Phillip Davis, the controversial president of Minneapolis Community and Technical College, is leaving to become an associate vice chancellor at the school's umbrella organization, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Davis, who has been president since 1998, has clashed frequently with the college's faculty union, which voted "no confidence" in his leadership in December 2012.

But Steven Rosenstone, chancellor of the MnSCU system, praised Davis as "one of our most experienced campus leaders," in a letter Tuesday announcing his appointment. Davis will head the Campus Service Cooperative, which helps the system's 31 colleges and universities streamline operating costs and share programs.

"We need a proven leader who understands the mission of our colleges and universities," Rosenstone said. He also cited Davis' success in increasing access to "underrepresented students," including programs to help high school students improve college readiness.

Barbara Hager, president of the faculty union, said that Davis had a contentious relationship with faculty members. "I think my membership will be really overjoyed, frankly," she said of Tuesday's announcement. In recent years, she said, about 10 faculty and staff members have filed complaints of racial discrimination against the college, which has nearly 14,000 students.

But Davis, 60, said that despite the union's criticism, his "relationship with the faculty has been actually quite a harmonious one." He also defended the college's record on racial issues, saying it "is really quite extraordinary." He noted that students of color "are now the majority of our students," and that since 2006, "we've doubled the number of faculty of color."

Davis was named president of MCTC in 1998, and briefly left in 2002 to head a community college in Colorado. Weeks later, he changed his mind and returned to his old position. A former police officer, he previously led MnSCU's law enforcement training center. As president, he oversaw the $100 million transformation of the college's facilities in downtown Minneapolis.

In an open letter Tuesday, Davis wrote: "The job has been my life's most extraordinary learning experience."

Hager, an art instructor, said the change in leadership could set a new tone at the college. "This promotion is a good thing for Phil Davis, but it's also a good thing for MCTC," she said. "We are looking for more cooperation with the administration, more respect from the administration."

Hager said that faculty members, who have refused to serve on campus committees since the vote of no confidence, will now resume a more active role, including serving on a panel to choose Davis' successor.

Rosenstone said he plans to name an interim president by September, when Davis steps down.