SPOKANE — The president of Whitworth University, William P. "Bill" Robinson, has announced his resignation after 17 years in which he boosted enrollment, presided over a name change and built stronger ties with the community.

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SPOKANE — The president of Whitworth University, William P. “Bill” Robinson, has announced his resignation after 17 years in which he boosted enrollment, presided over a name change and built stronger ties with the community.

Robinson, a former chairman of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce before it became Greater Spokane Inc., announced Tuesday that he will leave at the end of the current school year.

“We’re starting another five-year strategic plan. I’m about to turn 60. I feel so confident (Whitworth) would benefit from new energy and some fresh eyes,” he told The Spokesman-Review.

Whitworth, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and located in north Spokane, has grown in student population and respect, including strong ratings in U.S. News & World Report’s best-colleges lists, since Robinson came to the school in 1993 after six years at Manchester College in Indiana.

“Bill is so woven into the fabric of Spokane,” said Rich Hadley, president of Greater Spokane. “It used to be that the 10 miles between Whitworth and the center of the city was a long distance. Bill made that a smooth trip by bringing the campus and the community together.”

The search for a successor will begin immediately, and the new leader will likely be in place July 2010, school officials said.

A native of Elmhurst, Ill., Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa, a master’s degree from Wheaton College, and a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. He also studied at Princeton Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute. His academic work has been focused mainly on organizational, cross-cultural and interpersonal communication. He also has written two books on leadership.

During his tenure at Whitworth, freshman applications grew from 1,200 to more than 5,000 a year, the student population rose 60 percent to 2,675 and more than $83 million in capital projects were completed, including a new campus center, sports complex for soccer, softball and field events, two academic buildings and a number of expansions and renovations.

One landmark was reached in 2005 when the north Spokane school changed its name from Whitworth College, a decision on which the board was split 18 to 14. Explaining the change, Robinson noted that of the top 15 schools in the U.S. News ranking of master’s level universities in the west, Whitworth was one of two that bore the name “college.”

He said he and his wife Bonnie, principal organist for First Presbyterian Church of Spokane, plan to remain in town and he hopes to do more writing. His monthly newsletter, “Of Mind & Heart,” has a circulation of 20,000.

In a message to students, faculty and staff on Tuesday, Robinson wrote: “I’m sure you know that we consider Whitworth to be the embodiment of our most deeply held spiritual and professional values, but we sense the time has come for me to step away. You have made me a better leader than I was ever meant to be.”