Bob Jones III said Thursday he will retire as president of the Christian university that bears his name, ending a 34-year reign during which the school grabbed headlines because of its racial policies and fundamentalist views.
Jones’ son will take over as president of the school in May.
The 65-year-old Jones, whose grandfather founded Bob Jones University 78 years ago, said it was time for someone younger and “closer to the present generation” to take over.
“I’ve seen too many institutions — churches, Christian ministries — suffer when somebody stays too long,” he said. “And I’ve never wanted that to happen here.”
Jones said he will spend more time traveling and preaching but will remain a visible part of the campus, as chairman of the board of trustees and perhaps as “grandpa” to 5,000 students who attend college at the campus in Greenville, about 100 miles northwest of Columbia.
Jones has been no stranger to controversy in recent years.
In 2000, George W. Bush was criticized for speaking at the university while campaigning because the school banned interracial dating. That policy has since been dropped.
More recently, Jones drew attention for a congratulatory letter he wrote to Bush after his re-election. In the letter, he wrote, “You have been given a mandate. ... Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ.”
Jones also referred to Catholicism and Mormonism as cults in a campus magazine in 2000. Jones has not backed away from his opposition to those religions.
“It is a surprise to me that anybody would think that there was something untoward about Christian institution being opposed to a false religious system,” Jones said Thursday.
Bishop Robert J. Baker, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, said through a spokeswoman Thursday that he extended good wishes to Stephen Jones, 35, as he takes over the school.
Bob Jones College was founded in 1927 in College Point, Fla., and moved to Tennessee before relocating to the South Carolina foothills.
Many of its graduates enter Christian ministries. The university offers more than 100 undergraduate majors, from electrical engineering and aviation management to Bible teaching, and 55 graduate degrees, most of those in the disciplines of religion or music.
While critics focus on the dating ban, the prestige of the university’s academic programs outside Christian studies has increased under Jones’ leadership, said Republican state Sen. Mike Fair. Fair said Jones increased the visibility of other degree options and the standards for those programs.