Ohio University President Duane Nellis announced Thursday he would be stepping down from his position as president effective June 30 and return to teaching, citing his love for the classroom and familial values as key factors in the decision.
Nellis has worked in higher education for 40 years, 11 of which he served as president of numerous universities, he said. Nellis was named the 21st president of OU in 2017 and is proud of the accomplishments he made while serving in this position.
Nellis said the implementation of the OHIO Honors Program and the One Ohio Integration Initiative are two of his biggest accomplishments. He also cited the infrastructure changes on campus, in regards to the new chemistry building, Heritage Hall and the honors engagement facility, as significant achievements.
Nellis cited his roots in teaching and interest in working with students as key reasons behind his transition back into the classroom.
“When I went into higher education over 40 years ago … what I aspired to do is work with students,” Nellis said. “I've reflected on what the strongest aspect of my career that motivates me the most, as far as my passion, and that's working with students.”
With a background in environmental geography, physical geography and remote sensing, Nellis will be working in the College of Arts and Sciences during his time as a faculty member. Nellis is unsure when he will begin teaching but is working through these details with the Board of Trustees and Florenz Plassmann, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Nellis said there were no tensions that impacted his decision to step down, although Faculty Senate voted “no confidence” in his administration in 2020. Instead, Nellis said he reflected on what was important to him as he entered the final stages of his career in higher education.
Nellis and his wife, Ruthie, had their first grandchild in September, and Nellis said he is looking forward to a different job to spend time with family.
“It just gives us more flexibility for family, and it's been important to us at this stage in our lives to have more time with family,” Nellis said.
Under Nellis’ leadership, 53 instructional faculty were laid off, in addition to 81 employee positions and 140 employees part of OU’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. During his presidency, budgetary cuts to programs such as the Center for Law, Justice and Culture were also proposed. Faculty and other university employees responded by hosting a number of protests, and students started multiple social media campaigns.
Nellis said he wanted to see OU through the pandemic before stepping down and believes the university is starting to come out of the financial challenges and impact of COVID-19. He also addressed OU’s recent decline in enrollment, which impacted university-wide finances.
“Our enrollment numbers for fall are looking strong,” Nellis said. “I leave a strong leadership team of vice presidents and deans … I feel like we're poised for even higher levels of excellence.”
The Board of Trustees will be meeting in June and will be announcing the interim president either before or during this meeting, Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said.
“I stand ready, even after June 30, to do whatever I can for Ohio University because I care deeply about the university's success,” Nellis said. “I just want to do whatever I can for this university to continue its storied history.”