David Ambler's career as a chief student affairs official began in 1970 at Kent State University, just months after National Guard troops killed four students during an anti-war protest.
"I was a green, young and scared-to-death 33-year-old," Ambler said. "That university had just gone through the worst tragedy that had happened at a university at that point."
Ambler, who became vice chancellor for student affairs at Kansas University in 1977, announced Thursday that he would retire in August. Ambler, 64, has the longest tenure of any administrator at KU.
"It's just been something I've been planning for a number of years," he said of his retirement. "What I do I love today as much as I did when I started it."
Ambler became Kent State's vice president for student affairs three months after the shootings. He guided the university through state and federal investigations.
"It wasn't the best year of my life," he said. "And it wasn't the best circumstances to begin a career as a chief student affairs official."
The biggest controversy Ambler faced during his first year at Kansas University, he said, was whether to move the Uncle Jimmy Green statue from its current location in front of Lippincott Hall to the new Green Hall that houses the School of Law.
"I said, 'I like this place and I think I can handle the controversies they have here at KU,'" he said.
Ambler is responsible for KU's student services program, including housing, health services, the Kansas unions, recreational services, financial aid, employment and career services, counseling services, student activities, multicultural affairs and child-care services.
He has overseen $20 million in expansion and renovation at the Kansas and Burge unions, $125 million in renovation for student housing and a $6.5 million addition and renovation at the Watkins Student Health Center. He also secured student approval for a $17 million student recreation and fitness center.
Ambler plans to remain in Lawrence, where he lives with his wife, Mary Kate. They have two grown daughters.
Provost David Shulenburger said in a statement that KU was losing an "exemplary leader."
"David is the primary advocate for students on this campus, and he has always taken that role with the utmost seriousness," Shulenburger said. "His continuing close bonds with student leaders from past years is a great testimony to the esteem he has earned from his primary constituency."