HomeAmericasJoAnne Epps, Interim President of Temple University, Dies

JoAnne Epps, Interim President of Temple University, Dies

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — JoAnne Epps, the beloved interim president of Temple University, died Tuesday, the university said. She was 72 years old.

Epps became ill during a memorial service at Temple for Charles L. Blockson, curator of the Blockson Collection. She was then taken to Temple University Hospital for further treatment and was pronounced dead around 3:15 p.m., the university said.

“She had an amazing ability to be the calming force in turbulent waters and bring everyone together and she was a pleasure to work for, she made every day of going to work fun and she was steering Temple’s ship in the right direction,” Ken Kaiser , the senior vice president and chief operating officer of Temple said. “I think right now it’s just a punch in the gut. It’s hard.”

Temple officials did not reveal the cause of Epps’ death. A doctor at Temple University Hospital said Epps, who joined the Temple faculty in 1985, suffered a “sudden episode” during the event and resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful.

Gregory Mandel, senior vice president and provost at Temple, said the Board of Trustees will meet Wednesday to come up with a plan as the university manages the transition period.

The university will hold a vigil in the Bell Tower at noon Wednesday to honor Epps.

“We are all deeply saddened and speechless. We grieve for JoAnne’s family, her friends and our Temple community,” an emotional Mandel said during the news conference at Temple Hospital.

Mandel said after Epps’ sudden passing, he began thinking about memories of his time at North Broad. She said Epps was a friend since he joined Temple Law School in 2007.

“We have worked together in different capacities over the years,” Mandel said. “She has been an extraordinary leader, she has been a mentor to me and many others, she has been a close confidant.”

“President Epps represented the best part of the Temple community and dedicated almost 40 years of her life to supporting us, as my colleague Ken said in different capacities,” he added. “We will all get through this. The university has a spectacularly strong community and we will get through this together.”

Epps did not retire and became Temple’s interim president in April after Jason Wingard, the university’s first black president.He resigned because of his “love for the university,” Mandel said.

Epps, a native of Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, held several positions at Temple. She was dean of Temple Beasley Law School from 2008 to 2016 until she became executive vice president and provost of the university in 2016. Epps was eventually succeeded by Mandel as provost in 2021.

Epps also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia and an assistant city attorney in Los Angeles.

Before Temple named Epps interim president, Wingard’s tenure was filled with criticism from students, faculty and alumni as the university community grappled with campus crime and the fatal shooting of Temple University Police Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald.

Wingard’s time at Temple lasted less than two years.

Temple University officials speak out following sudden death of interim president JoAnne Epps

The Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP) authorized a vote of no confidence in March by the university’s leadership at the end of Wingard’s tenure.

Kaiser recalled that Epps took on the role and “there was a collective sigh.”

“I think over the last six months, you saw the entire university community come together, despite all the ups and downs that Temple has faced during this time, everyone was recovering and everyone felt great about Temple and happy for JoAnne,” he said Kaiser.

The university launched a national search for the president shortly after Epps took office.

After Epps’ sudden death, condolences poured in on social media.

“JoAnne Epps was a powerful force and constant ambassador for Temple University for nearly four decades. Losing her is heartbreaking for Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro posted on X. “May her memory be a blessing.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney also issued a statement regarding Epps’ death.

“Heartbroken by the sudden passing of @TempleUniv“,” Kenney wrote in X. “Interim President JoAnne A. Epps. She was a passionate and strong leader who inspired many. I feel fortunate to have known her. My heart goes out to the Temple community and JoAnne’s family and loved ones.”

TAUP also issued a statement regarding Epps’ sudden death:

“The Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP) is deeply saddened by the sudden and unexpected passing of Dr. JoAnne Epps. She was a true Temple icon and her loss is significant for our university.

Throughout her career at Temple, many of us came to know her as a colleague and friend. Her tireless service to our faculty, as a member of the law school faculty, as dean of Beasley Law School, and then as provost, was notable. And, when she was ready to retire, she answered her call to serve as our interim President.

“JoAnne’s calming presence gave Temple a reset this spring when we needed it most,” says Jeffrey Doshna, president of TAUP. “I remember her coming into my office in April and talking to me one-on-one about how we could work together to make Temple a better place. That kind of personal approach makes her loss even more profound.”

We extend our deepest condolences to the Epps family and the entire Temple University community. As we all grapple with this loss, we honor his legacy by continuing to work to make Temple a more equitable place for all.”

Cherelle Parker, the Democratic candidate for mayor of Philadelphia, issued a statement regarding Epps’ passing:

“I write this with a heavy heart, after learning of the sudden passing of Professor Epps today. The circumstances of her death are tragic, but they will not overshadow the life and legacy of a colossal figure.

“For many people in our city, our region and our country, Professor Epps was a pioneer in her approach to law. For those of us who follow in the footsteps of Professor Epps’ path around the world, she represented the dream that many of us never thought was going the distance. Epps was a fierce advocate for women and minorities throughout her career, who saw herself as a vehicle to uplift the students who passed through her classroom. In recognition of her work, she received the 2015 Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association, the 2015 M. Ashley Dickerson Award from the National Association of Women Lawyers, and the 2014 Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award from the National Association of Women Lawyers. Philadelphia Bar Association, to name a few.

“With this news following the passing of another indomitable figure, Dr. Constance E. Clayton, I know that many of us today feel a great sense of loss. No words of mine can ease the pain that everyone she touched feels. and my words cannot do justice to the legacy of this extraordinary black woman. So I will turn to the words of Maya Angelou:

“And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. The spaces are filled with a kind of relaxing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed “We can be. Be and be better. Because they existed.”

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