Temple University acting president JoAnne Epps died after collapsing on stage during a memorial service at its Philadelphia campus on Tuesday, according to the university.
Ms Epps was taken to Temple University Hospital where she was pronounced dead around 3.15pm, the university said in a statement. She was 72.
Temple senior vice president Ken Kaiser said the university was not aware Ms Epps was suffering from any health issues at a press conference.
Provost Gregory Mandel paid tribute to Ms Epps as one of the “most remarkably compassionate and caring individuals I’ve ever known” during the media briefing.
“We are all in deep grief and at a loss for words,” Mr Mandel said.
Ms Epps had been attending a service for Charles L Blockson, curator of the Blockson Collection, when she suddenly fell ill.
The Yale Law School graduate served as an assistant US attorney in Philadelphia and deputy city attorney in Los Angeles prior to her arrival at Temple, according to a biography on the university website.
In 2008, she was appointed dean of Temple Law School and went on to become executive vice president and provost of Temple University in 2016. She was named acting president in April after the resignation of the university’s first Black president Jason Wingard.
Ms Epps was a “champion” for women and minorities within the legal profession, the university biography said.
She also worked in leadership roles in the American Bar Association, the National Association of Women Lawyers and the American Law Institute.
In a statement posted to X, Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro called Ms Epps a “powerful force and constant ambassador for Temple University for nearly four decades”.
“Losing her is heartbreaking for Philadelphia... may her memory be a blessing,” the governor posted.
Temple University board chairman Mitchell Morgan said there were “no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss” in a statement.
“President Epps was a devoted servant and friend who represented the best parts of Temple. She spent nearly 40 years of her life serving this university, and it goes without saying her loss will reverberate through the community for years to come.”
Ms Epps told the Philadelphia Inquirer her goal when she assumed the acting presidency was to focus on enrollment and spiralling crime in the area of North Philadelphia where the campus is situated.
Student enrollment at the 33,600-student university had plummeted by 14 per cent since 2019, and Ms Epps said she thought she was hired in part due to her “ability to sort of calm waters.”
Ms Epps lived in New Jersey with her husband.