Temple University on Tuesday announced the sudden departure of its provost, Hai-Lung Dai, saying he "has been relieved of his administrative responsibilities effective immediately."
The announcement came on the same day that the university acknowledged that it had exceeded its financial aid budget for its merit scholarship program for 2016-17 by $22 million and had already taken steps to balance the budget.
Several sources with ties to the university said that president Neil D. Theobald was unhappy with the shortfall and that a rift had developed between him and Dai, who had been provost for four years.
But it was unclear whether that was the reason or a reason for Dai's removal. The university declined to comment on relieving Dai of his duties, citing personnel matters.
In a statement, university officials emphasized that all aid promised to students would be covered and that the university had funds to adjust its proposed 2016-17 budget and cover the over-allocation of aid.
Reached by phone, Dai deferred to his lawyer, Patricia Pierce, for comment.
"Dr. Dai is saddened by this decision," Pierce said in a statement. "We view it as rash and completely unjustified."
Pierce cited Dai's accomplishments at Temple.
"Dr. Dai is especially proud of the world-renowned faculty he has helped attract," she wrote. "In addition, student applications have doubled at a time when other institutions are facing decreases in enrollment. Temple's attraction of international students has also nearly doubled under Dr. Dai's leadership."
The university, she said, also has moved into the top 100 for research expenditures in National Science Foundation rankings, and has improved in U.S. News and World Report rankings since Dai took over.
Theobald, who has led Temple for 31/2 years, could not be reached for comment. Neither could Patrick O'Connor, chairman of the board of trustees.
Dai on Monday acknowledged that financial aid expenses were larger than anticipated, but said that was because the university had attracted a lot of talented students with need.
"We have found a way to adjust it and the situation is under control," he said.
The university said in a statement that the over-allocation of financial aid occurred because of an increase in students who qualified for financial aid under its merit scholarship program.
Temple saw a 17 percent increase in incoming freshmen with GPAs over 3.6 and a 29 percent increase in students with reading and math SAT scores over 1,300. The number of students with those GPAs rose from 2,204 to 2,573 and the number with the higher SAT scores rose from 797 to 1,028, the university said.
"This unanticipated growth has directly led to a projected expense of $22 million more than budgeted for financial aid in the 2016-17 academic year," the university said. "The university administration, under President Theobald's leadership and with support of the Board of Trustees, quickly addressed the matter, and prepared a revised budget for 2016-17 that recognizes this higher financial aid spending amount and balances the 2016-17 budget."
The university, which operates on a more than $1.34 billion budget, has budgeted nearly $112 million for financial aid for 2016-17. That includes both merit aid and aid based on need.
Several trustees and top administrative officials who were contacted declined to comment on the provost.
Joseph W. "Chip" Marshall III, who was appointed this month as head of the board of trustees' academic affairs committee, said he was looking into the financial aid issue.
Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Theodore A. McKee, who recently left the board and had been head of the academic affairs committee, said he was aware of a shortfall in financial aid.
"There was an issue ... and some steps were being taken," he said.
Dai, 62, a chemist, had served as provost since February 2013 and had been interim provost since summer 2012.
A native of Taiwan, he came to the United States in 1976 and earned his doctorate in chemistry at the University of California, then did postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dai arrived in Philadelphia in 1984 and for 22 years taught in the chemistry department at the University of Pennsylvania and chaired it.
In 2007, Temple hired him as dean of its College of Science and Technology.
Temple did not name an interim provost, but said a successor would be named soon.