BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, who has been criticized by families and others for the way he handled the 2007 mass shooting, announced Tuesday that he is retiring.
Steger, 65, made the announcement in an email to students, faculty and staff. Steger said he'll remain on the job until his replacement is found. The school said a search would begin immediately.
"When one is totally absorbed in doing what one loves, 14 years pass in an instant. Serving as president of this great university has been the most demanding and yet the most exhilarating and fulfilling experience of my life — from the exuberance at the beginning of the fall semester to the elation at commencement and every single day in between," Steger said.
While he has won much praise for his fundraising abilities, increasing the school's research capabilities and bringing its athletics program into the Atlantic Coast Conference, Steger's handling of the April 16, 2007, massacre that killed 33 has been the source of criticism and lawsuits.
Some victims and parents blamed Steger for not ordering the campus warned sooner that a shooter had killed two students in a residence hall. Two hours later, when the alert was issued that a shooter was on the loose, student gunman Seung-Hui Cho was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building where he killed 30 more students and faculty before turning the gun on himself as police closed in.
The state Supreme Court will hear arguments in June that Steger should be put on trial for his actions that day.
The attorney representing two families that lost their daughters in the mass killing criticized Steger's parting statement.
"His university suffered the greatest loss of human life on any college campus during his tenure, but he couldn't find it in his heart to recognize and honor the 30 dead students and faculty ... who might be with us today had he shared with them the alert he sent the governor after the first two shootings: 'We have one dead and one wounded, gunman on loose,'" Robert T. Hall said in a statement.
Steger has stated he was heeding the advice of police investigators who believed the first shootings on campus were targeted and the gunman was not a further threat.
Steger also garnered praise for leading the university through tough times after the shooting.
He is a three-time Virginia Tech grad. He became the youngest dean of architecture in the nation when he assumed the head of the university's College of Architecture and Urban Studies at age 33. He was named president in 2000.
While he didn't address the shootings in his note to the campus community, Steger complimented the Virginia Tech family on its "indomitable spirit."
"We have the entrepreneurial culture, the creativity, the ability to leverage our strengths, and the willingness to take calculated risks that sets us apart from other universities and enables us move forward," he wrote.
Mike Quillen, rector of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, said the board "sadly" accepted Steger's desire to step down.
"He has had a long and successful tenure but we understand his desire to ratchet back the extraordinary commitment of a major university president," he said in a release. "Charles has truly been outstanding, visionary, and productive. I believe when history looks back upon his tenure as president, he will be ranked among the best of Virginia Tech's strong leaders."
Under Steger's tenure, the university increased its research portfolio more than 300 percent, with university research growing from $192 million in 2000 to more than $450 million currently, the school noted. It also increased enrollment, capital projects and raised more than $1 billion in private funding. The university also formed a school of biomedical engineering and created a school of medicine.