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University of Alabama names 1st woman as permanent president in 181-year history

The University of Alabama's board of trustees voted Thursday to appoint the first permanent woman president in the school's 181-year history.

The board met in an executive session for about an hour before naming current Provost Judy L. Bonner, 65. She's the older sister of U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, and served as interim president before outgoing President Guy Bailey took over in early September.

A native of rural Wilcox County, Bonner has two degrees from Alabama and said she was honored to be its first female chief executive. She said she never dreamed of going anywhere else for her undergraduate degree.

"I love the University of Alabama," said Bonner, who has advanced degrees from Alabama and Ohio State University.

Student government president Matt Calderone said he has worked closely with Bonner, and couldn't think of anyone better for the presidency. He said she's "almost a mother to our university."

"It's the fact she's there day and night," he said.

Bailey announced Wednesday he was resigning after less than two months in the job, citing his wife's health. The two-time Alabama graduate and Alabama native moved back to the state after leaving the presidency at Texas Tech University.

A statement released by the university quoted Bailey as saying he made the decision to step down after "much discussion" with wife Jan Tillery-Bailey.

"My family and I appreciate your understanding and your prayers," Bailey said.

University spokeswoman Deborah Lane said Bailey's wife was "critically ill this summer," but she didn't elaborate on her condition.

A story published four years ago in the Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal described Bailey's wife, a Lubbock native, as a two-time cancer survivor.

Aside from Alabama spending most of the fall as the No. 1 football team, the most notable campus event during Bailey's brief tenure was the administration's decision last month to end all pledging activities by male fraternities amid allegations of hazing at some houses.

The university suspended three current or former members of one fraternity, and another group was forced to suspend all social and new-member activities indefinitely. Six fraternities were cleared of hazing allegations, but officials said administrators were still reviewing Greek-letter groups on campus.

Calderone said he was impressed with Bailey's performance during his eight weeks on campus, where student enrollment this fall was 33,602, but it was difficult to judge his legacy.

"He was still meeting people," Calderone said.

Alabama grew quickly for nine years under Bailey's predecessor Robert Witt, who resigned to become chancellor of the three-campus University of Alabama System in March. With construction and new buildings all over campus, Bonner said she hoped to keep the university moving forward.

"I want to maintain the momentum of the last decade," she said.

Bonner said she emailed her congressman brother seconds after trustees voted to approve her hiring.

"He's 14 years younger. He's more like my child than my brother," she said.

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