Roger Brown, chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga since 2005, announced Monday that he will retire Sept. 30. The date is a surprise, though his desire to leave his position is not. Brown announced in June that he would end his tenure when a successor was installed or by March 2013. Monday's announcement was accompanied by the appointment of Grady Bogue as interim chancellor at the university.
Brown's tenure has been successful despite some formidable odds. Under his leadership, campus enrollment set records for eight consecutive years. UTC also raised millions for scholarships, professorships, academic programs and athletics. External grant funding increased as well. More than $100 million has been invested in construction and capital improvements -- including a new $48-million library due to open next year -- on Brown's watch. It is an impressive record.
His departure -- hastened he says by the death of his wife and his realization that he needs "some time to heal, reflect and prepare for the next challenge in my life ..." -- comes at a time when the university faces many problems. The interim and permanent chancellors will have to deal with them.
UTC, like other state institutions of higher learning, has been hit hard by severe budget cuts in recent years. There's little prospect for restoration of those funds. As a consequence UTC must deal with continuing enrollment pressures, a dearth of on-campus housing and parking, difficulty in maintaining academic programs, some faculty unrest, especially when it comes to pay, sometimes rocky town-gown relationships and on-going infrastructure problems in straitened financial circumstances. Handling those challenges, as Brown can testify, is no easy task.
Bogue, a retired UT professor who served as interim chancellor of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge for a year, will inherit those problems but likely will not formulate major policies to deal with them. He is a caretaker by design. As a condition of his appointment, he will not to seek the permanent position.
A search committee will help find Brown's permanent replacement. Recommendations will be vetted by University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro, who makes the final decision on who will take the helm at UTC. Brown's early departure should not prompt a rush to find a permanent replacement.
It's better to take time to make a wise choice for the chancellorship than to hurry to a flawed judgment. Brown's successor will have to build on his record even as he or she deals with problems that beset UTC. The future of the university depends on hiring a capable, dynamic and prescient successor to Brown.