By Mike Mcinally

Albany Democrat-Herald

Oregon State University President Ed Ray has announced plans to step down from his position in 15 months.

Ray has served as OSU’s president since July 31, 2003. His tenure is the longest of any currently serving president at any Oregon public university.

In an announcement letter posted on the university’s website Friday, Ray said: “I am writing to let you know that it is my intention to step down as president of Oregon State University on June 30, 2020, when my current five-year contract will be completed, and after almost 17 years since I had the great honor and joy to assume the presidency on July 31, 2003. I will continue to serve as president of Oregon State University until the new president assumes office.”

Ray added that he is in good health but acknowledged he is getting on in years, noting that he will be approaching his 76th birthday by the time he retires.

OSU Vice President for University Relations and Marketing Steve Clark, the university’s chief spokesman, said he was unaware of any particular impetus for the timing of Ray’s retirement.

“This is a personal decision,” Clark said. “He feels this is an appropriate time for him personally to end his service as president of OSU.”

Clark said the OSU Board of Trustees would begin a national search for Ray’s successor.

Although he is stepping down as president, Ray will not be leaving Oregon State altogether. Following a sabbatical, Clark said, Ray will return as a professor of economics in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

“So he’s not ending his role at the university; he’s just ending his role as president,” Clark said.

Ray has presided over an unprecedented period of growth at Oregon State, a track record that has brought him both supporters and detractors.

In a speech to the Faculty Senate on Oct. 8, 2009, Ray outlined an audacious plan to make OSU one of the nation’s Top 10 land grant institutions.

At the time, enrollment was about 21,000, up from 18,979 when Ray became president, but his plan called for continued student body growth to as many as 35,000 by 2025.

The speech was immediately controversial, sparking heated debates over the university’s growth and its impact on the community that continue to reverberate today. Complaints about livability issues created by swelling enrollment at OSU prompted a three-year partnership between the university and the city, dubbed Collaboration Corvallis, that ran from 2011 to 2014.

In the meantime, Ray’s enrollment projections have largely come to pass, with OSU’s total enrollment for fall 2018 tallying 32,011, making it the largest university in the state for the fifth year in a row.

However, not all of that growth affects Corvallis. Ray and other administrators have been sensitive to enrollment figures since the reaction to that 2009 speech and have repeatedly announced their intention to cap enrollment on OSU’s main campus at 28,000.

And they have lived up to that promise. For fall 2018, Corvallis enrollment was 24,290, down 470 from the previous fall — the first year-over-year decline in more than two decades.

A significant portion of Oregon State’s enrollment growth has been online-only students in the university’s Ecampus program, which totaled 6,565 in fall 2018. OSU-Cascades, the satellite campus in Bend that opened in 2013, accounted for 1,259 students, and another 91 were enrolled in classes at the new Portland Center.

All three of those expansions — Ecampus, OSU-Cascades and the Portland Center — came to fruition during Ray’s time as president.