The chancellor of the University of Alabama System is stepping down to train the next generation of leaders at the soon-to-launch Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership.

Chancellor Finis "Fess" St. John IV has led the System and its three campuses for decades, first as a Trustee on the System Board before he was named interim chancellor in 2018 and earning the full-time title in April 2019.

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Now, a year to the week after the University of Alabama announced plans to create the Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership in honor of former US Senator Richard Shelby, St. John has decided to step down as chancellor on April 1st to lead its inaugural class.

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve the University of Alabama System as chancellor following my tenure as a trustee. The UA System is stronger than ever with outstanding leaders at the helm of our institutions and is poised for continued success and fulfillment of our mission to improve lives through teaching, research and service," St. John said. “I am honored to serve as the inaugural executive director of the Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership. Senator Richard Shelby and Dr. Annette Shelby’s remarkable work in education and public policy has made an indelible impact on Alabama’s higher education landscape, and I greatly appreciate their support. This program will further their lasting legacy through a shared vision to invest in the future leaders of our state and our nation."

The University announced the Shelby Institute this time last year and is preparing for it to launch this fall.

Supported by a $20 million endowment, the Institute will make use of Shelby's personal notes and files from his decades in government and train them to be public policy experts.

Roughly 20 undergrad students will join its first class and undergo a unique and personalized education focused on policy and politics.

In a press release announcing the change, Shelby said St. John is just the man to lead the Institute.

“Through his exemplary leadership and passion for higher education, Chancellor St. John elevated the University of Alabama System, one of the most impactful institutions in the state, to soaring heights,” said Senator Shelby. “Annette and I are honored that Fess has agreed to serve as the inaugural executive director of the Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership and believe The University of Alabama has selected the ideal individual for the role, especially considering the invaluable institutional knowledge he has gained as chancellor and as a former member of the UA System Board of Trustees. We remain grateful to the University for creating this Institute, which will educate generations of future leaders with a shared passion for policy and public service.”

The announcement touted St. John's tenure as chancellor, especially the continued growth of research expenditures, his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and keeping in-state tuition mostly level at all three member institutions.

“Fess St. John has been a pillar of leadership in the University of Alabama System for the past two decades,” said UA System Board of Trustees President pro tempore Scott Phelps. “The landscape of the entire UA System has positively transformed under his visionary guidance as both trustee and chancellor, and the Board is forever grateful for Chancellor St. John’s lasting contributions.”

In the announcement, the system said Phelps has appointed a search committee to identify candidates worthy of succeding St. John.

Until that person is identified, UA System senior vice chancellor Sid J. Trant will serve as interim chancellor.

For more on the search and the launch of the Shelby Insititute, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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