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Madison inaugurates sixth president, Jonathan R. Alger
With all the pomp and pageantry worthy of such an occasion, James Madison University inaugurated Jonathan R. Alger as the sixth president in its 105-year history during a ceremony Friday morning at the JMU Convocation Center that drew thousands of students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, community members, local officials and state dignitaries.
During his inaugural address, President Alger expressed his gratitude for the vision and leadership of his predecessors, each of whom “opened the doors of opportunity” for generations of Madison students. “Indeed, opening doors has been a theme at this institution ever since our founding,” he said.
Drawing on feedback and experiences from his nationwide listening tour with various stakeholders framed around the simple question “Why Madison?”, President Alger outlined his goals for making JMU the national model for the engaged university in the 21st century and encouraged everyone in the Madison family to “dream big together.”
“We are a community committed to learning, with a conviction that all people are interconnected,” Alger said, adding that this combination of learning and engagement is captured in JMU’s mission statement to prepare students to be “educated and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives.”
As Madison has evolved from a teacher’s school for women to a liberal arts college to a highly respected comprehensive university, it has held fast to its core values of faculty-student interaction, teaching and scholarship, interdisciplinary collaboration and a strong tradition of public service, Alger said.
Going forward, President Alger highlighted the areas in which JMU will invest its energy and resources, beginning with the Madison Future Commission, a group of 150 faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the Board of Visitors who will shape a new strategic plan that will guide JMU through the year 2020. “This process will include a hard look at the serious realities we face, including new educational technologies, changing demographics, our funding model and issues of access and affordability,” he said.
Alger also emphasized the launch of a new initiative, “The Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action.” Beginning this summer, all incoming JMU students will be taught a set of ethical reasoning skills that they can apply in their personal, professional and civic lives. This same set of skills will be infused in General Education courses, academic majors, residence halls and other co-curricular experiences.
In addition, as the university named for the father of the U.S. Constitution and an advocate for the civil society, JMU will strive to model the kind of civil discourse needed for a well-functioning democratic republic, Alger said. “As a society, too often we seem unable to have thoughtful discussions on the major challenges we face. This must change.” Toward that end, JMU will reinvigorate its relationship with Montpelier, the Madison family estate in nearby Orange County, to bring more attention to the life and legacy of James Madison and his wife, Dolley.
“Imagine the societal effect of graduating over 4,000 enlightened citizens annually who possess ethical reasoning skills and understand the founding principles of Madison,” Alger said. “We can be that institution.”
Echoing concerns raised during the listening tour, Alger said JMU will also commit itself to increasing diversity on campus, not just in race, ethnicity and gender, but also in socioeconomic background, age, religion and disability.
Finally, JMU will partner with the surrounding community to ensure that its programs and services are widely available, and will strengthen its culture of philanthropy, beginning with the upcoming comprehensive fundraising campaign. “We must develop new revenue sources if we are to succeed on the national and international level to which we aspire,” he said.
Elected officials, former colleagues and members of the JMU family offered Alger their congratulations and well wishes Friday.
“This is a very special place,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell, whose daughter, Rachel, graduated from JMU in 2010. “It has always been, and will always be, not only a place of academic excellence, but also one of student-centered focus. You have built a warm learning environment where young people from all over Virginia and all over the country want to come to learn from excellent faculty. They feel cared for and appreciated and loved and they know that people want them to succeed.
“President Alger understands the enormous potential and opportunity for this university to grow and expand in its programs and create new access to the American Dream,” McDonnell said.
Kathleen Curry Santora, chief executive of the National Association of Colleges and University Attorneys, of which Alger served as past president of the board of directors, called JMU’s new leader “one of the best listeners I’ve ever met. …. He listens, he is accessible and he cares deeply about the people with whom he works. And his actions are informed by values.”
Richard McCormick, president emeritus at Rutgers University, said as the author of the Supreme Court brief that would become Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s historic opinion on universities’ use of affirmative action, Alger has helped ensure that “the doors to colleges remain open to men and women for whom they might otherwise be closed.”
Community leaders Ted Byrd, the mayor of Harrisonburg, and Fred Eberly, chairman of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors, also offered their congratulations to President Alger, as did members of the JMU family, including Alumni Association President Jamie Jones Miller (’99); Matt Klein, president of the Student Government Association; Richard and Tina Turner of the JMU Parents Council; David McGraw, speaker of the Faculty Senate; and Christina Landes on behalf of JMU staff.
“So let us go forward from here confident with the knowledge that we can accomplish great things together,” Alger concluded. “The James Madison University of the future will not be identical to what we see today. We must be prepared to understand and adapt to a rapidly changing world. But we should also recognize that we are well positioned for this moment. Let’s take time to reflect on what is most important in our lives, and let’s dream big together.”
Jim Heffernan (’96)
March 15, 2013
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