University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John IV is stepping down from his current role to serve as the inaugural executive director of the Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership at the University of Alabama, starting in April.

The University’s board of trustees announced the new institute in February 2023 after former U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa) retired.

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve the University of Alabama System as chancellor following my tenure as a trustee," St. John said. "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 has served as chancellor of the UA system since 2018. 

“I am honored to serve as the inaugural executive director of the Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership,” he continued. “Senator Richard Shelby and Dr. Annette Shelby’s remarkable work in education and public policy has made an indelible impact on Alabama’s higher education landscape, and I greatly appreciate their support. This program will further their lasting legacy through a shared vision to invest in the future leaders of our state and our nation. Education and public service have been driving passions in my life, and I look forward to uniting the two in this role and launching an asset that will positively impact the University, the UA System and the state for years to come.”

The Shelby Institute is set to open in fall 2024. It is supported by a $20 million endowment and will be a premier 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 and will receive scholarship support. These students will participate in specialized, policy-focused coursework and unique experiences outside the classroom, including internship and professional development experiences, national conferences, a speaker series and interactions with prominent political leaders and policy analysts on a local, state and national level.

Start-up funding for the institute came from $10 million in federal earmarks towards the end of Shelby's time in office and $5 million in remaining campaign funds.

“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,” Shelby said. “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.”

Before becoming chancellor, St. John served on the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees for 17 years, including three consecutive terms as president pro tempore. During that time, he also practiced law at one of Alabama’s oldest law firms, St. John & St. John LLC, in his hometown of Cullman.

St. John is a cum laude graduate of UA, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He is also a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a member of the distinguished American College of Trial Lawyers.

“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 pro tempore Scott Phelps. “The landscape of the entire UA System has positively transformed under his visionary guidance as both trustee and chancellor, and the Board is forever grateful for Chancellor St. John’s lasting contributions.”

Phelps has appointed a search committee among the UA System Board of Trustees to identify St. John’s replacement. The committee has initiated its search and will identify candidates with the attributes and qualifications necessary to continue elevating the UA System and growing its impact across Alabama and beyond as established in the Board’s bylaws and rules. The chancellor is hired directly by the Board and serves at its pleasure.

Sid 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 the new chancellor.

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