The president of Temple University in Philadelphia resigned on Tuesday after a brief and tumultuous tenure plagued by worsening crime around campus, a strike by graduate students and a loss of confidence in his leadership among some faculty members.
Jason Wingard, who became the university’s first Black president in 2021, sent a statement to the campus community last week addressing concerns over campus safety and dwindling enrollment. His reassurances, however, proved futile as the chair of the university’s board of trustees, Mitchell Morgan, said in a statement on Tuesday that the board had accepted Dr. Wingard’s resignation.
After briefly thanking Dr. Wingard, 51, for his service, Mr. Morgan wrote, “Given the urgent matters now facing the university, particularly campus safety, the board and the administration will ensure the highest level of focus on these serious issues.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Dr. Wingard said a confluence of external factors had created a “perfect storm” that led to his exit. He cited surging crime rates in Philadelphia and a dip in enrollment that resulted in less revenue for Temple, forcing the university to cut the number of adjunct faculty members it uses in its classrooms.
“In talking with our board and talking with my leadership team,” he said, “I recognized that all the attention and focus that was being placed on me, and it was getting hotter and hotter; it was disallowing us from being able to satisfy that strategy I mapped out.”
Dr. Wingard appeared to be aware of the complaints raised throughout his presidency, including the larger concerns about safety — an issue, he said, that city officials and the police also had a responsibility to address — and the acrid chatter on social media about his business trips to Jamaica and the Super Bowl this year.
“Taking me out of the mix will, I hope, eliminate all of the direct focus and vitriol that is targeted toward me,” he said, “because people are so disappointed and sad and angry and overwhelmed about violence, mostly, and they don’t know what to do. And so I certainly understand that people directed that towards me.”
Dr. Wingard’s rapid downfall came as parents, students and faculty members expressed frustration with Temple under his leadership.
The university has contended with high levels of gun violence in Philadelphia. In 2022, there were 516 homicides, down from 562 in 2021 but higher than every other year going back to 2007, when the Philadelphia Police Department started sharing data on its website.
High-profile killings near campus have only fueled anxieties. In February, Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald of the Temple University Police Department was fatally shot in North Philadelphia, near the campus. In 2021, Samuel Collington, a Temple student, was shot and killed near campus after an apparent robbery and carjacking, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Some parents were unnerved enough to hire a private security company, JNS Protection Services, to keep watch in parts of North Philadelphia where students walk to and from campus. Jasmine Jackson, the founder of the company, said that the parents who used its services were desperate to protect their children, who “have to face the harsh reality of North Philadelphia, and Philadelphia in general, of shootings, robberies.”
The university has a nighttime shuttle service, and it expanded a walking escort program last year to address the rise in gun violence near campus.
Dr. Wingard noted in the interview that, while he had started a violence task force to address safety concerns, “most universities don’t have the same urban violence challenges that we have.”
He added that after the killing of Mr. Collington, there was “a lot of unrest that starts to come out on social media.”
“There’s a lot of cancel culture: ‘We’re mad, we got to figure out a way to, you know, where we’re going to direct this,’” Dr. Wingard said.
Temple isn’t the only urban university confronting off-campus crime. School administrators in Chicago; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Austin, Texas, have endured similar problems in recent years.
Dr. Wingard’s presidency was also hobbled by the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association’s strike, which ended this month and lasted 42 days as the students sought better wages and benefits.
“He was largely absent as somebody who was supposed to be a very clear leader of the university but seemingly had no presence while we were going through this really significant thing,” said Bethany Kosmicki, a former president of the graduate students’ association.
Dr. Wingard said that he appointed someone in his office to work with graduate students during the strike and that he was sympathetic to their concerns.
University enrollment also declined under Dr. Wingard’s watch. While college enrollment has fallen nationally since the pandemic began, faculty members at Temple said the administration was not transparent about how it would respond. Dr. Wingard noted that the enrollment decline predated his arrival at Temple.
The faculty and staff union was concerned enough to call for a vote of no confidence in Dr. Wingard earlier this month, said Danielle Scherer, the vice president of operations for the Temple Association of University Professionals.
“He seems to really miss a lot of what the purpose behind an education is supposed to do in terms of producing citizens who care about humanist principles and think about the cultivation of individuals as anything other than employees,” she said.
In fact, faculty members at Temple were alarmed by his writings about higher education, citing a 2022 opinion piece in which he questioned its current value, and his support of technology that takes students out of the classroom, Ms. Scherer said.
“At one point, a college education was seen as the ticket to career success and advancement, but we live in a capitalist society, and we know what happens when money is at stake,” Dr. Wingard wrote in the opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed. “The key to retaining the value of a degree from your own institution is ensuring your graduates have the skills to change with any market.”
Dr. Wingard resigned before the union could hold a vote. However, the union leaders still intend to hold a vote of no confidence regarding Mr. Morgan, the chair of the board of trustees, and Gregory Mandel, Temple’s provost and a law professor.
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