JoAnne A. Epps, interim president of Temple University in Philadelphia, whose tenure comes at a turbulent time for the school, died Tuesday after falling ill on stage during a memorial service, the university.
Epps, who was named in April, was taken to hospital after falling ill at the memorial service and was pronounced dead around 3:15 p.m., the university said in a statement. She was 72 years old.
“There are no words to describe the severity and sadness of this loss,” the university said in a letter signed by the board chair, chief operating officer and dean. “President Epps was a devoted servant and friend who represented the best aspects of the Temple. »
The university did not share the cause of death.
Ms. Epps was attending a memorial service Tuesday for Charles L. Blockson, a historian, author and curator of the Blockson African American Collection at Temple, which houses more than 500,000 artifacts related to the global black experience. Mr. Blockson died in June at age 89.
Footage from a livestream of the memorial service, which was later removed from Temple’s website, showed a choir singing behind a row of chairs set up on the stage. Mrs. Epps appeared to be slumped in her chair as the papers she had been holding in her lap fell to the floor. People sitting next to her noticed that she was in distress, and someone walked up to the desk and asked for a doctor to come help her. The live stream was then interrupted for several minutes before the memorial service resumed.
Governor Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania said theformerly Twitter, that Ms. Epps was “a powerful force and constant ambassador for Temple University” and that “her loss is heartbreaking for Philadelphia.”
“Speaking at Temple’s commencement ceremony earlier this year, I reiterated my deep confidence in the university and its North Philly community,” Mr. Shapiro wrote. “They are tough and resilient, and I know they will come together and support each other through this devastating time.” »
Mitchell L. Morgan, chairman of the Temple’s board of trustees, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Ms. Epps was “our light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ms. Epps was a faculty member at Temple for more than three decades. Before joining Temple, she was an Assistant United States Attorney in Philadelphia and an Assistant City Attorney in Los Angeles.
His death shook a university community already facing several challenges. She was appointed after the March resignation of former president Jason Wingard, whose tenure was marked by worsening campus crime, a graduate student strike and a loss of confidence in her leadership among some members of the teaching staff.
After Mr. Wingard resigned, Temple seemed hungry for stable leadership, and Ms. Epps was seen as a leader who could calm the waters. Her deep ties to Temple reassured many on campus, and when she was appointed, she said in a statement that she would “engage with individuals and groups across the university to reinvigorate a culture governance, shared listening and learning”.
Ms. Epps, former executive vice president, provost and dean of Temple Law School, made clear that her tenure would be temporary, telling The Inquirer that she would not be a candidate to hold the position permanently.
“The university needs a president who it believes will have a long tenure,” she said, adding that she had planned to retire this year before being asked to serve. functions of interim president.
Her priorities, she told local media, were to address the twin crises Temple faces: campus security and declining enrollment, a problem other universities also face.
Tuesday afternoon, the Temple Association of University Professionals said the that its members were “deeply saddened” by the loss of a “true icon of the Temple”.
Temple’s Student Government Association said in a statement that Ms. Epps has made “great strides for the university and has always put the wants and needs of students first.”
Michael Levenson reports contributed.