Photographers Brian Brakebill and Lyndsie Schlink shared photos from a surprise student rally for ISU President Al Bowman on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012.
By Beth Whisman
NORMAL - Illinois State University will name its 18th president in 2013. President Al Bowman's early retirement is one of WJBC's Top Stories of 2012.
"It's a bittersweet moment for me. I have enjoyed every single year that I've worked at Illinois State, and the last nine just could not have been any better," said Bowman on Dec. 3 after he surprised students, faculty and staff with a letter announcing his plans to retire after nine years as president.
Bowman had recently signed a four-year contract on July 27, boosting his annual salary to $400,000 plus a bonus when he completed his term. Bowman explained he had planned to retire once the contract expired.
However during the fall semester, the 59-year-old said he and his doctor became concerned about his long-term health. Bowman had undergone what he called a "significant surgical procedure" several years ago. He said after long talks with his doctor and family, they decided that stepping away from the high-stress, seven-day-a-week job was the "best thing" he could do for his health.
Bowman assured his supporters he and his wife, Linda, wouldn't disappear from campus.
"I plan to teach in the fall," he said. "I'll take an office back in my old department in Communication Sciences and Disorders. We both plan to continue to be an integral part of Illinois State."
Big Man on Campus
Bowman was well-liked as a professor in the classroom and he maintained a high profile among students since taking over as president in March of 2004, attending campus events and Redbird games on a regular basis.
That Friday, Dec. 7, students reminded Bowman how popular he has been. The Student Government Association secretly organized a rally to show student support for their president. Hundreds of students cheered and called his name outside Hovey Hall until Bowman opened his office window and waved to the crowd. He snapped a few pictures with his cell phone, then joined the crowd in the unseasonably warm December weather.
He thanked the students -- after kissing his wife and hugging Reggie Redbird -- and assured them that the school would continue to make them proud.
"This is an incredible experience. It's been a roller coaster of a ride this week," he exclaimed. "I wish I could retire every damn week!"
Finding a new president
The national search to replace Bowman began on Dec. 15 when the Board of Trustees held a special meeting. Board Chairman Judge Michael McCuskey told WJBC the board members expect to hire a new president this summer to begin working on campus by the fall.
"It's a different world, so the people we're looking for have to have that ability and vision for the future. You're talking about a high-energy, and they have to have a desire to take on all of these various tasks that are right at-hand for the university and the state of Illinois," said MCuskey.
Bowman acknowledged he's leaving at a time when the state budget, pensions and the nation's slow economic recovery are looming over the school's finanes. But, Vice President of University Advancement Erin Minne said Bowman's legacy of successful fundraising will pave the way.
"I'm excited about the future for ISU. We've really been blessed to have Al and Linda as long as we have had them. We are well-positioned. We will continue to fare well," she added.
Among Bowman's achievements are new enrollment milestones, raising the school's academic profile and ranking among the nation's best universities and major construction projects. Those include the renovation of Schroeder Hall, an expansion of Hancock Stadium, several dorm face-lifts and the brand new Student Fitness and Kinesiology and Recreation Center, and Cardinal Court apartments.
Beth Whisman can be reached at email@example.com.