- The Washington Times - Friday, August 15, 2008

RICHMOND | Virginia Commonwealth University President Eugene P. Trani, who presided over an extraordinary period of expansion during his 19-year tenure, said Thursday he is stepping down a year early because of health reasons.

Mr. Trani underwent quintuple heart bypass surgery in July and said he will retire as president of Virginia’s largest public university in June 2009. He’ll remain at the school as a distinguished professor.

“The enormity of the health issue is driving this whole thing,” said Mr. Trani, 68, whose decision follows a series of controversies on the urban campus.

They include the improper awarding of a bachelor’s degree to the city’s former police chief and research contracts with tobacco company Philip Morris USA, which is based in Richmond.

While Mr. Trani declined to directly address those issues, he said, “If I had one regret about what has gone on this summer it is that there is an air of fear and intimidation at VCU. That’s not the VCU I know.”

As the school’s fourth president, Mr. Trani has overseen a building boom that rivals downtown Richmond and an enrollment increase of 47 percent, to 32,077 students in 2008. He has helped diversify the student body, which has more than 1,500 international students on campus and a nonwhite enrollment of 40 percent. He also has pursued international partnerships in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe.

“Gene Trani has been the best thing to happen to Richmond in the last 20 years,” said Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat.

Mr. Trani said one regret is that the school doesn’t have enough young people coming from the Richmond public schools.

The degree controversy involved the city’s former police chief, Rodney D. Monroe, now chief in Charlotte, N.C. Chief Monroe was awarded a bachelor of arts degree in interdisciplinary studies in May 2007, despite failing to meet degree requirements for transfer students.

In July, several administrators stepped down following an investigation into the improperly awarded degree. One administrator was dean of the college that awarded the degree and two others criticized how school officials conducted the probe.

Mr. Trani came to the school in 1990 from the University of Wisconsin, where he was vice president for academic affairs and professor of history. He had planned to step down in June 2007 but remained as president at the request of the school’s Board of Visitors.

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