Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said Friday he plans to retire in June after more than seven years of leading the institution.
The search process for ISU's next president will begin immediately, Board of Trustees Chair Julie Annette Jones said in a statement.
“I believe my final seven months as president may indeed be the busiest and most challenging of my career as I continue to work with our faculty and staff colleagues to keep the University community as safe and healthy as possible while still delivering a high-quality ISU experience,” Dietz said in a statement. “In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic will certainly trigger severe budget challenges which must be addressed in the coming months."
Dietz was appointed president in 2014, following the turbulent tenure of former ISU President Tim Flanagan. Dietz is the longest serving of all current Illinois public university presidents.
Dietz's tenure includes rewrites of ISU's strategic plan, the opening of the Center for Civic Engagement and Service Learning, and renovation of Bone Student Center. ISU also has added a cybersecurity degree and is now launching an engineering program. Dietz's tenure also included the Redbirds Rising campaign that yielded more than $180 million in private support.
WGLT asked Dietz last month whether he had any plans to retire. Though Dietz lives in an official university residence, he has bought a home in Bloomington.
At that time, Dietz said that was not a signal that he had immediate plans to set an end date to his presidency. He said the home will need extensive renovation and he viewed that as a multiyear project and "a bit of a mental health break" for him to go swing a hammer now and again.
Dietz said Friday that a question about lessons learned from the pandemic from someone at a student recruitment Zoom session kicked off a long period of introspection. He said the answer to the question for the institution is a lesson of resilience. For him personally it is to cultivate a sense of gratefulness.
"I've learned about perhaps being more grateful. I'm very grateful now particularly for my health and that of my family, friends and collegues and grateful for the freedoms that are being a little restricted now because of the pandemic," said Dietz.
Dietz said his choice did not come from any one thing, though the 50-year anniversary in education stood out as a milestone for him.
He said he will miss the challenges an executive faces, but most of all the people. Dietz said he has always treasured commencements.
"The fondest memories are always when people achieve their goals. And it's always seeing the smile on the faces of individuals who look at this institution and the experience that they've had here as giving them a leg up in life," said Dietz.
“President Dietz’s remarkable tenure has spanned a half-century of rapid change, success, and challenge for higher education, and his vision and steadfast commitment have been the bedrock of his service," Jones said Friday. “His legacy will be one of enduring quality, leading with authenticity, and serving as a model of civility."
Plaudits have come in for Dietz from area lawmakers as well.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said Dietz has been a "faithful navigator" for ISU through many difficulties.
"Some of the most contentious times in the history of the state of Illinois for higher education. In particular, two years of a budget impasse that was devastating to higher education and now the pandemic that we are trying to navigate through. I think his leadership style and his placement in higher education throughout the state has really been his rock solid contribution," said Brady.
State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said Dietz's steadfast leadership in turbulent times has benefitted the Redbird community.
“Larry's commitment to higher education is well-respected throughout Bloomington-Normal, but also around the entire State of Illinois. His dedication results in ISU continuing on its upward trajectory, leaving a lasting impact on many generations to come," said Barickman.
Dietz said he consulted with trustees and tried to time the announcement to allow a winter search and selection of a sucessor by the time he leaves in the summer.
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