Montpelier Fall 1999
Rarely can an organization boast that a brand new leader brings both hindsight and foresight to the helm.
JMU, however, can. For 24 years, Linwood H. Rose has been part of its transformation into a comprehensive institution that consistently shows up on the national radar through top rankings in magazines the likes of Money and U.S. News and World Report.
And Rose, JMU's fifth president for just over a year, knows what has gotten it there. "He understands the culture of JMU," says past JMU Alumni Association President Hugh Lantz. "He fits that like a glove. He already understands JMU's strengths and weaknesses. First and foremost, Dr. Rose wants JMU to continue to be a teaching institution with professors actively involved with students on a day-to-day basis."
When Rose came to the presidency last September, he had long recognized that JMU had been riding the crest of two whirl- wind decades of unprecedented growth. It's a phenomenon that had people sensing the university was on the brink of something great. The atmosphere was expectant.
Rose delivered when, president for just three weeks, he articulated what that greatness should be. "We ought to be distinguished as an institution that provides an undergraduate, collegiate experience that is exceeded by no other," he said.
"MIT and Stanford are known as top research institutions, and Wellesley and Amherst are known as top liberal arts institutions," Rose explains. "If you think about the best undergraduate experience, combining the liberal arts experience with professional preparation, there isn't a household name. We ought to be that in this country," he says. "We ought to be the gold standard."
What Rose did was combine two of JMU's strongest existing drawing cards - its student-oriented culture and its teaching-first priority - into one crystalline notion to put and keep JMU's name on the national map.
"What we've talked about is producing a student from JMU who is an educated citizen," Rose says, " … and they become that through a combination of facts and knowledge combined with experiences and relationships with other people. So it's important for us to provide opportunities for students to experience those kinds of models and mentors."
While ascending the summit of the total undergraduate education, Rose is aware that every peak, especially one of greatness, has its downside. It will take measured steps to push to the top.
A year and a half ago, Rose told the presidential search committee that the time for dizzying physical growth is over for JMU.
"Dr. Rose stated that he'd like to step back and concentrate on the refinement of the academic programs to make them better," Lantz says.
Rose explains, "If we are to continue to provide the highest quality education to our students we've got to enhance the resource base because it's just not there now. We're listed constantly as a 'best buy' or one of the 'most efficient institutions' in the Southeast or in the country because we're doing a pretty good job of using the resources we have. We attract very good students and we have a good faculty. But our resource base is thin."
Building that resource base, through increased public and private giving, is a major theme of the Rose presidency, and one of many elements of a multi-pronged strategy as JMU continues its trek to the top.
And while progress must be sure-footed, apparently JMU's next steps need not be slow.
Just days after he was named president, Rose announced the formation of a 70-member Centennial Commission of students, professors, staff members, alumni, parents, donors, business and industry partners, and government stakeholders to work independently to measure and assess the university's state and plan its future. Many threads of the advisory body's recommendations, completed late last spring, are woven into JMU's 10-year plan, culminating in 2008 with the university's 100th birthday.
As the commission worked, Rose launched yet another ambitious plan - to align the university with the intellectual legacy and educational philosophy of its eponym, James Madison. Except for a brief fling during the country's Bicentennial celebration in 1976, it's a connection that had been dormant since Samuel P. Duke presided over the institution's name change to Madison College in 1938 and again since Ronald Carrier presided over the change to James Madison University in 1977.
Last spring Rose created the James Madison Center and forged a partnership with Montpelier, James Madison's ancestral home. The affiliation is natural "because Madison provides an anchor for tradition and intellectual thought and articulation that our students desire to have," Rose says. "The ideas of James Madison are ageless, and his contributions to American society are enormous."
Through the center, the partnership and the university curriculum combined, JMU will provide a multitude of learning opportunities. JMU will promote learning about Madison's contributions; reach out to primary and secondary teachers; offer a required general education course, the American Experience; provide hands-on learning and research opportunities at Montpelier for professors and students through interdisciplinary programs encompassing art, archaeology, history and literature; present collaborative educational programs and exhibits to mark James Madison's 250th birthday; and combine grant application efforts with Montpelier for future programs and projects.
"Mr. Madison attached tremendous importance to education," Rose says. "Throughout his life, he continually made the compelling argument that education is essential to maintain liberty."
It's a philosophy Rose could voice in Richmond as he exercises another of his top priorities - to increase the state's overall investment in higher education and JMU. Rose has also announced closely related priorities - to reveal JMU's accountability to taxpayer scrutiny; to shore up JMU's programs and people with more resources; to enhance athletics; and to dramatically increase private giving to JMU.
Over the last year, Rose backed those intentions with action. He placed an experienced vice president at the helm of a new division for institutional effectiveness; appointed a new vice president of student affairs to enhance the student experience; hired a fund-raising veteran with major campaign experience to head JMU's development efforts; and brought fresh ideas and energy to JMU's athletics programs with the appointments of a new athletics director and football coach.
While those administrators begin to plow new ground, Rose - no stranger to state lobbying - says he'll work with Virginia's other public university and college presidents to increase the state's commitment to higher education. "In recent years other issues have taken a higher priority [in the legislature]," Rose says.
And it's not been good for JMU.
"We receive more total dollars than ever before," Rose acknowledges, but adds, "if you look at the educational general budget, which is the combination of the state taxpayer dollars plus tuition, we are at the very bottom in terms of dollars-per-student of all Virginia's four-year institutions."
In terms of tax dollars only, "we are third from the bottom among the comprehensive and doctoral universities. Only Radford and Longwood are below us," Rose explains. "Our tuition is already one of the lowest in the state."
The effects of that cramped state funding environment are beginning to be seen, Rose says. "What distresses me right now is that some students don't feel as good about their experience at JMU because of the size of their classes, the difficulty in getting into those classes, those kinds of things. As that word gets out to prospective students and their parents, they may opt to go other places. It doesn't happen overnight, but I'm concerned that if we don't give attention to those kinds of things quickly, then it will have an impact on our ratings, on our applicant pool. We won't be regarded as popular a place to be."
Rose wants a return to some kind of enrollment-based funding, which the state abandoned after the 1980s, precisely as the university's already phenomenal growth intensified, putting JMU farther behind as it grew ahead.
While under the current initiative-based funding formulas, JMU has had an amazing track record in getting its initiatives - from enrollment increases to technology and financial aid - approved, the whole funding process "isn't driven by a formula that has a basis in enrollment. So we're working hard to try to get that approach changed, to go back to some rational, planned approach to funding higher education."
Rose sees reason to think that's possible. "Today I think there is a stronger recognition in the legislature that higher education is a vital component of the state's economic viability. We've got to build on that."
While taking on the challenge of increasing and changing state funding, Rose recognizes the need to show evidence of JMU's accountability and wise stewardship of funds and resources.
"We're using the state's money and students' or parents' money, and I think we have an obligation to make sure their money is used well," he says. "In setting up the Division of Institutional Effectiveness, I was trying to say to both internal and external publics that accountability matters here, and we're going to make sure that this institution is a good place to invest their money."
With athletics as with academics, Rose sees a need to build on what's been established while always looking for new peaks to scale. With the hiring of Athletics Director Jeffrey Bourne and Head Football Coach Mickey Matthews, Rose hopes to usher in an era of excitement and success for JMU's athletics program, boost its ability to recruit top student-athletes and build fan enthusiasm.
That means bringing facilities up to par, including Bridgeforth Stadium. "Right now, I'm inclined to favor expansion of our current facility for a number of reasons,"Rose says. "It will prove to be less expensive, we already have a substantial capital investment that has been made, and I like the idea of the facility being located in the heart of campus where it generates excitement and interest among students."
However, "before we build the first seat," Rose says, "the first priority has to be improving support facilities for all sports," like locker rooms, weight rooms, coaches' offices, and academic support programs to ensure athletes' success both on the field and in the classroom.
And although he hasn't ruled out a move to Division I-A football, Rose says "we ought to win and be successful where we are. I love William and Mary as an institution and have the highest regard for it. The same is true for the University of Richmond. But we ought to beat them four out of five years. ... That's what we need to work on right now."