PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Jason Wingard, the first Black president at Temple University, is resigning after a tumultuous tenure of less than two years and amid a surge of violence that has affected the North Philadelphia campus.
The university announced Tuesday evening that the board of trustees had accepted Wingard's resignation, which takes effect Friday and lauded him for what it called significant contributions to the university's mission.
"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," the announcement said. "We understand that a concerted and sustained effort must be undertaken as we attempt to solve these problems."
Officials said "a small group of senior Temple leaders" would be designated to guide the university while another president is being sought.
"This group will have many years of experience at Temple and devotion to its mission," the announcement said. "Each will have discrete responsibilities for the university's essential functions and provide a stable foundation for us as we look toward the search for our next president."
Wingard, 51, has led the 33,600-student university since July 2021.
On campus, news spread fast of his resignation.
"I think every university needs a president and leaders that are very open-minded and who listen," said Temple junior Maddie Blessing. "Safety is not really an issue you can just kind of disregard."
"I feel like it's only so much one person can do about a bunch of issues that have happened," noted Mick Guile, a university senior.
The Temple Association of University Professionals was preparing to hold a no-confidence vote next month regarding Wingard and two other officials, with members citing concerns over falling enrollment, financial issues, and labor disputes.
Wingard told a panel of state lawmakers last week that Philadelphia's homicide rate has wrought a climate in which students, faculty, parents and staff are afraid.
A Temple University police officer was shot and killed near the north Philadelphia campus last month. Officer Christopher Fitzgerald, 31, was shot after pursing three people dressed in black and wearing masks in an area where there had been a series of robberies and carjackings. Two youths were arrested nearby, and an 18-year-old suspect was taken into custody the following morning in neighboring Bucks County.
Fitzgerald was the first Temple University officer killed in the line of duty, said Jennifer Griffin, the university's public safety director. A father of five children, he joined the school's police force in October 2021.
The university had also recently seen a six-week strike by graduate students who are teaching and research assistants. Union members earlier this month ratified a new contract after overwhelmingly rejecting an earlier agreement and extending their walkout.
The social media group Keep Us Safe TU documented these incidents, which was believed to have played a crucial role in keeping students informed. What the group hopes to see moving forward is transparency.
"How Temple wants to position themselves for the future depends on how the next president is able to rebuild that credibility and transparency so badly damaged by President Wingard's office," commented Nate Weinberg, with Keep Us Safe TU.
The Temple University Police Association (TUPA) also shared a message regarding the new administration:
"TUPA is eager to form a working relationship with Temple University's new leadership team. We are dedicated to working together to implement proven strategies to increase safety on campus.
We will continue to advocate for our members and the community."
Mitchell Morgan, Temple's Board of Trustees chair, released this letter on Wingard's resignation:
"We write to let you know that today the Temple University Board of Trustees accepted the resignation of President Jason Wingard, effective March 31, 2023.
Among the priorities, the Board set for Dr. Wingard were developing and executing a strategy to enhance the value proposition, reputation, and external profile of the University. He demonstrated unwavering commitment to that mandate, and his contributions to advancing the University's mission have been significant. We are confident that the University will benefit from the strategies and initiatives launched by Dr. Wingard, in the years to come. We thank him for his leadership and dedication to the Temple community.
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. We understand that a concerted and sustained effort must be undertaken as we attempt to solve these problems.
At the same time, we acknowledge that these issues adversely affect all of the University's constituencies. We recognize that solutions will be most effective, impactful and long-lasting when they reflect the perspectives of so many different groups who care deeply about Temple's future. We remain confident that the University can overcome these challenges with your support.
The Board will designate a small group of senior Temple leaders to guide the university. This group will have many years of experience at Temple and devotion to its mission. Each will have discrete responsibilities for the university's essential functions and provide a stable foundation for us as we look toward the search for our next president.
As we enter this new phase for Temple, your engagement and collaboration will be critical to our efforts to emerge stronger and more united as an institution, and a community, than ever before.
Thank you for your attention, commitment and loyalty to Temple University."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.