Donald Farish, the Rowan University president credited with leading the state school through a wide range of improvement projects, announced Friday he will step down when his contract expires in 2012.

The disclosure, made at an open campus meeting, came as rumors have been swirling around the Glassboro campus about a growing divide between Farish and the board of trustees. Farish, in his address, acknowledged the rumors but said he was not being forced to resign.

In an interview after the meeting, Farish, who was appointed as the university's sixth president in 1998, said he felt 14 years was a long-enough term.

"It's time for somebody else to come in. I'm not a believer in 'president for life,' " said Farish, who has degrees in law and science.

Of the trustees, he said: "I have not felt I can't work with the board. I have many supporters on the board."

Farish said he would have made his announcement later in the year, but thought the rumors were becoming too distracting. "I needed to get in front of this thing," he said.

University sources said at least some trustees wanted the board to have a more direct hand in governing and, in tough economic times coupled with years of reductions in state aid, more financial oversight. Approval of the university's budget was held up this year, causing some in the campus community to speculate that trouble might be afoot.

Several trustees who were called for comment did not respond Friday.

Farish, who is paid $300,000 a year, has been credited by many with substantially developing the university, including improving and adding to its physical plant, facilities, and student body.

In addition to the major campus buildings and additional student housing already constructed, there are plans for new athletic facilities, a technology park, and more student housing. Farish has worked with the Glassboro community in planning redevelopment in the municipality. Rowan, in partnership with Cooper University Medical Center, plans to open a medical school in Camden.

Multiple university employees acknowledged they had heard about conflict between Farish and board members.

"I don't totally understand where the tension is coming from," said Ed Streb, professor and chair of the communications studies department and a former president of the Rowan University Senate.

University spokesman Jose Cardona acknowledged that tight economic times and the university's ambitions to thrive had led to "different thoughts on how to proceed," but did not characterize those differences as tensions.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or rgiordano@phillynews.com.