NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University President Richard L. McCormick announced at a press conference Tuesday, May 31 that he will step down from his post after the 2011-12 school year.

McCormick, who became Rutger’s 19th president in late 2002, said he will return to the university faculty in 2013, after a year-long sabbatical.

As a professor, he will earn $335,000 per year, down from his current annual salary of $550,000 as president.

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Also leaving his post is Phil Furmanski, executive vice president for academic affairs, who will resume his career as a cancer researcher.

Although leaving the top administrative post, McCormick vowed to continue with fundraising and support of the recommendations to Gov. Chris Christie’s Higher Education Task Force, which calls for a merger between Rutgers and the University of Medicine & Dentistry.

He also will continue lobbying for a ballot initiative for higher education funding next year.

Members of the university board of governors, who were informed of McCormick’s decision at a noon meeting, expressed  mixed emotions about his decision, according to board chairman Ralph Izzo.

“As we look to the year ahead, …, I know that you are going to be an enthusiastic and fully committed President as you have been for these past nine years,” Izzo told McCormick. “It goes without saying that the board of governors is eager to work with you.”

The board is now turning its attention to the selection process for a successor, Izzo said.

“But you can safely assume it will mirror a process whereby we put together a search committee that is inclusive of all the relevant constituencies of the university, community, faculty, students and administration, that will be national in scope and that will look for enthusiastic, accomplished leadership that can take Rutgers to an even higher [level] of performance than Dr. McCormick has done,” he said.

McCormick, who said he was not being forced out, is credited with leading the university through nearly a decade of sweeping academic reforms and record levels of enrollment, fundraising and financial support for research.

Since his returned to Rutgers in December 2002, the university has confronted many challenges, including annual tuition hikes and recent controversy over wage freezes for union employees.

The university also is aiming to meet a $1 billion fundraising goal.

Responding to McCormick’s, Christie said, “I wish Dick McCormick well and I look forward to working with him over the course of the next academic year as we continue implementing the recommendations of the Kean Commission on Higher Education.”

Although McCormick sometimes butted heads with students, many are worried the university may not find a replacement as open to them as McCormick, said Rutgers University Student Assembly President Matt Cordeiro.

“It’s troubling in some ways because whoever the university president is, their style, how they interact with students, it varies from person to person,” he said. “Whoever the next person is going to be, are they going to be better, are they going to be much worse? It’s a big concern.”

Cordeiro said he wants to ensure that students have a voice in selection of a new president.

“I’m going to see what I can do to make sure students have a very loud voice in that process because it does affect students so much,” he said.

Student assembly senate executive committee member Donggu Yoon agreed with Cordeiro, noting that with both McCormick and Furmanski stepping down, a political “vacuum” has emerged.

“I’m not really sure what to make of this because we could get a really great president,” Yoon said. “However the national trend is towards privatization so that schools are forced to run more like a business than an institution of higher learning. I’m a little bit worried for the future.”

McCormick, whose father was an esteemed Rutgers professor, said he and his family plan to stay involved in the Rutgers community after the conclusion of his presidency.

In a message to faculty, staff, students, parents and alumni, he said, “Rutgers is my home. I was born only a few blocks away from campus and spent countless hours wandering through campus walkways and corridors as a child reared by parents who spent their careers loving and caring for Rutgers.

“My family and I will remain connected and committed to Rutgers through our work, philanthropy, good will and public service.”