Alabama State University President Joe Lee has announced plans to resign after a sometimes tumultuous seven years at the school’s helm.
Lee made the announcement Friday during a scheduled board of trustees meeting and caught most of the trustees, administrators and alumni off-guard when he said he will resign May 31. He did not disclose any future plans.
“I had no idea he was going to do that,” trustee Herbert Young told the Montgomery Advertiser in a story for Saturday editions. “It was a complete surprise to me.”
Trustees voted to move quickly into the search process and gave board chairman Elton Dean the authority to begin forming a search committee. Dean said he expected to start the committee within the next week.
While the trustees were moving ahead, others were still getting over the surprise of Lee’s impending departure, which puts an end to a tenure that was filled with controversy and growth.
Trustee Buford Crutcher said he was stunned. National alumni president Brenda Kahn-Spells said she had no idea Lee had resigned.
“It’s just an absolute shock,” Kahn-Spells said.
The director of ASU’s alumni relations, Rennie Jones, said he would have to wait until the university issued an official release before he would believe it.
Lee guided ASU through a $125 million building campaign over the past three years. The school also has received a variety of awards and recognition during Lee’s tenure and ASU’s enrollment has soared to a new record high.
But there has been plenty of turmoil as well. Lee was a major player in the removal of former football coach L.C. Cole, and the ensuing fallout left many alumni and fans calling for the president’s removal at rallies and protests.
There also were reported financial problems during Lee’s tenure, with a 2003 audit showing the school had paid more than $500,000 in bank overdraft fees and two subsequent audits finding serious accounting mistakes.
Lee’s contract came up for renewal in 2006 and the board eventually decided to give him a two-year extension.
“I thought he handled things OK, but I also thought some things could have been handled better,” Young said.
“He led us through a period of tremendous growth,” he said. “That says a lot about him, I think. I think that’s what he’ll be most remembered for here.”
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