University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John IV is stepping down from his current role to lead the new Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership at the University of Alabama starting in April.
“It has been an honor to serve the University of Alabama System as chancellor following my tenure as a trustee. The UA System is stronger than ever with outstanding leaders at the helm of our institutions and is poised for continued success and fulfillment of our mission to improve lives through teaching, research and service,” St. John said.
St. John has served as chancellor since 2018. The UA System, comprised of the University of Alabama, University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Alabama in Huntsville and UAB Health System, is one of the largest of Alabama’s employers and is the state’s largest education enterprise. During his tenure as chancellor, the UA System’s annual economic impact on the state surpassed $15 billion, and annual research and development expenditures increased by nearly 40% to more than $1 billion. Enrollment across the UA System has remained steady under his leadership, and there have been no tuition increases for Alabama residents for five of the past six years. The system serves nearly 70,000 students.
The Shelby Institute was announced by UA in February 2023 and is set to open in the fall of this year. It is supported by a $20 million endowment and will be a student-focused academic and service program concentrating on the education and training of students interested in public policy. Around 20 undergraduate students will be selected for the inaugural cohort of the Shelby Scholars Program, each of whom must complete a minor in public policy. These students will participate in a specialized, policy-focused coursework, as well as unique experiences outside the classroom, including internship and professional development experiences, national conferences, a speaker series and interactions with prominent leaders and policy analysts at the local, state and federal level.
The institute is named for Sen. Richard Shelby and Dr. Annette Shelby. Richard Shelby retired from public service in 2023. Annette Shelby is a published author, researcher and teacher, having served as a professor at the University of Alabama and at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
“Through his exemplary leadership and passion for higher education, Chancellor St. John elevated the University of Alabama System, one of the most impactful institutions in the state, to soaring heights,” said Richard Shelby. “Annette and I are honored that Fess has agreed to serve as the inaugural executive director of the Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership and believe the University of Alabama has selected the ideal individual for the role, especially considering the invaluable institutional knowledge he has gained as chancellor and as a former member of the UA System Board of Trustees. We remain grateful to the university for creating this institute, which will educate generations of future leaders with a shared passion for policy and public service.”
Prior to becoming chancellor, St. John served on the UA System’s board for 17 years. During that time, he also practiced law at St. John & St. John LLC in Cullman.
“Fess St. John has been a pillar of leadership in the University of Alabama System for the past two decades,” said UA System Board of Trustees President Scott Phelps.
Phelps has appointed a search committee among the board members to identify St. John’s replacement. Sid J. Trant, current general counsel and senior vice chancellor of the UA System, will serve as interim chancellor effective April 1. Trant will return to his current role following the installation of a new chancellor.