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Dr. Bruce Murphy, president of Nicholls State University, is in the center of this May 29, 2014 photograph with Marvin Gros on the left and Sid Harp on the right.

Provided Photo

Nicholls State University President Bruce T. Murphy resigned Thursday.

His resignation is effective Dec. 31.

Murphy came to Thibodaux in January 2014 as the fifth president of the university, following eight and a half years as vice president of academic affairs at the Air Force’s Air University in Montgomery, Alabama.

He plans “to engage in other strategic initiatives in higher education,” according to a University of Louisiana System press release announcing Murphy’s departure.

Murphy did not return three calls Thursday.

Murphy led Nicholls from “Warning” status under the regional accreditor to full accreditation within six months of his arrival. And he was able to rearrange funding to give some faculty and staff small raises during the near decade when the state didn’t allocate funds for pay bumps.

Though many universities around the country struggled with enrollment, Nicholls State increased its number of students for four semesters in a row under Murphy.

“He’s coming off a great enrollment this fall,” UL System President and CEO Jim Henderson said Thursday. “I don’t want to put words in his mouth but I think he thought it was the right time” to leave.

Official tallies aren’t completed yet, but preliminary numbers show more students enrolled at Nicholls State this fall than the 6,295 students who signed up last fall, Henderson said. Ninety-three percent of the student body comes from Louisiana, mostly from the bayou communities around Thibodaux, Houma and Morgan City.

Nicholls’ budgets have been cut deeply over the past nine years.

Lawmakers have reduced the state’s appropriations to Nicholls to the point that the university is sending more money back to Baton Rouge to cover mandated costs, like pensions and insurance, than was appropriated by the state.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, Nicholls State received $54,049 less than the $15.2 million the state wanted returned to pay for mandated costs.

Murphy took money from other funds to pay what was owed. Last month he expressed concern that he might have to start tapping student-paid tuition and fees to cover the mandated costs.

“Is that legal? To collect money for education and give it back to the state so the state can use that for the general fund?” Murphy said in August.

“Everyone in higher education, faculty and staff in Louisiana, has gotten tired of the constant battle,” Henderson said. “I don’t know that that is the case with Dr. Murphy. But someone with his background has a number of options available to him.”

UL System Board Chair Al Perkins will appoint a presidential search committee and hopes to have a candidate ready by the new year, Henderson said, adding “The Board is committed to identifying a successor who will nurture a university culture centered on student access and success, academic innovation, and community engagement.”

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.