Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Texas A&M University President R. Bowen Loftin will step down from his position in January, he notified university leaders on Friday.
Loftin has officially been president since February of 2010, though he had been serving in an interim capacity since June 2009.
Prior to that, he was vice president and chief executive officer of A&M's Galveston branch. He was also a professor of maritime systems engineering.
Loftin does not plan to leave A&M after stepping down in 2014, but rather will return to the faculty as a tenured professor and start and lead a proposed new institute within the engineering department at the university.
In the meantime, university officials indicate they will begin a search for a new president.
“Since returning to Texas A&M in 2005 as a Vice President, my greatest joy has always been found in our students," Loftin said in a statement. "My love for them and for this extraordinary institution has never been stronger. That being said, I do miss the opportunity to teach and do research—activities that have characterized my long career in higher education. I look forward to teaching and mentoring 'my' students and to leading multidisciplinary research teams in creating new knowledge and transforming that knowledge into useful applications.
“I will spend the next five months on programs and plans currently in development, such as management of the largest student body in the history of the school. In the following period, I will work with Provost Karan Watson as well as many of our deans and system agency directors toward the launch of a new institute at Texas A&M – to serve the state, the nation and the world. I will certainly miss being ‘aggieprez’ (my twitter handle), but I will still be part of this great university and will be serving on the ‘front lines’ of the academy, side-by-side with those I love the most—our students.”
Loftin drew praise even from A&M's traditional rivals.
“Bowen Loftin personifies Aggie spirit and pride and has been a leader in higher education in Texas. Bowen’s decision to return to teaching and research once he leaves the presidency reflects his lifelong commitment to creating and sharing knowledge, which are the bedrock foundations of Texas A&M and all higher education,” said William Powers, Loftin's counterpart at the University of Texas at Austin.
John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, said he will prepare for Loftin "as generous a separation package as I can find." It will be presented at the regents' August board meeting, which is also where the details of the search could be decided.
If there's a short gap between Loftin's departure and the next president's start, Sharp said it was possible he himself might serve as both chancellor and president (Renu Khator occupies such a joint position at the University of Houston) — but he insisted such a situation would be very temporary. "I don't see how it's humanly possible" to do both jobs long term, he said.
As for who he would like to see in the president's job, Sharp said, "Ideally, it would be an academic that has the ability to influence Washington as well as Texas."
The announcement has set off speculation that Gov. Rick Perry might want the post. "I hope those rumors are right," Sharp joked, "because I want Perry to work for me. I think that would be a real trip."