Temple University Acting President JoAnne A. Epps Collapses, Later Pronounced Dead

Acting Temple University President JoAnne A. Epps passed away suddenly on Tuesday after being stricken by a sudden illness on stage during a memorial service.

Epps, the university’s former law school dean and provost, was named to the post in April following the resignation of Jason Wingard, Temple’s first Black president.

JoAnne A. Epps, acting president of Temple University, speaks during a Temple University graduation ceremony, May 11, 2023, at the Liacouras Center on Temple’s campus in Philadelphia. Epps has died after collapsing at a memorial service Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 19, the university said. Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

ARGUS Staff Report

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Acting Temple University President JoAnne A. Epps succumbed Tuesday shortly after being stricken by a sudden illness at during a memorial service at the college.

Epps was the first African American woman to ever serve in Temple’s top administrative position. She had assumed the role of “acting” president in April, after working nearly four decades at the college. Her tenure followed the resignation of Jason Wingard, the first African American man to serve as Temple’s president.

University officials described her loss as a “gut punch”, struggling to with their emotions as they recalled her nearly four decades of service to the college.

During her storied career, Epps served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, PA and a deputy city attorney for the City of Los Angeles, CA.

A Consummate Educator

Epps joined the Temple Law School faculty in 1985, Later serving as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 1989 to 2008. In 2009, she was named as a potential Supreme Court candidate during the first Barack H. Obama Administration.

She served as dean of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law from 2008 to 2016 before becoming provost. She was named the school’s Acting President earlier in 2023.

Epps’ professorial experience allowed her to cover many areas in legal education, including Criminal Procedure, Chain of Evidence, and Trial Advocacy. She also taught Litigation Basics, a course for first-year law students at Temple. 

The publication National Jurist named Epps one of the 25 most influential leaders in legal education, and her work in the areas of curricula and experiential learning in legal education inspired the creation of a new center at Temple Law School for training on accessing civil justice — later constituted as the Stephen and Sandra Sheller Center for Social Justice.

Epps’ prowess as a teacher was impressive and impactful, and by no means confined to the educational arena; not only did she instruct Sudanese lawyers who later represented victims of the violent Darfur Conflict, she also trained the prosecutors who participated in the United Nation’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

An Unexpected Crossing:

Epps was in attendance at a university memorial service for Charles L. Blockson, a former curator of an African American artifacts collection at Temple. A doctor speaking at a news conference described what happened to Epps at the event as a “sudden episode.”

Epps was scheduled to speak at the service, when she slumped in her chair shortly after the event began and was carried out by a uniformed officer. She was taken to Temple University Hospital, where doctors pronounced her dead at around 3:15 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

Ken Kaiser, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Temple said this of the acting president: “JoAnne was full of life, somebody who was super compassionate and truly cared about other people and had a wonderful way of pulling them all together and getting people excited about even a daunting task, making things fun.”

In recognition of her contributions and unswerving dedication to the college, Temple University’s Board of Trustees posthumously named Epps “University President” — removing the word “Acting” from her title.

JoAnne A. Epps was 72.


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