Mississippi State President Donald W. Zacharias will retire by Jan. 1, 1998, after more than 12 years as head of the university during a period of unprecedented progress.
Zacharias announced in late March his plans to step down, saying he wanted to provide the Mississippi State family with the opportunity to "plan the methodical transition to a new president."
The president announced his forthcoming retirement the week after medical tests confirmed that he suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the nerve fibers.
Zacharias, 61, said he has been dealing with symptoms of the disease for five or six years and the diagnosis was not a complete surprise. Multiple sclerosis can be very difficult to diagnose, however, especially when it appears at an atypical age. The disease usually has its onset in early adulthood.
Zacharias announced his plans at a March 24 campus press conference. "In light of this diagnosis, I have evaluated my ability and my availability to continue serving an institution that is a profoundly important part of my life," he said then. "That process of evaluation with my family and others has led me to conclude that the Mississippi State family should begin to plan the methodical transition to a new president.
"As I have said on so many occasions, there is something of great value happening here. I admit to all the human frailties associated with learning of a diagnosis of this nature, but I am resolute in the belief that this university serves a purpose that overshadows the contributions of any one individual.
"This has long been a 'People's University.' Now it stands as today's university for tomorrow's world. With its starship qualities for studying in disciplines ranging from art to animal science to engineering, it is poised to take us into the 21st century."
Zacharias became Mississippi State's 15th president in September 1985 after six years as president of Western Kentucky University. He has presided over dramatic growth in the university's enrollment, research funding, new construction, and fund raising. The first comprehensive major gifts campaign in university history concluded June 30. About $127 million had been committed to that effort by mid-April.
By the time he steps down at the end of the year, Zacharias will have led Mississippi State for longer than any of his predecessors except Stephen D. Lee, who was the university's first president from 1880 to 1899.
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