After seven years of leadership that was at times tumultuous, Alabama State University president Joe Lee plans to resign May 31.
The announcement, which Lee made during a scheduled board of trustees meeting Friday, caught most of the trustees, administrators and alumni off-guard.
Trustees later voted to move quickly into the search process and gave board chairman Elton Dean the authority to begin forming a search committee. Dean said he expected to start the committee within the next week.
"We hope to have a wide range of people involved in this process," said Dean, who was the only trustee to say he had some idea of Lee's intentions. "(The committee) won't just be comprised of people at the university and trustees. This university is important to the community, so we'll go outside the university for recommendations."
Lee's resignation puts an end to a tenure that was filled with controversy and growth.
Over the past three years, Lee has led ASU through a $125 million building campaign that has transformed the campus. There is a new forensics science building and a renovated dining hall already standing. A new student union building, additions to the library, a life science building and a college of education building are all either under construction or set for construction. The school has received a variety of awards and recognition during Lee's tenure -- most notably the reaffirmation of a 10-year accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. ASU also saw enrollment soar to a new record high. But there has been plenty of turmoil as well.
Lee was a major player in the removal of former football coach L.C. Cole, and the ensuing fallout left many alumni and fans calling for the president's removal at rallies and protests. The ensuing NCAA investigation stemming from Cole's firing is still ongoing, making it the longest investigation in NCAA history. ASU was chastised by NCAA officials in 2006 because school officials were unable or unwilling to meet NCAA demands for documents and records.
There were reported financial problems during Lee's tenure. An audit in 2003 found that the school had paid more than $500,000 in bank overdraft fees. Two subsequent audits also found serious accounting mistakes. In 2006, the Montgomery Advertiser uncovered evidence showing the director of ASU's Acadome, Jim Parker, had skimmed money and lied on timecards and reimbursement forms. Records also showed that Lee had allowed Parker to operate virtually unmonitored for several years, despite the fact Parker had been accused five years earlier by the Alabama Ethics Commission of fraudulent activity.
Also in 2006, one of the school's senior accountants was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from university accounts.
Lee's contract at ASU also came up for renewal in 2006. The board of trustees first voted not to renew the contract, then returned months later with a decision to give Lee a two-year extension.
"I thought he handled things OK, but I also thought some things could have been handled better," said trustee Herbert Young, who voted against giving Lee the extension. "Dr. Lee was a good man and I believe he tried to do the right thing. My vote then was because I felt as though we could find someone who might handle the business of moving ASU forward a little better."
But Young said he believes Lee was good for ASU.
"He led us through a period of tremendous growth," Young said. "That says a lot about him, I think. I think that's what he'll be most remembered for here."