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Bowman, citing health concerns, to retire as ISU president

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 9:41 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — NORMAL — Al Bowman’s announcement Monday that he is retiring after nine years as Illinois State University’s president caught the campus by surprise, with several people saying he will leave big shoes to fill.

Bowman, who has been at the university for 34 years, intends to remain in the post until his successor is named, probably by next fall. He is not leaving for another position.

In a letter to faculty, staff and students Monday morning, Bowman cited health concerns.

“Several years ago, I underwent a significant surgical procedure to address a serious medical issue,” Bowman said in the letter. “Although my current condition is good, I have been advised as I approach my 60th birthday, stepping away from a high-pressure, seven-day-a-week position is the best thing I can do for my long-term well-being.”

Bowman said he had planned to retire in four years, but decided to step down sooner after “long and emotional discussions with my wife, Linda, my daughters, Laura and Natalie, and a few close colleagues and friends.”

In an interview Monday afternoon, Bowman cited ISU’s rise in national prominence, improvement in incoming students’ ACT scores as well as graduation and retention rates and upgrading of university facilities as the greatest accomplishments during his tenure at the university, but he gave credit to others.

“The president gets credit for the institution’s success, but it’s the faculty, staff and students who do the work and roll up their sleeves,” said Bowman, ISU’s 17th president.

He declined to provide more specifics on his health. He takes medication and curtailed his mountain climbing, but continues to run and lift weights.

Looking relaxed and saying he was “really happy,” Bowman described his career at ISU as “almost a fairy tale,” noting it’s unusual to begin as a faculty member and retire as a president at the same institution.

Bowman came to ISU in 1978 as a faculty member in the department of speech pathology and audiology, becoming its chairman in 1994. It has been renamed the department of communications sciences and disorders.

He became interim provost in the 2002-03 academic year, then interim president in June 2003. He was named president in March 2004.

A special meeting of the board of trustees will be called within days to begin the search process and discuss the transition. At its October meeting, the board had extended Bowman’s contract through June 30, 2016.

His salary is $400,000.

“Although this is a sad day for the university community, I respect Dr. Bowman’s difficult decision,” board Chairman Michael McCuskey said. “His leadership has left this institution in a great place, and we are positioned for continued success moving forward.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos said, “I hope his successor is somebody as dynamic as he is.”

Koos said Bowman has always been accessible, and he hopes the town and university can continue to work in a common direction for the betterment of the community

“He’s been a cheerleader for the uptown redevelopment, a big supporter,” he said.

Dan Holland, chairman of ISU’s Academic Senate, said, “Obviously everybody is disappointed. His tremendous efforts left the university in so much better shape than we were when he took over.”

Lois Soeldner, chairwoman of the Civil Service Council, said Bowman “always had an open ear for civil service on any problem.”

Soeldner, an admissions and records officer, said, “Our student workers put it pretty well when they said the only person who could take his place is Santa Claus.”

Bowman said he is looking forward to teaching a class next fall and continuing to teach a light schedule for years to come. Even as president, he had taught a graduate class each semester until travel demands in recent years made that impossible, he said.

Bowman intends to curtail outside obligations during spring semester.

His wife will continue working as director of the ISU’s speech and hearing clinic.

Now that they will be moving out of the president’s residence soon, Bowman said they will be looking for a home to buy in Bloomington-Normal and expect to get a lot of calls from real estate agents.

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