Finis St. John, IV named chancellor of University of Alabama System
HUNTSVILLE — Finis E. “Fess” St. John, IV was unanimously confirmed as the chancellor of the University of Alabama System on Friday during a meeting of its board of trustees.
St. John, a longtime trustee himself, had been serving as chancellor in the interim without compensation since former Chancellor Ray Hayes’ retirement in the summer of 2018.
Trustees lauded St. John as the most prepared and most qualified person to serve as chancellor after they looked at internal and external options.
The board of trustees also named St. John as a trustee emeritus since he cannot simultaneously serve as an active trustee and as permanent chancellor. He is a lifelong resident of Cullman and has served as the board’s pro tem for three previous terms.
The resolution affirming his status as trustee emeritus said, “Fess St. John’s 17 years of impeccable service as a Trustee coincide with a time of unprecedented growth for UA, UAB, UAH and the UAB Health System, measured by benchmarks that include: a 200+ percent increase in total System revenues; more than $3 billion in capital projects approved by this board; a 200+ percent increase in the Pooled Endowment Fund; a 54 percent increase in total grant and contract awards; and a 200 percent increase in total student enrollment.”
The resolution also praised his service thus far as interim chancellor as “exemplary” and “reflective of his personal integrity, professional demeanor, and strength of character.”
The St. John family has a long history of public service to the citizens of the Yellowhammer State, which was also highlighted in the board’s resolution. Fess St. John’s father and grandfather served in the Alabama legislature. His grandfather was speaker pro tem of the Alabama House of Representatives and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Fess St. John’s father was president pro tem of the Alabama Senate. Fess St. John’s mother was the first woman attorney in Cullman. His great-grandfather arrived in Alabama in 1838 and at age 32 was elected to the Alabama General Assembly, which later became the legislature. During his term, the Assembly created Alabama’s first public education system.
St. John is a 1978 cum laude graduate of the University of Alabama, where he was inducted to Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa and Jasons. He received his law degree in 1982 from the University of Virginia School of Law and was chair of the Moot Court Board. He clerked for the Hon. Peter T. Fay, 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals after completing law school.
St. John and his wife are attorneys in Cullman. He has taken a leave of absence from the family firm, St. John & St. John, during his service as chancellor. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which is comprised of the best of the trial bar from the United States and Canada. Fellowship in the college is by invitation only. He is also a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates and has been recognized as an Alabama Super Lawyer since 2007. He is the long-time chairman of the board of First Community Bank of Cullman.
St. John was named to Yellowhammer Multimedia’s Power and Influence List in 2018.
‘We hear them’
This came during the same board of trustees meeting that St. John announced a historic system-wide tuition freeze proposal for all in-state students in the 2020-2021 academic year.
Speaking to Yellowhammer News after the meeting, St. John explained that the in-state tuition freeze emphasizes the system’s charter to serve as Alabama’s flagship higher education institution, serving its citizens and bettering the state for the greater good.
“Our system has students from every county and community in the state,” he said. “We want them to know that we understand how hard it is to go to college these days. We want what they learn to be worth what it costs. And we hear them about their needs.”
The chancellor also had a message to state legislators.
“We appreciate the work they’re doing to fund higher education … they’re drawing the funds from the same people we are. We’re all in this together, and I think we all want the same thing, so we do appreciate their commitment to us,” St. John stated.
‘Preeminent public system of higher education and health care in the United States’
During the meeting, the trustees also adopted a new statement of its mission, values and vision.
The new mission states, “The University of Alabama System, an institution of higher education created for learning, exists to improve the lives of everyone we affect through the teaching, research and service rendered by its component campuses and health system.”
The values are integrity, leadership, inclusion, diversity, respect and accountability.
The vision really stands out, with trustee Stancil Starnes remarking that achieving it would not be easy and would not happen overnight, but is well worth striving for and ultimately attainable.
“We will be the preeminent public system of higher education and health care in the United States,” the vision statement proclaims.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn