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In his last Madison message, Linwood H. Rose (‘12H) reflects on his own Madison Experience.
By Linwood H. Rose (‘12H), President
‘What has been most enjoyable? ... I derive the most joy from the confidence in knowing that we have never lost our way.’ — Linwood H. Rose
It is 5:30 Monday morning. Yes, it is early, but I am usually up and at the desk with a cup of coffee at this time of day. It is not so much a characteristic of a driven executive as it is a product of the changes in one’s body clock after 60 years. I will be speaking to 1,400 prospective students and their parents at our Choices program in the Convocation Center at 9 a.m. today. It is one of my favorite opportunities to share the Madison message. Everyone is happy.
This Choices program is a near-final opportunity for those students who have been accepted in early action to visit the campus one more time so they can make an informed decision about whether they will attend JMU. There is one inch of white snow blanketing all of the grass and trees. It will be a beautiful day!
My Choices remarks don’t require too much additional preparation, so I will use this morning’s quiet to begin my final column for Madison magazine. In these last months before I surrender the “chain of office,” I am often asked what I found most enjoyable about being president of this great university.
When asked that question, before responding, I first consider the person inquiring. Does she really mean enjoyable, or might she mean what has been most gratifying: witnessing a first-generation Centennial Scholar graduate with honors; or most rewarding: reducing the student-to-faculty ratio to under 16:1; or most inspiring: learning of our student volunteers’ work in post-Katrina New Orleans; or most significant: successfully completing our first capital campaign; or the most satisfying: the Phi Beta Kappa recognition; or the most exciting: winning the national championship in football; or the most fulfilling: observing the engaged student faces in Dr. Mark Facknitz’s literature class; or the most pleasurable: watching the Marching Royal Dukes in all their glory at the Macy’s Day Parade. You probably get my point. Precision is important in answering this question, because there are so many benefits to this job as Madison’s president.
But back to the original question — what has been most enjoyable? That is really pretty easy for me. I derive the most joy from the confidence in knowing that we have never lost our way. Not so easy when we have grown by 5,600 students since 1998, while adding almost 800 new full-time faculty and staff members. Not to mention those additional faculty and staff members who have been hired to fill retirement vacancies.
In spite of all of these changes in personnel, I think that we have not only maintained the “JMU Way,” we have actually strengthened it. We have more collaboration across academic disciplines and among administrative divisions than ever before. Judging from our student satisfaction numbers and our admissions applications, students feel better about wearing the Purple and Gold than at any time in our history.
As we have attracted even more highly qualified faculty members to our position openings over the years, there has always been the fear that the new professors might bring a stronger commitment to their own scholarly work than to their students. Our fear, or at least concern, may well have been appropriate, but the reality is that we are drawing new professors to our campus who want to work in the Madison environment, who desire close associations with students, who go beyond instruction to mentor and inspire, who view their work not as a job, but as a calling. Consider the accounting faculty as an example. JMU has the highest first-time pass rate for the CPA exam than any other institution in the nation. Obviously, such outcomes are dependent upon superlative instruction, but I would argue that our students’ performance is equally driven by the personal attention and hands-on guidance of those faculty members.
If you visit the fountain plaza in front of Burruss Hall, you will find the names of retired professors etched in concrete pavers. For someone who does not know these individuals, well, they will see a brick; but, when I look at those etched names in cement blocks I see faces — the faces of many faculty members who established the foundation and culture of the modern JMU. The faces of Pat Bruce, Carter Lyons, Kay Arthur, Clive Hallman, Dennis Robison, Julius Roberson, Frank Luth, Richard Whitman, Bijan Sadaatmand, Rex Fuller, Ben DeGraff, Esther and Jerry Minskoff, John Woody, Greg Versen, Cynthia Gilliatt, Joe Estock, Charles Dubenezic, Carl Harter, Steve and Kay Knickrehm, and Crystal Theodore to name just a few. These are the people who lifted us up and helped us become the university we are today. I know that they are, or would be, extremely proud of what has been constructed atop the strong foundation they and others established.
A new leader has now been selected. Jon Alger joins James Madison University as our sixth president in July. I am confident not only in Jon’s abilities, but in his values. He will bring his own talents, skills, perspectives and personality to be sure. But, having met and visited with him on a number of occasions during these transition months I know that he shares our commitment to students and to their development as engaged citizens. He admires our nurturing and friendly campus culture. I hope that you will give him the same support and encouragement that you have shared with me. I know it made my job much easier, and I expect that he will be deeply appreciative.
I said on the occasion of my inauguration in 1999 that this was the best presidency in America, and now after almost 13 years I can validate that I was right in my initial assessment. You have made it so!