Richard M. Englert has worked at Temple University for nearly 45 years, serving in 17 leadership roles, twice as acting president and the last four years as president.
He’s served the North Philadelphia school for more years than Temple’s founder, Russell Conwell, whose work there spanned 38 years until his death in 1925.
Now, as Englert approaches his 75th birthday, he has told the board of trustees he’s ready to retire.
And that means Temple will mark another first: launching a search for a new president amid a pandemic.
Temple’s board of trustees will hire a firm and appoint a presidential search committee this summer and seek input from students, faculty, alumni, and neighbors, chairman Mitchell L. Morgan said Tuesday. The good news, he said, is that Englert has agreed to stay as long as needed.
“We are going to really take our time and do it right,” said Morgan, a Temple alumnus and founder and CEO of Morgan Properties.
Englert became acting president of the 39,000-student university in July 2016 after former president Neil D. Theobald resigned under pressure. The board was at odds with Theobald over a $22 million deficit in the financial aid budget and the firing of the provost. The university had lost its top two leaders in less than a month, and the board turned to one of its longest-serving administrators to bring stability.
Englert had also served as acting president when former leader Ann Weaver Hart left in 2012. But this time, the board made Englert’s appointment permanent three months after he had stepped into the acting role.
“Every time we needed him, he came through,” Morgan said.
Former board chair Patrick J. O’Connor said upon leaving the chairmanship last summer: “Having Dick Englert, being at Temple for [more than 40] years, understanding and having served in every capacity, who loves the school, loves the students, loves the professors, knows the board, is the calmest, greatest three years of my life.”
Morgan acknowledged that searching for a new president and interviewing candidates during a pandemic isn’t ideal. But he said some work can be done on Zoom calls, and in-person interviews can be conducted outdoors or in large rooms with fewer people at multiple meetings. He hopes to find a leader who will help boost Temple’s fund-raising and endowment, which stood at $682 million last year.
Morgan pledged to seek a diverse pool of candidates, but would not commit to a leader from an underrepresented group or a woman. “It would be great if the next leader fits that role, but there’s no litmus test,” he said. “We just want a great leader.”
Quinn Litsinger, a rising junior and student government president, said it will be “sad to see” Englert leave. Litsinger supports a person of color or a woman be the next president, saying the move would send a powerful message to students amid global protests against systemic racism.
Englert, a Detroit native who grew up in California, came to Temple in 1976 from UCLA, where he got his doctorate. His first job was as assistant to the dean of the education school. Through the years, he served as a dean, provost, chancellor, vice president of administration, acting director of intercollegiate athletics, acting chief administrative officer of the School of Podiatric Medicine, and chief of staff to the late president Peter Liacouras.
When he accepted the acting president’s role in 2016, he expected it to last only about two years, he said. During his tenure, Temple opened its upscale Charles Library, celebrated its first Rhodes scholar, and this year a record number of Fulbright scholarship winners.
Last September, he told the board he would like to start thinking about transitioning out.
The Cherry Hill resident looks forward to traveling with his wife when he retires. But now, he only thinks about getting Temple through the coronavirus, making sure the health system remains sustainable, and the university has the financial support it needs.
Temple plans to reopen the campus in the fall, with a hybrid of online and in-person classes. But much remains uncertain.
“One of the most important things we can do is establish and maintain a culture of social distancing and mask wearing,” he said. “We’re dealing with students who need to learn some behavior patterns that will keep them safe and everyone else safe.”
Englert, who earns $800,000 annually, agreed to take a 20% pay cut to help the university with the “enormous budget challenges” caused by the virus; other administrators are taking cuts, too. Those cuts will remain in effect at least through August, he said.
Englert loves to walk the campus, donning a pin on his lapel with the American flag and the Temple flag.
“The reason I do that,” he said, “is that Temple is the pathway to the American dream for so many.”
And for him, it was a fine place to build a long career.