LOWELL — Martin Meehan said he's staying put as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, after Jack Wilson announced he is stepping down as president of the five-campus system.

Wilson, 64, has been president since Sept. 2, 2003, and will step down June 30, 2011.

"Each day, I relish the opportunity and challenge that leading this university presents me," the former congressman said in a statement.

"In many ways, it is my dream job. Being the chancellor of UMass Lowell is, and will continue to be, my focus," said Meehan, who has been chancellor in Lowell for three years.

"During that time, significant progress has been made to revitalize and advance the important mission of the institution, but a great deal of work also remains unfinished," he said in a statement.

UMass Lowell this spring is breaking ground on a technologies building, the first new academic facility since Meehan studied there more than 30 years ago. Another new academic building on the south campus is being planned for the following year.

UMass Lowell also has bought a downtown hotel and Tsongas Arena as part of its expansion.

Meehan praised Wilson for his work at the University of Massachusetts over the last six years. "The University of Massachusetts is a greater institution because of President Jack Wilson's leadership," Meehan said in a statement.

Wilson said in a statement that he wants to focus on teaching and advancing research.¬ He is a physicist and said he "will consider future opportunities inside and outside of the university."

During his tenure, Wilson said he had a number of accomplishments, such as spending $1.3 billion rebuilding its infrastructure; increasing the university system's endowment from $146 million to $454 million; and seeing student enrollment grow by 14.5 percent.

In a letter to trustees about his departure, he told them there also were challenges due to the lagging economy.

"These challenges have inhibited our ability to rebuild the faculty and to provide the faculty and staff compensation that is appropriate for fairness and to keep us competitive for top talent," he wrote to trustees. "This must be a high priority for this year and following years."

His contract calls for him to make a declaration about his plans by June 30, 2010.

The UMass presidency is one of the top-paying jobs in state government and its opening will likely touch off a scramble among interested parties.

Wilson received $546,000 in compensation from the university last year, which included a housing allowance and a retirement annuity, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.¬ 

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