PEORIA — Bradley University President Gary Roberts will retire shortly after the next academic year finishes, the school announced Monday morning.
A nationwide search is expected to begin this summer for his successor.
Roberts will depart when his contract expires at the end of May 2020 — a half-century after his graduation — capping a 4 1/2 year stint heading his alma mater.
He disclosed the decision last week at a meeting of the school's board of trustees.
In an interview Monday morning, Roberts listed among his accomplishments overall "stability" and a "good working relationship between faculty and administration."
In announcing his retirement, he reiterated his affection for the institution.
“I love Bradley and all of the people I have worked with here," he said. "Despite the challenges that Bradley faces as higher education is disrupted and transitions its business model, I am optimistic about Bradley’s future, and I still hope to be a part of it.”
His tenure won plaudits from board of trustees chairman Calvin Butler.
"He was a source of stability when the campus desperately needed it," Butler said in a prepared statement. "Gary has a sincere openness about him and a willingness to work with all faculty and staff, whether they agreed with him or not. It was evident from day one that his focus was on Bradley and carving a path for a sustainable future."
The comparatively brief tenure for Roberts is not unexpected. He'd been planning his retirement when he was recruited to the Hilltop during 2015 after heading Indiana University's McKinney School of Law, and put those plans on hold to return to Bradley.
"All along it was assumed that I would have a limited tenure," Roberts said. "Next year, I will be 72 years old, and Donna and I want to have some healthy years to enjoy life and check several items off our bucket list."
He started on campus in January 2016 as the school's 11th president and the third alumnus to serve in the position. Roberts is an attorney and internationally recognized expert in sports law], who, before going to Indiana, taught and served as an administrator at Tulane University's law school during a 24-year stint. There, he worked to restore the school's enrollment after Hurricane Katrina.
But though travel is on the horizon — Roberts' personal heaven involves summers in Maine and winters in Arizona — he said he's open to occasional work teaching, particularly in sports law. And if his successor wants him to have any kind of role for Bradley after leaving the presidency, he'd be happy to oblige.
The search for his successor will be chaired by two officers on Bradley's board of trustees, U.S. District Judge James Shadid and Kathi Holst.
Under Roberts, the school began construction on a long-discussed business-and-engineering convergence center. The first phase of that $100 million-plus project, which Roberts called a "huge, beautiful new facility," is planned to open for students in the fall.
The past year also saw two of the university's flagship teams return to prominence. Bradley's speech team — for which Roberts competed during his student days — won both national championships for the first time since 2013, and the men's basketball team won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament for the first time in 30 years and competed in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.
The school has also launched a faculty salary initiative — addressing one of the loudest employee complaints from the pre-Roberts era — and expanded its online course offerings.
From before his hire, Bradley was grappling with long-term budgetary and enrollment issues, and addressing those was part of the charge of his presidency. University officials in recent years have placed more focus on interdisciplinary programs and on increased efficiency of programs. Last week, Bradley announced a merger of the Department of Teacher Education and the Department of Leadership in Education, Nonprofits and Counseling.
That's all part of implementing a six-part "blueprint" Roberts and top staff have crafted to address the changing nature of higher education and put the university in a position to be more attractive to a new cadre of students, both non-traditional students and the shrinking number of traditionally college-aged students entering school.