Jim Barker wasn’t back at his desk too long before announcing his plans to step away from that desk for good.
Clemson University’s president announced Tuesday that he has asked the board of trustees to find his replacement, a process Barker estimated could take “four to six months.” He will stay onboard until his successor is in place, then join the School of Architecture faculty full time.
“I’m confident we’ll have a full national slate of candidates for this positions,” said Barker, who will not participate in the search because he doesn’t think it would be “appropriate” for him to pick his successor.
One of the men who will be involved in that process is sad to see Barker go.
“It is difficult to find words to express how much Jim Barker has meant to Clemson University,” said David Wilkins, who is chairman of the board of trustees. “Clemson is a far better institution today because of his leadership, vision and dedicated service. We know that there is no replacing Jim Barker, only succeeding him.”
Heart-bypass surgery in January spurred rumors of Barker’s impending retirement, something that appears to have been on his mind already.
“I used the time that I had during my medical leave to think carefully about what such a transition would mean, how it should happen and at what time it should happen,” Barker said. “I’ve concluded that now is the right time to do that, even though it means I must stop doing what I consider to be the best job in the world.”
The departure has been expected by faculty members for some time.
“This is not unexpected,” said Kelly Smith, the newly ensconced president of the faculty senate. “When President Barker took office he announced his intent to stay for 10 years, but then he decided to stay on a bit to help Clemson weather its major financial crisis during the 2008-09 recession.
“Under his leadership, Clemson has taken great strides and is now well positioned for the future. It will be very difficult indeed to find a replacement of his dedication and skill,” said Smith, who quickly added, “The faculty senate stands ready to help the board of trustees in this difficult search in any way we can.”
Staff Senate President Angela Nixon works in the university’s media relations department. Like Smith, she has only just begun her term and was looking forward to working closer with Barker.
“I believe he truly cares about staff members, and he has been very receptive to our input over the years. For that reason, I am sad to see him retire,” Nixon said. “ ... I know he is looking forward to getting back into the classroom as a teacher, so I am happy that he will be able to do that. I am also excited about the possibilities the future holds for Clemson with the transition to a new president.”
Barker, 65, is a 1970 Clemson graduate who came back to the university in 1986 as dean of the architecture school. He became Clemson’s 14th president in 1999. His efforts have mostly centered on the push over the last decade to get Clemson into ranks of the Top 20 universities in the United States.
“We are blessed with alumni support and a capital campaign that has been very, very successful,” according to Barker. “We are financially healthy; in fact, we are in better shape financially than we were before the Great Recession. And we have a plan that has broad support by our alumni and, most importantly perhaps, by our board of trustees.”
Barker was asked at a Tuesday afternoon news conference why he doesn’t just retire.
“I’m not ready to not do something at Clemson,” Barker said. “ ... Teaching architecture is about creativity and that is very stimulating to me.”
That shift back to teaching will be welcomed by Clemson’s architecture students.
“President Barker is actually a fellow in the American Institute of Architects, which is one of the highest levels of recognition for architects who have made outstanding contributions to the profession,” said architecture student Brittany McGraw. “ … The opportunity of having him as a studio professor almost makes me wish I wasn’t graduating,”