RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Tech President Charles Steger Jr., who led the institution through a period of great change and faced both criticism and praise for his leadership during a 2007 mass shooting, has died, the university announced Monday. He was 70.
Steger, a Virginia Tech graduate who spent most of his professional career at the university, died Sunday evening at his home in Blacksburg, the university said in a statement Monday morning. A cause of death was not provided.
Steger’s family notified the university of his death, Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski said.
During his time as the university’s 15th president, from 2000 to 2014, Virginia Tech increased its enrollment, raised more than $1 billion in private funding, formed a school of biomedical engineering, created a public-private school of medicine, and joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, according to the university’s news release.
Steger also led the university in the aftermath of the April 16, 2007, massacre, when a gunman killed 32 faculty members and students. It was, at the time, the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history.
“He cared deeply for Virginia Tech and courageously led the Hokie Nation through a terrible tragedy,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement about Steger. “His leadership in Virginia changed the landscape of higher education, and his strategic vision propelled Virginia Tech to be one of the finest research institutions in the world.”
While Steger drew praise as a steady hand after the shooting, he also faced blistering criticism from the parents of shooting victims and others for not warning the campus sooner that the shooter had killed two students in a residence hall.
More than two hours after the residence hall shooting, when an alert was issued, gunman Seung-Hui Cho killed 30 more students and faculty members at a classroom building before turning a gun on himself as police closed in.
Steger defended his actions and resisted calls to resign.
“We did the best we could knowing what we knew at the time,” he told The Associated Press in an interview in 2013, when he announced his retirement.
Larry Hincker, a retired longtime associate vice president for university relations at Virginia Tech, worked closely with Steger, including during the massacre.
Steger was a nice man who also “had a steely resolve about him, a very steely resolve that said that we’re going to move forward,” Hincker said.
“He saw the long-term goal, and I think it was that steely resolve that helped us get through those dark days.”
Steger received bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and a Ph.D at Virginia Tech. He left a private-sector career in 1976 to pursue his passion for teaching at Virginia Tech, according to the news release. He served as a faculty member, college dean, acting vice president for public service and then vice president for development and university relations before becoming president in 2000.
The university said Steger is survived by his wife of 48 years, Janet, and a number of other family members.