updated 6/12/2005 1:52:56 AM ET 2005-06-12T05:52:56

The president of Cornell University announced Saturday that he will step down at the end of the month, citing differences with the board of trustees at the Ivy League school.

Jeffrey Lehman, a Cornell alumnus who also is a law professor at the school, made the surprising announcement at the end of his annual “state of the university” address to alumni attending Reunion Weekend.

“Over the past few months, it has become apparent to me that the board of trustees and I have different approaches to how the university can best realize its long-term vision,” he said. “These differences are profound and it has now become absolutely clear that they cannot be resolved.”

The announcement was surprising because there was no apparent sign of any feud between Lehman and the board.

“There were audible gasps,” said university spokesman Tommy Bruce said of the speech. “Gasps, and then a standing ovation that wouldn’t end.”

Hunter Rawlings III, Lehman’s predecessor, agreed to serve as interim president until a search committee identifies a new president, Bruce said.

Lehman became Cornell’s 11th president in October 2003.

In his speech to alumni Saturday, Lehman noted recent achievements at Cornell. He said that in the past year, applications to Cornell rose by 17 percent, and alumni gifts have been at record levels for the past two years.

After he assists with the transition at Cornell, Lehman will become a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., Bruce said.

Cornell has more than 20,000 students.

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