Seattle Pacific University President Daniel J. Martin is resigning, leaving his post after nine years to pursue a new job at a health care foundation, the school announced Tuesday.
In an emailed statement to the SPU community, Martin said he has accepted a leadership position at a national health system, and that the “nature of the role and the healthcare system’s expectations … will require me to transition prior to the conclusion of the academic year.”
Martin, who was the 10th president in the university’s 130-year history, said his resignation is effective next Monday. The school declined to give further details about Martin’s new health care role, saying the information is not yet public.
“This was not an easy decision to make,” he said in a video announcement posted Tuesday. “The chief reason I was drawn to SPU was because of our incredible, world-class faculty and staff who possess a deep commitment to Christ and the university’s mission. … When I look back at my nine years at SPU, we’ve accomplished much together and I’m so grateful for the privilege of serving this great university and our community.”
In the statement, he also cited several personal reasons for his decision, particularly the deaths of his father and sister last year and his desire to move closer to his family in the Midwest.
“As I journeyed with them through their battles with Alzheimer’s and cancer, I am grateful the focus for the next chapter in my professional calling will be empowering and resourcing others who face similar critical health concerns,” he said in the statement. “I am also grateful as the foundation I will serve is close to my hometown and family; especially near to my mother and my sister’s family.”
The news comes as students engage in “very intense conversations” with the school about one of its policies regarding sexuality and sexual orientation, said José Flores, president of the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific, SPU’s student government body. He declined to elaborate, citing ongoing conversations, but said he was concerned Martin’s announcement would mean diverting the Board of Trustees’ attention from those talks.
“We’re definitely upset at the news of Dr. Martin leaving because I do think of him as a strong role model and leader, and it also clouds the attention of the board, which is the last thing the students want,” Flores said.
He added, “This might result in the board looking for an interim president, rather than looking at the students and members of the LGBTQ+ community that have really pushed for this change. … The university is at a crossroads right now, and the students unfortunately are at the middle of all this.”
Flores, a senior studying theology and communications, noted that while some students and faculty have been fighting for school policy changes for years, he sensed a “tipping point” in January, after a nursing professor sued SPU and accused it of refusing him job opportunities because of his sexual orientation.
“That’s the primary thing that comes to mind for students when we heard this,” he said, adding that the news caught him and many of his peers by surprise.
And as a graduating senior, Flores said he’s also wondering what the news might mean for the rest of the academic year.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about Dr. Martin,” he said. “He is not the source of the problem, but matters did get worse because of the recent news. We just want more awareness of what students at SPU are trying to do.”
The university’s Board of Trustees has begun to work on a transition plan for interim leadership and has named SPU Provost Laura Hartley as executive-in-charge beginning April 6, until the board appoints an interim president, school spokesperson Tracy Norlen said Tuesday.
Once an interim president is appointed, the board will then begin its search for the school’s 11th president, Norlen said. Martin will continue to be a “resource” during the leadership transition.
“Though we are saddened to learn of President Martin’s planned departure to pursue a new chapter in his life, we are also indebted to his remarkable and dedicated leadership over the past nine years of service as president of our beloved SPU,” Cedric Davis, chair of SPU’s Board of Trustees, said in the statement.
Since taking office in 2012, Martin has led a $6 million fundraising effort to restore Alexander and Adelaide Hall, the university’s oldest building named for the school’s first president and his wife; helped the school hit its largest year for fundraising in 2019 and triple its endowment; launched a committee on homelessness; expanded the leadership team to address diversity efforts; and overseen the construction of several new campus buildings, according to the university.
Before coming to SPU, Martin held various positions in higher education, including president of Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio and vice president for university advancement at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.