After two decades leading the University, Richard Levin will end his presidency after this academic year.

Levin’s announcement, emailed to the Yale community Thursday morning, was not totally unexpected: He had said previously that he would see the Yale Tomorrow drive to its conclusion before departing. With Yale Tomorrow concluded in July 2011, a new set of four-year labor contracts ratified over the summer and Yale-NUS College set to open in Singapore next fall, Levin told the News he felt it an apt time to step down.

Levin said he told the Corporation three years ago that he had several objectives he wanted to complete before leaving Yale — settling the labor contracts, balancing the budget, developing West Campus, launching Yale-NUS in Singapore and constructing the two new residential colleges.

Of those stated goals, Levin leaves one notably unfulfilled: Yale still needs to raise roughly $300 million to complete the new residential colleges, a $500 million project.

“The best thing I can do is to raise as much for my successor as I can, to leave some sort of dowry behind,” Levin said. “And depending on who the successor is, it may be a person who has similar experience with this.”

Former Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts ’68 said the University is “one or two major gifts away from breaking ground,” adding that he expects Levin to work on fundraising for the colleges and to continue serving on the board of Yale-NUS during his sabbatical year.

But after his nearly 20 years in Woodbridge Hall — currently, the longest term of any Ivy League president — Levin’s decision still caught many off guard.

Several faculty and administrators interviewed said they had been expecting Levin to step down in the near future. But most learned of Levin’s plans Thursday morning, either from his email or during a meeting of deans and directors. Yale College Dean Mary Miller, who was at the meeting, called the timing of the announcement an “enormous surprise.”

“I immediately rolled back to 20 years ago,” Miller said. “As a tenured member of the faculty who had received the news of Rick Levin’s appointment with such incredible joy, and to feel the time collapsing across this 20 year span. It felt downright teleological, this sense of an era.”

Fifty-seven of 112 students interviewed Thursday said they were “surprised” or “shocked” by the news of Levin’s departure.

Twenty one said they expected his departure to hurt the University, and some said they are worried his successor will not continue Levin’s projects with the same success.

Levin will take a one-year sabbatical at the end of the academic year and use the time to write about economics and higher education, though he said he does not have concrete plans for his next major commitment.

“I might resume teaching, I haven’t really decided. I get a sabbatical so I’ll take some time writing, and coming back to the faculty would be one of the options,” Levin said. “Going onto some other type of job, either a full time leadership job or assembly of part-time commitments, would be another. I haven’t really decided.”

Levin was one of three contenders to head the National Economic Council during the winter of 2010-’11, and while the job was eventually given to Gene Sperling LAW ’85, Yale Historian Gaddis Smith ’54 told the News Thursday that Levin planned to step down if awarded the position. Levin said he has been given no current offers for positions at any other institutions.

Levin received his Ph.D. in economics from Yale in 1974 and chaired the economics department from 1987 until 1992. He then served as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences before his appointment to the presidency in 1993.

Jane Darby Menton, Sophie Gould, Kirsten Schnackenberg, Lindsey Uniat, Dan Weiner, Clinton Wang, Antonia Woodford and Julia Zorthian contributed reporting.