Robert Duncan, chancellor of the Texas Tech University System and a former state lawmaker, announced this week that he will retire at the end of the month after a little more than four years as the system’s chief executive.
“As we approach the start of a new school year, I look back with pride on the tremendous strides we have made in recent years,” Duncan said in an email to the university community Monday. “But I have also reflected on my life, my decades of public service, and realize that, at 65, it’s time to retire, move on and begin to tackle new challenges. Serving the system as chancellor has been the honor of a lifetime and the highlight of my professional career.”
Duncan’s announcement that he is stepping down in just more than two weeks was unexpected, but it comes amid his push to establish a veterinary school — a goal that some members of the system’s Board of Regents have not been as enthusiastic about. The chancellor told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal last month that he was looking forward to making the case for such a school in Amarillo to the Legislature, which begins its regular session in January.
Brett Ashworth, a spokesman for the Texas Tech System, said Tuesday that Duncan was on a previously scheduled vacation and unavailable for comment.
Empower Texans, a prominent conservative advocacy group, said the chancellor’s announcement follows allegations in recent days “that Duncan’s retirement was requested due to misappropriation of university funds.” The group did not cite sources or the precise nature of the allegations.
“Bob Duncan is a man of integrity,” said John D. Steinmetz, finance chairman of the Texas Tech System’s Board of Regents, which met Thursday and Friday. “Sadly, I have heard a rumor of misappropriation of funds as the reason for his retirement. I have known him for 18 years and have twice served as chair of the board’s finance committee. I can say unequivocally, that to my knowledge, Bob Duncan has not done anything unethical or illegal during his tenure as chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. The Texas Tech family greatly appreciates his leadership of the system.”
Rick Francis, chairman of the regents, said of Duncan: “He has helped all of our universities reach new heights and pursue new, innovative initiatives. I’ve known him for many years and value his friendship. I wish him and Terri (Duncan’s wife) all the best in retirement.”
State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who succeeded Duncan in the Senate, said he suspects the chancellor’s departure stemmed from friction with some regents over the question of a veterinary school. The Board of Regents voted in February 2017 not to pursue funding during that year’s legislative session, citing tight budgets. Lawmakers nevertheless granted $4.1 million in an effort to put the initiative back on track.
“That vet school needs to go forward,” Perry said. “We’ll see if the trustees have the political courage to go forward.”
Another person, who was familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak publicly, told the American-Statesman that friction over the veterinary school was so great that five of the nine regents wanted Duncan out as chancellor and four wanted him to remain.
Texas A&M University, which operates the only veterinary school in the state, contends that a second school is not needed.
Duncan served in the Legislature for more than two decades, first in the House and later in the Senate. He became chancellor in July 2014, a position that was a bit of a homecoming for a man who earned his bachelor’s and law degrees at Texas Tech.
The Tech System, which is based in Lubbock, consists of two academic institutions, Texas Tech and Angelo State universities, and two health campuses, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso.
Under Duncan’s watch, the system has raised more than $585 million in philanthropic support, and its endowment has grown by $150 million to $1.3 billion.