Vice President for Finance and Administration John Pepper will resign at the end of this month to lead Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Yale President Richard Levin announced Monday.

As one of Yale’s top seven officers, Pepper presided over most of the University’s non-academic support services. Though he only served for two years, Pepper’s colleagues said he improved labor-management relations and took important steps to diversify University staff. Bruce Alexander, vice president and director of New Haven and State Affairs, will assume Pepper’s duties and position until the administration finds a permanent replacement, Levin said.

Pepper, who graduated Yale College in 1960 and went on to head Proctor & Gamble before returning to the University, said he will miss his colleagues and the dynamism of his job at Yale.

“In a real sense … I will never leave this place,” he said in a farewell letter to administrators. “It has meant and given much to my life over the now almost 50 years since I walked through Phelps Gate as a freshman.”

Colleagues said Pepper had originally planned to spend only a year at Yale when he took the job, but chose to stay on in order to make more progress on his signature issues, which included improving labor relations and increasing the diversity of race, gender and ideas among Yale’s staff. Pepper’s engaging but modest leadership style produced success in both areas, as he introduced a new staff diversity initiative last month and expanded labor-management relations by increasing communication with labor leaders.

“He sees leadership as service, and that’s how he acts,” Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner said. “He’s helped us build basic trust with the unions that I think will carry forward well beyond his tenure here.”

Levin said the main reason Pepper was hired was not to balance the Yale’s budget, although the University cut a $30 million deficit under his watch.

“We were fortunate to have someone with a wealth of experience in how to manage a large organization with high morale and giving people that work in the organization a real sense of purpose, a common cause,” Levin said. “He’s done an outstanding job at starting us well on that path and we are committed to following through on the numerous initiatives that he began.”

Alexander, who previously held the interim position for several months before Pepper assumed his post, said he plans to sustain initiatives already underway while the University awaits a permanent successor. Colleagues described Alexander — a seasoned administrator with more than seven years of experience — as slightly more reserved than Pepper but equally dedicated to the University.

Though the search for a successor has been underway for months, Alexander said he does not anticipate a decision to be made until this summer, at the earliest.

“This is a very strong officer team, and we will search until we find the right person,” he said. “This is an important position in the University.”

Pepper will take a position as chief executive officer of the Freedom Center, which aims to educate citizens on current and historical issues related to liberty and discrimination. He helped found the center in 1994, and will now return to help reverse a decline in attendance and oversee an improvement in the building’s infrastructure.

“He’s been absolutely critical,” Freedom Center Chief Communications Officer Paul Bernish said. “Both strategically and on a day to day basis, he brings a lot to the table with his management background.”

Pepper, who ate in Yale’s dining halls about four times a week, said he will miss the students and colleagues he will leave behind.

“I’ll miss being in student dining rooms and seeing the vitality and just good spirit of the students on this campus,” he said shortly before departing for Commons Tuesday night.

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