Reaction to departure of Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart

It was a surprise to most of the Temple community when University President Ann Weaver Hart was announced this month as the only finalist for the presidency of the University of Arizona, just as it was in September when she announced she would be leaving Temple at the end of the academic year in June, to move closer to her mother in Utah.

Coincidentally, I’m exactly the same age as President Hart. It seems to me that people our age have increasingly complicated lives and conflicting demands of family, career, and our own personal interests, needs and preferences. It’s getting to be now or never for whatever it is we’ve always wanted to do. I won’t second-guess anyone’s choices after a long career. I’ll just note that President Hart was born and grew up in Utah, and earned all three of her degrees at the University of Utah.

I think most Temple employees are sorry to see President Hart leave. In her nearly six years at Temple she steered the university through difficult cuts in state funding and the on-going financial crisis nationally, in higher education, and at Temple’s Health Sciences Center in particular. She was a popular leader, and we were happy to have her as Temple’s public face, especially in making the case to the state legislature for appropriations.

She had some critics who dismissed her popularity because, “the hardest decisions were made before she arrived.” But I don’t actually think that’s true, and it’s clear that plenty of challenges remained for Temple’s first female president, like the nurses’ strike at the hospital, and the merger with Fox Chase Cancer Center.

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She leaves a pretty good legacy, much of which can be seen driving up North Broad Street, past all the new construction underway on main campus, and further north at the sparkling new medical school. Once a commuter school, Temple now can’t build student dormitories fast enough to meet demand. That doesn’t just happen. It takes leadership.

One of her challenges and legacies was replacing head football coach Al Golden, who turned around a program that had gone 3-31 in the three years preceding his arrival in 2006, and gradually improved the program to bowl eligibility in 2009 and 2010. He resigned after the 2010 season to be head coach at Miami. He was replaced by Steve Addazio who led the program to another winning season, and another bowl game, in 2011.

In academia, as in other businesses, if your new hire turns out to be a star, he or she is going to be recruited by your competitors. And so it is with President Hart herself. Her departure underscores how difficult it is to find someone with the skills set to be a university president, who can work with all the different stake holders to move the university forward regardless of external conditions.

Ann Weaver Hart had that set of skills. Her Ph.D. happened to be in educational administration. I predict that she is going to be missed at Temple University, and a successful president of the University of Arizona.

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