Patrick J. O'Connor, a lawyer at a major Philadelphia firm, is in line to become the next chairman of Temple University's board of trustees.

The current chairman, Daniel Polett, who has served for three years, announced to trustees in an e-mail yesterday morning that he planned to step down as chair as of July 1 but would remain on the board.

"I think it's time," said Polett, 73, explaining that he wanted to give the new chair time to plan board action and committee assignments before the new academic year starts. "I will be very supportive of the new chairman."

Minutes later came an e-mail from Anthony J. Scirica, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and chair of the trustees' executive committee, nominating O'Connor, who in two separate stints has served on the board for more than 20 years.

The trustees are likely to vote on O'Connor's appointment at a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday.

"As you know, Pat has served with distinction," Scirica wrote. "At age 28 in 1971, he was the youngest trustee in the university's history. He has actively participated in virtually all of the committees of the board during his entire tenure as a trustee."

He would assume the leadership amid contract tussles with labor unions. The faculty union's contract expired in October, while the union representing about 700 nonfaculty professional and technical employees has not had a contract for well over a year.

Polett, an automobile dealership co-owner, was at the helm when the trustees hired current President Ann Weaver Hart.

Polett and O'Connor have worked closely together over the years, and extraordinary changes in direction are not expected.

O'Connor, a state appointee, first served on the board from 1971 through 1984, then returned in 2001, when he was appointed by the speaker of the state House of Representatives.

He previously served as chair of the trustees at College Misericordia in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Polett, a graduate of Fordham University, acknowledged that the trustees board has not been led by a Temple graduate for decades.

"Although we're not graduates of Temple, all of us are totally dedicated to Temple," he said.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.