englert said.Liacoras promoted the school through its athletic program, building the arena that would later be renamed in his honor for basketball on the site of a former car dealership. He moved the football program from a small stadium in Cheltenham to Veterans Stadium, giving every student a season ticket through their activity funds in order to boost game attendance. Englert says Liacoras strategy worked out and building more dorm space enticed students to stay on campus.”Our main campus enrollments have gone up 90 percent simply because of that,” he said.Liacoras wasn’t everyone’s hero. Neighbors surrounding the campus protested the spread of the university into the north-central Philadelphia neighborhoods around it. Some of those tensions have echoes today as Temple plans to build a football stadium in North Philly.A memorial service will be held next Friday at Temple’s Performing Arts Center.