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President of Chautauqua Institution to retire this year

The president of the Chautauqua Institution announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of this year.

Tom Becker wrote in a letter posted to the Institution’s website Tuesday that he and his wife “have decided that 2016 will be the final year I will serve as president of Chautauqua Institution. There are a number of personal and organizational reasons for this decision that I would like to share with you.”

This year marks Becker’s 32nd year of service to the Institution, the last 13 as president.

Last week, the Institution’s board of trustees approved $41.5 million in contracts to demolish its 1893 amphitheater and build a replica in its place.

The decision – which ratified a board vote in August that was dependent on affordable bids – will likely further inflame an already divided Chautauqua community.

“We are incredibly excited to be moving forward with a renewed Amphitheater,” Becker said in a statement then. “This is one of the most significant projects in our 142-year history, and a commitment to the future of this institution.”

The planned demolition of the amphitheater has drawn criticism from some Chautauqua homeowners, preservation organizations, theater groups and architectural critics.

Earlier this year, the National Trust for Historic Places listed the amphitheater as one of the nation’s “11 Most Endangered Places.”

Becker wrote in his letter announcing his pending retirement: “I remain convinced that Chautauqua Institution offers our complex and dangerous world a model of assembly and learning that in its practice holds the promise of reasoned and faithful progress for individuals and society at large. And I am confident that the time beyond my service will shine as the finest in our long, rich history. There is much to do during the coming year. I look forward to the many challenges and opportunities 2016 will bring and I look forward to seeing all of you at Chautauqua.”