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President’s Corner: A Difficult Decision To Retire From ODU

I recently announced that I plan to conclude my rewarding tenure as president of this great institution sometime during the summer of 2021.

This was a difficult decision for me, particularly as we face the challenges of dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, I delayed the announcement to avoid any distractions to the work of the spring semester, which included relocating nearly 5,000 students, transferring 3,000 courses online and transitioning some 3,000 employees to telework. This transition is a testament to the strength of our community and the resiliency we show every day to accomplish our goals.

The next year, however, will be a severe test as we reposition, while not knowing where the new world order is headed. Numerous areas must be addressed, such as what the future university experience will look like in terms of instruction, research and enrollment. I am also committed to working even harder to promote diversity and inclusion and stamp out racism. It clearly is a time where we cannot lose sight of our need to support students and one another, including securing resources, as we chart a path that will look dramatically different for the foreseeable future.

I pledge that my continuing efforts will reflect what David Brooks calls "the endurance phase," where patience and poise must be our guide without a playbook. Rest assured, as I enter my 13th year as president, I remain energized daily by this job, especially now, as it requires my full attention nearly every waking hour. I assure you - as I did the Board of Visitors - that my commitment will not waver until the ninth president of ODU enters Koch Hall.

After 40-plus years of marriage, though, I am looking forward to devoting more time to Kate and my family - taking several more trips and making up for countless IOUs for spending anniversaries and birthdays at ODU sporting events, musical performances and lectures. If anyone deserves your gratitude, it is Kate. Her contributions have been crucial to Old Dominion's success in many ways, which I will explain later.

Being a part of Old Dominion for some 26-plus years as a vice president and president has been a blessing in so many ways. Often I am asked to describe my most memorable moment at ODU.

Some people suggest it must be an athletic accomplishment, a new building, a research discovery or a significant philanthropic gift. I am proud of all of those achievements, but none is the correct answer.

For me, the greatest milestone occurs every single graduation. I have stood on the stage and shaken hands with probably more than 30,000 students since 2008. On those days, everyone I congratulate represents a successful journey. Some are smiling, others are crying, a few are occupied in their own thoughts.

Yet each graduate personifies what we do here as a campus in our own distinct and beautiful way. We provide a high-quality education, offering both access and opportunity to students from all economic backgrounds, ages, genders, sexual orientations, race and ethnicities, religions and places of origin. When my eyes meet theirs on the stage of Chartway Arena, I see leaders emerging, civic-mindedness expanding and social mobility progressing.

On a personal note, a special highlight for me was signing diplomas for all three of my sons, two nephews and one niece.

I continue to be impressed by the commitment of faculty and staff, who have inspired, encouraged and championed so many of these graduates to the finish line.

I am also proud of the many breakthroughs Old Dominion has achieved in the past 12 years, including more than $950 million in new or committed resources. I look forward to watching Old Dominion climb many more mountains, and I will be applauding its every success in 2021 and beyond.

But before then, we have much work to do.

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