Dr. Paul Conn, President of Lee Univesity since 1986, delivers the centennial address. Lee University celebrated its centennial with a celebration at the Conn Center on the campus of the Cleveland, Tenn., school on November 2, 2018.

Long-time Lee University President Paul Conn will leave his position next year and transition to a role as chancellor, he told university faculty Tuesday afternoon.

The new role will serve as an advisory position to the new president, who has not been announced. Conn will remain in his position until the completion of the Summer 2020 term in August, at which time he will officially transition to the role as chancellor. 

"I have made this decision because I believe I can serve Lee better not by directing the day-to-day operations, but by working with a new leader who can bring fresh energy and insight to our shared vision," Conn said via a statement. 

During his tenure, which began in 1986, student enrollment grew from 1,000 students to more than 5,000. The physical campus also grew, expanding from 23 acres to 125 acres with the completion of thirty building projects. The university's operating budget now exceeds more than $100 million. Conn also helped in the school's transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II for its 18 sports programs. 

Conn met with the school's board of directors on Friday during the university's homecoming weekend to inform them of the decision. The board will now be tasked with finding his successor. 

"We do this reluctantly, but with respect for his decision to make this transition. Each of us individually joined this board, during the last twenty-five years, because we bought into Dr. Conn's vision for what Lee University can and should become, and because we want to embrace and support his dreams for this school," board chairman Dennis Livingston said via a release. "Dr. Conn's vision will not end here. We are pledged to find a successor who will continue the work he has set in motion. We hope to find a new president who will inspire the same confidence and enthusiasm which Dr. Conn has drawn from so many people."

Livingston will appoint a search committee within the next week that will seek input from alumni, the community, the Church of God — of which the university is affiliated, faculty and others, according to the release. 

Conn, 73, is the longest serving CEO of a college or university in Tennessee, according to the release. He is a native of Cleveland, Tenn. and graduated from Lee University with his wife, Darlia, before earning a Ph.D from Emory University in psychology. Each of their three grown children and their spouses graduated from Lee.

Conn's father, Charles W. Conn, was the Lee president in the 1970s and early-80s.

"This is the job I love, at the place I love, working with the people I love," Paul Conn told faculty and staff, via the release. "But it is important for any leader to know when it is time for a change, and Darlia and I agree that the time has come. I believe great things lie ahead in Lee's future, and I'm eager to be part of that future as chancellor. I'm not going anywhere. Cleveland is my home, and Lee is my life. I plan to stay and do everything I can to help make the next president successful. My title will change, but not my heart."

Contact Mark Pace at or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.