William J. Carroll planned to spend 10 years as president of Illinois Benedictine College in Lisle when he was hired in 1995.
Love, Carroll said, kept him around a decade longer at the school that would become Benedictine University.
"You fall in love with the place," he said. "It's pretty simple. This is a special place with special people."
Carroll said he has plenty of ideas to continue improving the private Catholic university, which has grown dramatically in student population and in diversity during his tenure. But the 67-year-old Naperville resident announced his intention to step down by Dec. 31 so a new leader can step in.
"I could do more, but a lot has been done, and it's time to pass it on," Carroll said Tuesday. "All I am here is a watchman, and it's time for me to step down and another generation of watchmen to step in."
Carroll came to Benedictine with administrative experience from Ohio Dominican College and 19 years of experience as a professor and dean at the historically African-American Coppin State University in Maryland.
With master's and doctorate degrees in philosophy, Carroll set about changing the state of racial tensions he found on Benedictine's Lisle campus. He scheduled a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast during his first year and said he had to hang up on threatening callers who said they represented the KKK. He said racism would not be tolerated.
"In 1995, there were racial wars going on on this campus; it was really a bad situation. Now we proudly boast we have no majority population," Carroll said.
Indeed, roughly 30 percent of Benedictine's students are Muslims, he said -- unusual for a Catholic institution.
"We are a beacon for what a diversified institution looks like in the 21st century," he said.
Carroll also has overseen a period of enrollment growth from 1,400 students in 1995 to between 10,000 and 11,000 now. He helped launch a Benedictine program in China that now has five class sites as well as a program in Vietnam with three sites. The university's growth also has extended to create campuses in Springfield and in Mesa, Arizona.
Challenges during Carroll's tenure included the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and the recession in 2007 and 2008, he said. Both times Carroll said the university responded by offering free tuition for those in need, creating a program for firefighters after Sept. 11 and waiving tuition for unemployed people during the recession.
"When you hit a challenge or an obstacle, that's when you get to grow the institution," Carroll said.
In 2010, the university attracted controversy when its Springfield campus offered a lesbian educator a different position after her wedding announcement ran in a newspaper. She declined to take the new post.
Benedictine in 2013 briefly banned alcohol in on-campus housing, but Carroll said he challenged students to come up with a policy to allow responsible drinking by students who are 21 or older, and they did. A couple of months after alcohol was banned in September 2013, students of age were allowed to drink on campus again if they go through a licensing process.
"That has resolved wonderfully," Carroll said. "This is about learning responsible drinking."
During Carroll's final year at Benedictine, the school plans to open the Daniel L. Goodwin Hall of Business, which is expected to drive further increases in enrollment as faculty develop a new curriculum for the digital age.
Diversity and growth have been the hallmarks of Carroll's Benedictine career, but he said he's not done working in higher education.
"This is not a retirement for me," he said. "I would like to help independent, private institutions that are struggling with loss of enrollment and revenues."
Carroll said he will play a minimal role as the provost, the chairman of the board of trustees and a national search firm seek the next president of the place that kept him on board 10 years longer than he expected.
"Benedictine has allowed me to do all the things I've always wanted to do," Carroll said. "Everything is good, we're fiscally sound, enrollment is going up. We're doing well -- what better time to pass it on?"