SARASOTA -- Gordon E. “Mike” Michalson Jr. said he had been “feeling restless” the last few years, wanting to get back to his first loves: the classroom and his research.
On Monday, Michalson, the longest-serving president in the history of New College of Florida, publicly announced he will be retiring July 1, 2012, taking a one year sabbatical, and returning to the classroom as a professor of religion in 2013.
The long lead time gives the New College Board of Trustees plenty of time to mount a search for a replacement.
Michalson, who had served as president since July of 2001, said he sees himself as a transitional figure, leading New College after it gained its independence from the University of South Florida, and getting it used to having its own president.
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His decision to retire, he said, was triggered by the celebration of New College’s 50th anniversary.
“He has been a great leader in a transitional time,” said Oliver Peckham, student alliance co-president. “He worked with us in a respectful and helpful way.”
Under Michalson’s leadership, New College enrollment grew from 634 to more than 800, while producing a record number of Fulbright, Gates, Truman and National Science Foundation scholars.
From 1967 to 2001, New College produced 13 Fulbright Scholars. During the 10 years of Michalson’s presidency, New College has had 50 Fulbright Scholars.
“Without President Michalson’s leadership, vision and passion for liberal arts education, these successes would not have happened,” Bob Johnson, chair of the New College Board of Trustees, said in a press statement.
Michalson, 63, seemed to enjoy his students as much as they enjoyed him. During his presidency, he taught a popular class -- faith and reason or Kant’s religious thought -- every year except two.
“By far and away the best part of my week is when I’m in the classroom,” he said Monday in Cook Hall, his office overlooking Sarasota Bay.
The interaction with students, he said, helped remind him what is possible.
Student optimism is the antidote to cynicism that an older generation can fall into, he said.
Working with students also helped sharpen his research and writing skills, said Michalson, who is a recognized scholar on philosopher Immanuel Kant and the philosophy of religion.
Michalson has written four books, and during his sabbatical will be working on a new book for Cambridge University Press.
The century ahead will be a very challenging one, with many new jobs yet to be invented or even predicted, he said.
“The rate of change is going to accelerate,” Michalson said.
But with all that, he said he has strong faith in the humanity and its prospects, and the good hearts of most people.
Michalson and his wife, Susannah, came to parenthood late, and have a 16-year-old son, Elliott.
“As a first-time father at 49, I experienced feelings I never felt before,” he said. “The experience of fatherhood surpassed everything that came before.”
New College Provost Char Callahan also will be retiring in July and will be replaced by Stephen Miles.
The new provost will be in place for a year when the new president comes in, Michalson said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.