In May, President Thomas announced that he would be ending his term of service to the university at the close of the 2015–16 academic year. In this essay, he explains why.

“It’s time.”

When I am asked what made me decide to make next year my final year as Puget Sound’s 13th president, I usually end my explanation with that phrase. “It’s time.”

They are difficult conversations, no matter how many times I have them because, in many ways, I cannot yet imagine a time when I am not in this job. Nothing in my life has given me a greater sense of fulfillment or meaning than being Puget Sound’s president, working with an incredibly talented and dedicated team for this remarkable place with such inspiring students and such a compelling mission. What will get me up in the morning after next year? What will keep me awake at night? What vision will motivate me? These questions genuinely trouble me. They even keep me awake at night. That’s right. I am actually staying awake at night, worrying about what will keep me awake at night.

But sometimes, you know in your gut: “It’s time.”

Of course, several rational factors went into the decision: The finishing of a successful capital campaign. The completion of our 10-year strategic plan and the achievement of its key goals. The realization and build-out of a vision for campus development that we conceived at the beginning of my time here. And yet, there is still so much more work to do. Huge challenges still facing higher education. Exciting opportunities to pursue in shaping the future. Big battles to win with much at stake. I am not out of ideas or ambitions for Puget Sound by any means. I’ve got a million of them. But it’s been 12 years since I arrived at Puget Sound. At what point is it time for someone with a new perspective, a new vision, and a new set of experiences to help us imagine what is possible? Ultimately, I didn’t so much know the answer, as much as I began to feel that it was getting to be about that time.

This reminds me of the book I am reading right now about time and how we think about it: The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time, by Jimena Canales. The book itself is about a particularly resonant moment in time, the evening of April 6, 1922, at the Société française de philosophie in Paris, when the great young physicist Albert Einstein and the distinguished philosopher Henri Bergson staged a dramatic and historic public debate about the nature of time. Two Nobel Prize winners, one of the most famous young physicists of his day, and the other the most celebrated and influential philosopher. Kind of like an intellectual heavyweight championship of the world.

For Einstein, we know, time and space were continuous, inherently interwoven, on an inseparable continuum in what we now call space-time. Space-time does not evolve; it simply exists on a line that is itself timeless. There is no such thing as “now,” no division between past and future. Time is created purely out of space. Our perceptions of time’s duration may differ, but those differences are based on our relation to space and the objects in it to our movement's velocity through space. Space-time is—it’s not becoming anything other than what it already is and always was, a perpetual simultaneity. It’s a quantitative thing, and Einstein can show you the math.

Bergson, on the other hand, sought to “un-mix” time and space and saw time as something qualitative that evolved, unfolded, and was subject to change. He distinguished between “duration” (“lived time,” the way we experience it, which he regarded as “real” time) and the mechanistic time of science and physics (Einstein’s orientation). He believed the latter was a misperception based upon the superimposition of spatial concepts onto time, which becomes a substitute for the “real” thing: duration, the way we live in time, and how time lives in us. For Bergson, duration has a lot to do with consciousness, with the multiplicity of memories and feelings and intuitions we bring to our experience, which enables us to have sympathy—the ability to thrust ourselves and our own feelings and memories into something else, and ultimately into the thoughts, feelings, and conditions of someone else to produce action and change the course of time.

Don’t worry; I won’t wade any deeper into those murky waters. I know I am already way over my head. But according to the book, the battle that night was major. Changed everything. And it made me think harder about what I really mean when I say, “It’s time.” I approach the time I have left before the changing of the guard happens a year from now.

As I look to the year ahead, I am visited by memories, feelings, intuitions. This part of my experience of time is very “real,” in the Bergsonian sense. One memory that has made repeated appearances is the echoing of phrases from Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” which formed the foundation of my inaugural address, delivered in Memorial Fieldhouse in the spring of my first year as president. The situation: Ulysses returns from the epic battles of the Trojan War, experiencing equally epic adventures on his daunting journey home, only to daringly and brilliantly retake his throne in Ithaca, which has been seized by others in his absence. When he completes that job, he begins to reflect on his time on earth, what he has accomplished, and what might still be before him. He feels as if time is leaving him behind. And yet, Ulysses is also convinced, there’s still time: “Some noble work of note may yet be done,” he insists, rallying his colleagues: “Come, my friends, ’tis is not too late to seek a newer world.”

Ulysses is also convinced that a new time and era have come for Ithaca. Its noble work must now continue and thrive under the new leadership of his discerning son, Telemachus, who will capably assume the scepter Ulysses leaves behind as he pursues his impulse to “follow knowledge like a sinking star.” Ulysses understands that time is different for Ithaca than it is for him: While time exacts its toll upon him, “every hour” is always “the bringer of new things” for Ithaca. During Reunion, I had a moment a few weeks ago that brought this notion home when a parade of young, impressive, and inspiring alumni visited campus. Our university’s time is on a continuum from its origins into infinity, with new things always before us, living in an eternal present under the eyes and direction of a long line of loyal leaders young and old, whose time is deeply interwoven with this particular place on the earth. Even as the campus sees dramatic changes over time, it always remains new and ever the same. Timeless.

My particular time, however, necessarily has a “duration,” a beginning and an end, even as it is also inextricably blended with Puget Sound’s. “I am a part of all that I have met,” as Ulysses put it. As I focus on my 13th and final year as the college’s 13th president, this perspective issues a powerful challenge: How will we best use the time before us to do something truly noble? Key priorities are in our sights: Promising experiential learning developments that have been taking place among our faculty must move boldly forward. With the campaign complete, we will launch the “next chapter” in our engagement with alumni, parents, and friends, building on the impressive momentum and investment in the university they developed during the campaign. We just started construction on a new athletics and aquatics center that we will finish by next August—the final project in the first phase of our 20-year campus master plan designed to integrate a new south campus with the historic core seamlessly.

We are expanding our thinking and strengthening our resolve—through our enrollment initiatives, curricular innovations, campus programs, and more. And we are addressing the most challenging issues in higher education today: access, affordability, and building a truly inclusive community that advances the hopes and dreams of promising students from all walks of life. It’s time.

But what will ultimately make our efforts lasting and significant? What will transform these objectives into “noble work of note?” It will be how we do them, the ways we invest ourselves in them and each other, how our actions both emerge out of what came before and forge a path into a new and unimagined future. It will be the degree to which we can thrust ourselves and our own feelings and memories into something else this community of learners can become. And ultimately into the thoughts, feelings, and conditions of someone else—the students who have and will come here for a life-transforming experience in “real-time.”

It’s never too late to do something new and meaningful, Ulysses notes at once to himself and his city, even as he sees the future drawing him away from Ithaca. When he says, we have been changed “by time and fate” and asserts, in the end, his own determination to continue “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” what he is beginning to feel at that moment about his own life and his beloved Ithaca is becoming increasingly clear: “It’s time” for both of them. And whether you are Ulysses or Telemachus, a physicist or a philosopher, what is equally clear is that the end is always just the beginning.