James F. Barker, who led Clemson University to national recognition, plans to step down and return to teaching, he said Tuesday.
Barker, the university’s 14th president, has held the position for more than a decade.
“I see this really as a change of major for me, from being president to being a professor,” he said in a videotaped statement posted at the university website.
He will continue serving as president until a successor is chosen. At that time he will become a faculty member in the School of Architecture.
Last week, Barker, who will be 66 on May 1, asked the Board of Trustees to begin a search for a new president, the university said.
Barker said his health and energy level are good after undergoing emergency triple-bypass heart surgery on Jan. 18. While recuperating, he considered what a transition of leadership would mean and how and when it would best happen.
“I’ve concluded that now is the time to do that even though I would have to stop doing what I consider to be the best job in the world. It has been the honor and privilege of my life,” he said in the video. Barker, who recently returned to work after his surgery, described this as a good time for a transition. Clemson is in high demand, able to attract outstanding faculty, staff and students and enjoys strong support from alumni and friends, he said.
The university is in better shape financially than it was before the great recession, he said.
Local residents praised Barker for his accomplishments and the integrity of his leadership.
“I think he has done a fantastic job,” said Nick Sottile, an attorney who attended Clemson.
Barker improved athletics and academics at the university without compromising either one, he said. “He will be missed,” Sottile said.
Barker was named president in 1999 with a mandate to lead the university into the top ranks of higher education. Since then Clemson has risen into the Top 25 public universities in the US News guide to “America’s Best Colleges.”
It has been recognized for value, affordability and return on investment by Kiplinger’s, Smart Money and Bloomberg Businessweek magazines.
The rankings have not come without controversy. In 2009, Catherine Watt, then-director of the Alliance for Research on Higher Education at Clemson, told a group of academic researchers that the university made deliberate decisions about the way data was reported in order to boost its rankings.
Tactics included reducing class size, increasing faculty salaries and raising admission standards, which are all factors that could increase rank, she said.
Clemson officials called the statements “outrageous” and denied any unethical behavior designed to boost rankings.
Barker led Clemson through a period of deep state funding cuts, reducing administrative and staff positions by nearly 12 percent without layoffs.
During Barker’s presidency, Clemson added more than 48,000 alumni, set records for student SAT scores, retention and graduation rates and raised more than $1 billion in private funding. Annual research spending passed the $100 million mark, and more than 1.4 million square feet of space has been constructed or renovated, the university said.
In addition, Clemson launched major economic development initiatives, including the Restoration Institute in North Charleston and the Advanced Materials Center in Anderson County.
In recognition of his accomplishments, Barker received the Order of the Palmetto and honorary doctorates from the Medical University of South Carolina, South Carolina State University and Mars Hill College.
A native of Kingsport, Tenn., Barker, 65, received his bachelor of arts degree from Clemson in 1970 and his master of architecture and urban design degree in 1973 from Washington University in St. Louis, which also recognized him with its Distinguished Alumnus Award. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and the Institute for Urban Design.