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Eight months later, Temple still unsure on its next president

Temple University launched its search for a new president shortly after Ann Weaver Hart announced in September that she would depart at the end of the academic year.

Temple University launched its search for a new president shortly after Ann Weaver Hart announced in September that she would depart at the end of the academic year.

Eight months later, after a national search, the university remains without a new president - and that's not likely to change by the time Temple holds its commencement next week and sees much of the campus depart for break.

Temple still could be without a president at the end of June, when Hart leaves for her new job as president of the University of Arizona.

And that could lead the 36-member board to appoint an interim president and reopen the search at a later date, several people close to the process said.

But Patrick O'Connor, board chairman and head of the 12-member search committee, confirmed in a telephone interview Wednesday that there's been no decision. The search process is ongoing, he said, with more than 50 candidates having expressed interest.

The board will announce its next president - or the appointment of an interim if the search fails to yield a suitable successor - before July 1, he said.

"We understand the importance of this position. We understand the importance of not making a mistake," said O'Connor, vice chairman of the law firm Cozen O'Connor. "We're going to be absolutely sure whoever we name will be a transformational leader for Temple."

Nor is president the only position in flux. The university also has a temporary provost and four open dean positions.

With more than 39,000 students on its campuses, including its main base in the heart of North Philadelphia, Temple is one of the region's largest universities, and its success is inextricably tied to the well-being of the city.

Operating on a $2.2 billion budget, Temple includes 17 schools and colleges and a comprehensive health system. The university has faced fiscal challenges in recent years, with declining state funding and increasing tuition costs. It faces an additional 30 percent cut in its state subsidy this year under Gov. Corbett's proposed budget.

The school recently floated an early retirement program for full professors over the age of 65 and with more than 10 years' experience, attracting more than 70 takers and enabling the school to save several million dollars, according to spokesman Ray Betzner. The school also is considering consolidating or merging several schools and departments.

Town-gown concerns and crime - most recently drug-related home invasions and robberies - remain issues.

The university has largely reinvented itself over the last two decades, growing and improving the credentials of its applicant pool and bolstering campus life.

Under Hart, who is finishing her sixth year, Temple has launched a plan to transform its Broad Street corridor and other parts of campus, with more than $1.2 billion in development, including a new residence hall, research building, parking facility, and renovated academic space.

One matter a new president won't have to resolve is a contract with the faculty. Temple recently reached a tentative, two-year agreement with the faculty union. If approved, it will give the new president labor peace until at least October 2014.

With the Board of Trustees scheduled to meet Tuesday, the campus has been buzzing with speculation over the status of the search.

"The question of who is going to be the next president and when they're going to announce it is on everyone's lips. It's creating a good deal of anxiety at Temple," said Art Hochner, president of the 1,350-member faculty union.

Karen M. Turner, an associate professor of journalism, questioned what an interim president would mean.

"We're really concerned. If we're going to have an acting president, that just pushes everything even farther into the future," said Turner, who is also immediate past president of the faculty senate.

While it's not common, colleges sometimes complete a search without a winning candidate and move to an interim, experts said.

"It's an act of profound wisdom," said Barmak Nassirian, an administrator with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "If the search doesn't generate somebody that you can confidently hand the institution to ... there's no dishonor in admitting a setback."

Temple began its search process in November with meetings of more than 200 Temple faculty, students, and others to develop a "leadership statement" on the kind of president the school is seeking for its 10th leader since its founding in 1884.

The school is looking for candidates with "compelling vision, dynamic presence, and unquestioned integrity," the school said. It didn't specifically say the candidate had to have presidential experience, but within the committee, some had hoped to recruit a sitting president and some were looking for an Ivy League candidate, according to sources close to the process.

Names of possible candidates have been swirling for months. There is a Facebook page to draft former Gov. Ed Rendell, who said he's flattered and at some point would welcome the chance to head a major college or university.

"I'm just not ready to step out of the fight to change our country and change our politics," he said.

The name of Clarence "Clay" Armbrister, a former senior Temple administrator who had been chief of staff for Mayor Nutter before taking a top administrative post at Johns Hopkins University, also surfaced.

Temple had reached out to University of Delaware president Patrick Harker, but Harker - also the former dean of the Wharton School at Penn - wasn't interested and never became a candidate, multiple sources said.

O'Connor said the university was looking at several people but declined to call them "finalists" or reveal their identity, saying the search process must be kept confidential.

Now that presidential searches recently have ended at other schools, such as Rutgers, more candidates have come forward, he added. Internal candidates, he said, also are under consideration.

Rutgers last month named Robert L. Barchi, the departing president of Thomas Jefferson University, its next president.