The University of Alabama System announced a leadership transition at the highest level as Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John IV prepares to take on a new role at the Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership. Sid J. Trant, the system’s current general counsel and senior vice chancellor, is set to serve as interim chancellor starting April 1, 2024.
“It has been a tremendous honor to serve the University of Alabama System as chancellor following my tenure as a trustee. 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,” said St. John.
In his role as UA System chancellor, St. John has served since 2018 as chief executive officer of one of Alabama’s largest employers and the state’s largest higher education enterprise, comprised of three dynamic research universities – The University of Alabama, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, and The University of Alabama in Huntsville – as well as the UAB Health System.
“I am honored to serve as the inaugural executive director of the Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership,” said St. John.
“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, announced by UA in February 2023, 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 as well as unique experiences outside of 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.
“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,” said Senator Shelby.
“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.”
According to the System, During St. John’s tenure as chancellor, the UA System’s annual economic impact on the state surpassed $15 billion, and annual research and development expenditures increased by nearly 40% to over $1 billion. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he spearheaded a comprehensive health and safety program that enabled the successful reopening of the UA System’s campuses and became a national model. Despite national trends, enrollment across the UA System has remained steady under St. John’s leadership, the total number of degrees and certificates awarded has increased, and the number of first-year students who are Alabama residents has increased.
There have been no tuition increases for Alabama residents for five of the past six years, contributing to the UA System’s ability to provide accessible and quality education to nearly 70,000 students.
“We are excited Chancellor Finis St. John has agreed to serve as the inaugural executive director of the Shelby Institute for Policy and Leadership,” said Dr. Jim Dalton, UA’s executive vice president and provost. “His wealth of knowledge, leadership experience and passion for preparing students for careers of impact uniquely align with Senator Shelby’s vision and the University’s goals for the Institute. I look forward to working with Chancellor St. John to launch the first cohort of the Shelby Scholars Program this fall.”
Prior to 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.”
Pro tem 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 who possess the attributes and qualifications necessary to continue to elevate the UA System and grow 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 J. 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.
Pro tem Phelps expressed his gratitude for Trant’s willingness to step into this interim role: “As a key member of the University of Alabama System’s executive team, Sid’s strong leadership, keen intellect and steady guidance will allow the UA System to continue building on its success as the Board selects the next chancellor to lead this transformative institution. Sid is deeply committed to helping the UA System achieve its vision of being the preeminent public system of higher education and health care in the United States, and we are fortunate to have him serve in this role.”
Prior to joining the UA System in September 2017, Trant was a partner at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP for 30 years. While steadfastly serving his clients, he also served in various roles inside the firm, including practice group chair, hiring partner and member of the firm’s Executive Committee.
He graduated summa cum laude in 1983 from UA as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He earned his juris doctorate degree in 1986 from Georgetown University Law Center, where he was a member of the Order of the Coif and graduated magna cum laude. Before joining the Bradley firm, Trant was a judicial clerk for the Honorable Sam C. Pointer Jr. and served as legislative assistant to Senator Howell Heflin in Washington, D.C. He is a member of several professional organizations and is vice chair of the Freshwater Land Trust Board of Directors.
Grayson Everett is the state and political editor for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270