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James Dennis

McKendree University president James Dennis to retire in 2020. Photo courtesy McKendree University

LEBANON, Ill. • James M. Dennis will retire from McKendree University in 2020 after 25 years as the school's president.

A national search will be conducted by the university's board of trustees to find a successor when Dennis' contract expires after the 2019-2020 school year. 

"The accomplishments achieved as a result of Jim Dennis' leadership have been nothing short of miraculous," said Daniel Lett, chairman of the board, in a statement. "Upon his arrival in 1994, he sought to breathe new life and vitality into this institution — and he has done so by every measure. The McKendree University community has been transformed by a more diverse faculty and student body, state-of-the-art facilities, a rich curriculum and presence in the arts, a focus on service and graduating young men and women who are successful in every field and walk of life.”

The number of faculty and staff at the university nearly tripled under Dennis, the school said. 

In 2007, McKendree College changed its name to McKendree University after expanding its undergraduate and graduate programs. The university recently added doctoral programs in education and nursing and the McKendree Worldwide online program.

Dennis also focused on building the school's athletic programs. Football was brought back in 1996, and the school moved from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to NCAA Division II in 2013.

Fundraising campaigns led to the Piper Academic Center classrooms and offices, built in 2001. The Hettenhausen Center for the Arts opened in 2006, followed by new residence halls, athletic facilities and renovations to the dining hall and other buildings.

Blythe Bernhard is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.