University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg had a nine-month appointment when he joined the University of Pittsburgh law faculty in 1977.
When he leaves the post Aug. 1, 2014, he will have completed 37 years at Pitt, including 19 as chancellor.
At a board of trustees meeting Friday, Mr. Nordenberg, 64, announced he will step down as chancellor. But it is not a departure from the university or Pittsburgh. He will teach and be involved in unspecified civic initiatives.
"My heart is here. My future is here," he told the trustees.
At a news conference after his announcement about leaving the seven-day-a-week job, he put his time at Pitt this way: "It really has been my life. It's something difficult to leave behind, but I do feel it's the right thing, so it's good in that sense."
At the trustees meeting, he explained he had reached the point, given that no one asked him to leave, that "you have a responsibility to act yourself."
He said Pitt had gone through a "really tough period" during the past five years. He noted the fatal shooting at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in 2012, repeated bomb threats in 2012 and state budget cutbacks in recent years.
"There really wasn't an opportunity for me to leave," he said, but now the university is at a "level of relative stability."
And given that it is a better university, he said trustees should be able to find a "better chancellor."
The trustees meeting was almost book-ended by Mr. Nordenberg's announcement. Near the beginning, he detailed the university's successes since 1995, but he didn't announce his decision.
Near the end of the meeting, he said he was stepping down on Aug. 1, 2014, and received a standing ovation from the board of trustees. His remarks were filled with expressions of gratitude, saying he had a "deep sense of appreciation."
In citing achievements under his watch, he said universitywide full-time enrollment had grown from 28,002 in 1995 to 32,781 in 2013.
SAT college entrance exam scores in math and critical reading had risen 185 points since 1995 for freshmen who paid an attendance deposit, he said.
The university's endowment, he said, had grown from $463 million to $2.99 billion.
And while it ranked 24th in 1995, Pitt now is fifth among all American universities in federal science and engineering research and development support obtained by its faculty.
In 1997, Mr. Nordenberg moved to tighten the university's relationship with UPMC, merging the positions of senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine.
The following year, Mr. Nordenberg announced that Pitt and UPMC had reached an agreement to strengthen their partnership over the subsequent 10 years, with a major component being UPMC providing more than $1 billion for Pitt's Schools of the Health Sciences over the decade.
That money supported clinical programs and discretionary funds for health sciences research and education.
The agreement also guaranteed Pitt would be represented on UPMC's board of trustees.
"The essentially symbiotic relationship between Pitt, with its health professions' academic/research mission, and UPMC, the delivery and payment giant, requires mutual support and coherence," said Karen Wolk Feinstein, president of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation of Pittsburgh.
"The chancellor is the master of tact, diplomacy and courtesy. While I suspect that he sometimes had his own -- possibly contrary -- opinions, he never made public any rifts or disagreements."
Jeffrey A. Romoff, president and chief executive officer of UPMC, called Mr. Nordernberg an "exceptional leader."
"He has fostered our region's emergence as an 'eds and meds' powerhouse on the international stage.
"Pitt and UPMC's shared mission of translating stellar biomedical research from the lab to cutting-edge care at the bedside continues to be extraordinarily successful, thanks in large part to Mark's unwavering commitment to excellence and the community," Mr. Romoff said.
There also were occasional controversies and difficulties during Mr. Nordenberg's tenure. In addition to the bomb threats, the shooting and state funding issues, there were other challenges, such as the arrests of protestors during the G-20 summit in 2009, debate over same-sex benefits and turnover in football coaches.
After joining Pitt in 1977, Mr. Nordenberg became dean of the law school in 1985, serving for eight years. He spent a year as interim provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and became the interim chancellor in 1995, following the departure of J. Dennis O'Connor.
He was appointed to the position permanently in 1996.
That year as interim chancellor gave Mr. Nordenberg a taste of what he described as the "greatest job in the world."
He said many would say the university was "drifting" when he took over. But he saw the possibilities.
"Maybe it was blind faith," he said, adding that, through his various roles, he had seen untapped potential.
He said the early strategy was to prove the administration could get things done.
"We needed to prove to the campus community we could make this a better place in ways that mattered to them."
He also made it a point to single out accomplishments of the Pitt community, moves he said served as inspiration.
"I think people began to realize the bar was raised here," he said.
Mr. Nordenberg said he didn't want to be "presumptuous" by spelling out what skills the next chancellor should have, but he named some that were important to him in the "never-ending" job.
He said the leader needs to believe in the mission, adding. "In the end, we are trying to build better lives."
He said it's important to like and respect people because there is a "wide range of constituent groups" that all "have a legitimate claim on your time."
Board chairman Stephen Tritch said, "Our direction has been up," and that needs to continue, but "what that entails may be different."
The trustees set up two committees to deal with the change, one to conduct a national search for a new leader and the other to handle the transition.
Correction, posted July 8, 2013: An earlier version of this story contained a headline that incorrectly characterized Mr. Nordenberg's plans.
First Published June 28, 2013 2:30 PM