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Spinelli stepping down as chancellor at Jefferson University

Stephen Spinelli Jr. was one of two key leaders who executed the Philadelphia University merger with Jefferson University.

Stephen Spinelli Jr. in his East Falls office where he serves as chancellor of Jefferson University. He’s stepping down June 30.
Stephen Spinelli Jr. in his East Falls office where he serves as chancellor of Jefferson University. He’s stepping down June 30.Read moreMichael Bryant / Staff Photographer

Stephen Spinelli Jr. championed the merger of Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia University, where he had served as president since 2007, saying higher education had become too expensive and too rigid, and needed to be disrupted.

He helped execute the deal and became chancellor of the not-even-a-year-old enterprise.

Now, he plans to disrupt it again — by leaving.

"It's time for a new leader to come in and shake it up a little bit more," Spinelli, 63, said this week.

Spinelli will step down as chancellor June 30 after 11 years of leadership at the East Falls campus — a longer-than-average tenure for a college president.

He will get chancellor emeritus status — a title he said he was offered — and hopes to write and lecture on the merger and the need for higher education to become more nimble. It's not a paying position, but he will have an office and email account, he said, though he plans to do much of his work from New England, where he is relocating to be closer to his grandchildren.

Spinelli said he had planned to stay no more than three years or until the merger was successfully completed. He was one of the merger's key leaders, along with Jefferson president and CEO Stephen K. Klasko, an obstetrician with an M.B.A., who will remain at the helm.

The merger of Jefferson — a health sciences university and large hospital — with Philadelphia University, best known for its design, engineering, and health science programs, was first floated in 2015 and finalized last July. The combined institution has about 7,800 undergraduates and graduate students.

Now, it's time for the next five- to seven-year phase of aggressive growth, Spinelli said, and he didn't want to sign on for that.

"I'm probably not the right guy," he said. "We don't need disruption anymore. We need execution."

It's unclear whether Jefferson will fill the position. The university also has a provost, Mark Tykocinski, a molecular immunologist. With Spinelli's departure, the East Falls campus is losing its leading voice, but Spinelli pointed out that Eileen Martinson, who had been chair of the Philadelphia University board, will become chair of the Jefferson Academic Board.

Spinelli, who co-founded the car-service chain Jiffy Lube before coming to Philadelphia University, isn't sure what his next step will be.

"God knows," he said. "I'm the chaos guy. I'm the disrupter."