KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Dr. Joe Johnson, president of the University of Tennessee since 1991, announced plans Thursday to retire June 30, 1999, or when his successor takes the post.
The announcement was made at a meeting of the UT Board of Trustees attended by Gov. Don Sundquist, who serves as chairman.
Johnson said he planned to remain an active president as long as he is on the job.
“I’ll be president until the day I walk out the door,” Johnson said. “I hope you will not allow me to retire on the job. I don’t intend to.”
Sundquist asked Bill Sansom, a trustee and vice-chair of the board, to appoint a search committee to begin the process of choosing a new president.
A motion by UT Trustee Jim Haslam that Johnson be given the official title president emeritus after his retirement was approved unanimously.
Sundquist said UT and Johnson’s leadership were part of the reason Tennessee is perceived by “people all over the country as a state that has things going right.”
“You have made the betterment of the UT system your life’s work and I would say, ‘Well done’.” Sundquist said. “All Tennesseans who cherish our state’s flagship institution of higher learning join me in expressing our thanks.”
Johnson, who began his UT career in 1958 as a political science instructor, said the time has come for new leadership, new ideas and fresh approaches.
“I want to leave the University of Tennessee while I feel good physically and mentally,” Johnson said. “I want to leave UT while I still enjoy and am excited about coming to work and doing what presidents do.”
Other factors that Johnson said were part of his decision included:
— The agreement of his wife, Pat.
— UT’s $400 million 21st Century Campaign coming to a close.
— Good senior leadership in place throughout the UT system.
— A significant upturn in state funding for 1998-99, especially in capital outlay.
— And, the prospect of a report from the Governor’s Council on Excellence in Higher Education that bodes well for the future of Tennessee public higher education.