University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little will step down from the job next summer, she and the university announced Thursday.
Gray-Little, 71, is KU’s first black and first female chancellor. The university’s 17th chancellor overall, she has held the job since 2009.
The chancellor’s announcement comes as several of her key initiatives are recently completed or winding down.
“During the past seven years, we have made tremendous strides as a university and positioned KU for even greater achievements in the future. We have completed many critical initiatives, and many more are nearing completion,” Gray-Little wrote in a message to campus shared Thursday.
“Now is an ideal time for the University of Kansas to identify a new leader to guide the next chapter in the university’s history.”
Details about the search for Gray-Little’s replacement have yet to be shared, but Kansas Board of Regents representatives said her early announcement allows them to conduct a thorough search and possibly eliminate the need for an interim chancellor.
“She’s given us a good long time so we can be thoughtful and deliberative about crafting the process,” Regents Chairwoman Zoe Newton said. “We’ve got some time.”
Gray-Little told the Regents several months ago she was considering retirement, Regent Bill Feuerborn said.
“Most of us knew that it was probably going to come sooner than later,” he said.
Newton and Feuerborn said they anticipate a closed search, meaning candidates or finalists will not be publicly announced until one is hired. The Regents currently are conducting a search — also closed — for a new president at Kansas State University.
“You just have so many more applicants,” Feuerborn said. “If somebody has a job at a university, then it’s on the nightly news that they’re applying for a job in Kansas, it can come back on them professionally.”
Feuerborn called the KU chancellor’s job — which oversees both KU’s Lawrence campus and KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. — among the most important in the state. Gray-Little’s current salary is $510,041, the most of any state university leader, according to figures from the Kansas Board of Regents.
“We have to be sure we get the right person,” Feuerborn said. “It needs to be a person that is high in academics and high in business, because you’re running a billion-dollar business. It takes a special person.”
Feuerborn said Gray-Little has done an excellent job and “raised the standard” of academics at KU. Newton called her a “transformative” leader, praising her guidance and also her fundraising success.
Bold Aspirations, the five-year strategic plan rolled out during Gray-Little’s tenure, wraps up in 2017.
It includes the goal of redeveloping KU’s Central District. Plans and financing for the $350 million Central District project have been approved, shovels are turning and construction is slated to be completed before the end of 2018.
KU Endowment’s “Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas” ended June 30 with a total of $1.66 billion raised, the largest higher education fundraising effort so far in state history.
KU cited a number of Gray-Little’s other achievements in a news release on Thursday, including:
• Creating new admission procedures — which took effect this semester — and revamping financial aid by creating four-year renewable scholarships and expanding the Jayhawk Generations Scholarship. Those and increasing resources for marketing led to four straight years of freshman class growth.
• Securing state funding for KU’s Foundation Distinguished Professor initiative, which hired 12 “eminent” scholars to support the university’s strategic initiative themes. The final hire was announced earlier this year.
• Launching KU’s first universitywide curriculum, the KU Core, which incorporates both classes and experiences.
• Overseeing the university’s expansion of its KU School of Medicine-Wichita program from a two-year program into a four-year program in 2011, and the creation of the new School of Medicine at Salina the same year.
• Overseeing the “Changing for Excellence” efficiency and cost-saving initiative.
Though it will be her last at KU, the coming school year will remain busy, Gray-Little wrote.
“We have much work to do as an institution between now and then, including improving our retention, persistence and graduation rates; enhancing our research enterprise; growing further our faculty scholarship and sponsored inquiry; and continuing to attract investment in our people and programs,” she said in her campus message.
In addition to her role at KU, Gray-Little holds several national positions in academia.
In 2013, she was named to the boards of directors of the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. She currently is chairwoman of the board of directors of the APLU.
Prior to being hired at KU, she was executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a native of eastern North Carolina.
A professor of psychology, Gray-Little received her bachelor’s degree from Marywood College in Scranton, Pa., and her master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Saint Louis University, according to her KU biography.
She was not available for additional comment Thursday afternoon.