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Blackboard CEO Chasen To Step Down

Blackboard President, CEO, and Co-Founder Michael Chasen said he'll resign from the company at the end of the year. Blackboard has already chosen Chasen's replacement, Jay Bhatt, a corporate executive from outside the ed tech realm.

Chasen helped found Blackboard with Matt Pittinsky back in 1997. During his tenure, by Blackboard's account, Chasen "oversaw the company's rapid growth from just a handful of employees and a few clients to a workforce of over 3,000 that now serves tens of thousands of clients worldwide. Chasen also oversaw the successful completion of more than 20 acquisitions and the company's transition back to private ownership in 2011 after its acquisition by Providence Equity Partners for $1.7 billion. In the last year Chasen has led a number of strategic initiatives including the merger with Edline, a leading provider of complementary K-12 technology solutions, and the launch of a new focus on open source supported by the acquisitions of Moodlerooms and NetSpot."

His tenure, however, was not without controversy. In 2006, Blackboard found itself embroiled in a legal and public relations battle with the education and software community when it launched a campaign to protect a patent for technologies that were already in common use in learning management software. As one of its first acts, Blackboard sued rival Desire2Learn, winning an injunction and forcing that company to release a new version of its flagship LMS and pay $3 million in damages. Feeling their own works threatened, open source developers, supported by the Software Freedom Law Center, pushed to have Blackboard's patent revoked. In an effort to mollify those developers, Blackboard pledged not to assert its patent rights against any open source technologies, including such technologies that found their way into commercial software. By 2007, the United States Patent and Trademark Office had agreed to reexamine the claims in Blackboard's patents. In 2008, it rejected several of those claims. And in 2009, the patent was finally overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

In a blog post today, Ray Henderson, former head of product strategy at Angel Learning and current president of Blackboard Learn, a division of Blackboard, acknowledged Chasen's occasional controversies but said that the lessons learned from those experiences have brought the company a "more open, more transparent, and ... healthier balance of ambition and humility."

He added: "Michael's legacy is to leave us mildly paranoid but battle tested. And on behalf of all of us that will remain at our posts to continue the evolution of Blackboard, we sincerely thank him for his good challenges and the confidence he's produced in us about taking on the future together."

Today, in an open letter to the education community, Chasen said he will spend the coming months ensuring a smooth leadership transition.

"It's been an amazing experience. I am extremely proud of the work we've done to date, and I'm excited about the bright future of Blackboard," Chasen wrote. "After starting out as a pioneer in e-learning, we've expanded the company's vision for supporting clients. We now offer a range of products and services to support education needs at all levels: from commercial to open source and from K-12 to higher education and beyond. And we will continue to make big investments in the next generation of solutions for education."

Chasen will be replaced by Jay Bhatt, president and CEO of Progress Software.

"Michael has done a wonderful job in creating and growing Blackboard, and the leadership position he created for Blackboard was the primary reason Providence Equity Partners was attracted to the company and acquired it last year," said Steve Alesio, chairman of Blackboard's board of directors, in a prepared statement. "We are fortunate to have Jay, with his exceptional experience in the software industry and track record of innovation and leadership, join us to lead Blackboard into its next chapter of growth. He shares Blackboard's commitment to excellence, and we are excited to work with him to continue to innovate and provide top quality software and solutions to the rapidly evolving education space."

Chasen did not cite a particular reason for his departure.

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