President's Welcome Back Message

Duke Pride, Honors and Recognitions, Budget Update

Quad fall


Hello Students, Faculty and Staff,

Welcome to another exciting year at James Madison University. As we embark on the new academic year, let us embrace the spirit of possibility and all that we can accomplish, and the principles of community with an emphasis on unity.

Duke Pride

We extend a warm welcome to the Class of 2021 as they begin their Madison Experience. This new class of first-year students is 4,625 strong from 40 states and 29 different countries.

This class is among our most accomplished ever. Many graduated at the top of their class. Some were all-conference or all-state athletes. Some were class presidents, Eagle Scouts or student leaders. Now they are all Dukes and capable of great things. I am excited to see what the future has in store for the Class of 2021.

2016-17 Recap

The 2016–17 academic year was a terrific one for us. We celebrated many successes. We were named a top Fulbright producer. President and Mrs. Obama recognized us for our community engagement through the Gus Bus. The Gallup Organization confirmed that our alumni have a sense of well-being. We watched as our first class of Engagement Fellows accomplished great things. The Valley Scholars program grew by taking in its fourth cohort. Our debate team returned the Madison Cup to its rightful place here at JMU. We celebrated many student-athlete accomplishments, highlighted by a national championship in football. Oh, and we conferred more than 6,000 degrees throughout the course of the year.

 It really was a great year. But there was no time to rest this summer. I spent some time in Kosovo meeting with our counterparts throughout that country. Our partnership with the Education Ministry there continues to bear fruit. We are humbled and honored to have the opportunity to work with a new nation that has seen so much conflict as it embraces the value of higher education for the promise of a better future.

 I also participated with SGA President Jewel Hurt in the first meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Millennial Civic Engagement. I also participated in a dialogue on free speech in higher education held by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education. These are issues that are vitally important to higher education right now, and I am grateful that JMU is at the table and part of the conversation.

New Senior Leadership

Summer was also a time to say goodbye to dear friends and to welcome some new faces. Provost Jerry Benson stepped down after a 37-year career at JMU. His legacy at JMU will live on even longer. Many of you joined with me at the end of last semester to wish him well in this new phase of his life. Luckily for us, Jerry hasn’t gone far. We look forward to seeing him from time to time.

 I’d like to give a special welcome to Dr. Heather Coltman, our new provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. Dr. Coltman brings a wealth of experience and a new perspective to the university. She is an accomplished concert pianist with more than 30 years as a music educator. Most recently, she served as the dean of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters at Florida Atlantic University. Throughout her career, Dr. Coltman has demonstrated a dedication to creating and sustaining a culture of inclusion and opportunity and a real willingness to embrace and enhance diverse voices and perspectives. We are so excited to have her lead the academic mission of JMU and are looking forward to great things to come.

Dr. Mike Davis has been named executive advisor to the president. Dr. Davis previously served as assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies and the director of the highly successful JMU Debate team. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Syracuse University and his doctorate at the University of Georgia. Dr. Davis replaces Maggie Evans who left for a position as associate vice president of campus living at the College of William and Mary. He will assist the president’s office with communications, planning and special initiatives.

Engagement with Ideas and the World

We continue to progress toward the vision set forth in our strategic plan, “to be the national model of the engaged university: engaged with ideas and the world.”

Part of this process is to advance the legacy of James Madison by preparing individuals to be active and responsible participants in representative democracy.

I am pleased to announce the creation of the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement at JMU. The center will focus on developing, articulating and expanding upon the initiatives already underway at JMU to provide students the tools and skills to participate in the democratic process.

Dr. Abraham Goldberg, a leader in the area of civic education on college and university campuses, arrived on campus last month and will lead this new exciting initiative. Dr. Goldberg has a lot of great ideas to help get the James Madison Center off the ground. I am looking forward to working with him.

Also new this year is the creation of a Virginia chapter of Campus Compact. Campus Compact is a network of higher education institutions committed to advancing the resources available for students to participate in civic engagement activities.

Rollin Johnson has recently joined us to serve as director of the chapter. Mr. Johnson will be based here at JMU but will work with the many other higher education institutions within the commonwealth as well at the Campus Compact national organization.

Our first Madison Vision Series speaker is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 14, at 3:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts. Constitutional scholar Linda Monk will be the featured speaker as we celebrate Constitution Day.

This fall, we welcome our fourth cohort to the Valley Scholars program. As you may know, this program engages youth in Harrisonburg and Rockingham, Augusta and Page counties who show academic promise during their 8th-12th grade years. Through their participation in this college readiness program and acceptance into JMU, they are guaranteed a full-tuition scholarship to JMU when the time comes.

Our new cohort includes 44 students, an increase from three previous groups of 35 students each. The overall GPA has risen with each new cohort.

 Ninety-six percent of Valley Scholars students take honors, Advanced Placement or dual-enrollment classes. Three will start the highly competitive Governor’s School this fall. To date, 104 of the 105 students who earned their way into the program remain engaged.

Purple Star Winners

This August we recognized our faculty and staff winners of the Purple Star Awards. We thank you for your dedication and commitment to this university and our community. The individual winners are listed below:

 • Agency Star — Dawn Knight, Housekeeping, Facilities Management

• Career Achievement — Joe Urgo, Madison Union

• Community Service and Volunteerism — Delo Blough, Center for Global Engagement

• Customer Service — Jill Staley Wade, Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices

• Innovation — Joan Fahrney, Learning Centers

• Teamwork — East Campus Power Plant: Steven MacRae, Kenny Stickley, Thomas Burkholder, Aaron Carper, Cody Warlitner, Deland Morris, Alfred Miller, Randal Alger, Mark Hess, Steve Rains, Glen Smith, Brian Moshier, Reginald Lawson, Homer Whetzel and Dennis Hart

• Workplace Health, Wellness and Safety — Dr. Mary Thompson, English Department

Budget and Record-Breaking Generosity

As many of you know, during the 2016-17 academic year JMU was forced to absorb a $3.2 million reduction in general funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia. We did this without any reductions to the educational mission of the university. Additionally, we were able to fund a 3 percent pay raise for university employees. What most people don’t know is that when the commonwealth decides to give employees a raise, they only give us 47 percent of the cost of the raises. This raise for all of our hard-working faculty and staff is well deserved.

 However, the declining support from the commonwealth and the rising costs of doing business highlight the need for JMU to explore other revenue sources such as private philanthropy. I’m happy to report that 2016-17 was another banner year in that regard. We closed out fiscal year 2017 with a record 21,137 donors who gave a total of $18,035,807 to the university. These gifts, many of which advance student scholarships, faculty development and new learning spaces, are a vital part of achieving the university’s vision of becoming the national model for the engaged university. This is the third year in a row that we have received more than $18 million in private philanthropy to the university. We are grateful to all who recognize JMU’s potential and support our work through their gifts.

Inclusive and Safe Community

The safety and well-being of all members of our community remain our focus as we launch the new academic year. We remain steadfastly dedicated to creating a welcoming, inclusive and safe community for everyone, especially our students as they embark on the next phase of their educational journeys, at a time when our society needs their courageous and inspired leadership more than ever. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to read my statement on the tragedy and violence that occurred recently in Charlottesville. As the academic year gets underway, we will provide a variety of opportunities for our community to come together to discuss issues of diversity, inclusion and civil discourse.  For instance, the Center for Faculty Innovation has scheduled a faculty roundtable, “Monumental Change: Campus Climate and Teaching Post-Charlottesville,” for 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5, in 405 Taylor Hall.  And we sill soon announce a campus community task force charged with making recommendations on inclusion and civil discourse.

New Facilities and Construction Update

As you know, we are always improving our campus facilities. This summer, we finished a new annex to the University Services Building on the site of the former Rockingham Coop building. The annex will be used to house many of our Facilities Management operations.

 The senior leadership team has temporarily relocated to Wilson Hall while Alumnae Hall gets some much-needed attention to address the building’s lack of accessibility features. The work to Alumnae Hall should be completed by December.

 Also actively in progress is the replacement of Gibbons Hall – our beloved dining hall near the Bluestone section of campus. Construction on the facility is on schedule for an August 2018 opening. The new dining hall will house national brand eateries on the lower level, a traditional cafeteria-style eatery on the second level and banquet space on the top level.

 A number of projects are in the planning phase and, once started, will add up to a full-scale building boom:

 The College of Business is set to receive a much-needed addition to create a new learning complex that will include renovation of Zane Showker Hall. A new building will be built on the current site of Chandler Hall and will be connected with Showker Hall. Chandler Hall will be demolished next summer, and construction of the new addition will begin shortly thereafter. The new building will be complete in time for the 2020-21 academic year, with the renovation of Showker Hall to be completed the following year.

 A new 500-bed residence hall will be constructed between the University Recreation Center and University Boulevard near the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum. The facility will be complete for the Fall of 2019.

 The current plan is for ground to be broken in the spring on the new Convocation Center and parking garage at the corner of Carrier Drive and University Boulevard. The much-needed facility will provide competition and practice facilities for our men’s and women’s basketball teams. It will also provide space for many of our academic programs that relate to and support our intercollegiate athletes, such as the athletic training and sport and recreation management programs. The facility will also provide opportunities for trade shows, concerts, commencements and other community gatherings. The project will be ready for use in the Fall of 2020.

 Honors and Recognitions

I am proud of our students for many reasons, but would like to give special mention in this message to William Chapman. Mr. Chapman received Beta Alpha Psi's Medal of Inspiration Award, which is bestowed upon a student who has experienced extreme hardships and demonstrated an unusually high level of success despite that adversity. This award is given by The American Institute of CPAs and includes a $5,000 cash stipend.

 Mr. Chapman is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and performed intelligence and improvised explosive device cleanup missions in Afghanistan. For his service, he was awarded the Honor of the Purple Heart, which commemorates the sacrifices of America's service personnel who are wounded in battle.

 After his tour in the Marine Corps, Mr. Chapman decided to enroll at JMU and begin studying accounting. Today, he is a Dean’s List student and holds multiple leadership positions, tutors other students and volunteers in his local and campus communities. Mr. Chapman is truly an inspiration to all of us.

 Some other recent recognitions and awards include:

• Professor Theresa Clarke and her undergraduate and MBA students once again had a very successful showing in the Google Online Marketing Challenge, including being both Global Winner and Americas winner.

• JMU recently was named one of only five schools to receive the Sustained Excellence in Assessment designation from the Voluntary System of Accountability. The designation is given to colleges and universities that integrate assessment practices across campus, provide evidence of student learning outcomes to stakeholders, utilize assessment results to guide institution decision-making and improve student performance.

• JMU undergraduate Cecelia McKinley won first place in the classical division in the 2017 National Student Auditions held by the National Association of Teachers of Singing. I received a personal message from one of the judges who indicated that Cecelia was the most outstanding performer and talent of the entire competition.

• JMU’s College of Business was recently ranked number one in a list of 100 schools for business and management education research in an article published in the Journal of Education for Business

 • JMU ranked 46th nationally in Time and Money magazine’s list of the “Best Colleges for Your Money.”

 • A recent study found that JMU had the third most highly engaging social media channels among 338 NCAA Division I institutions for the 2016-17 academic year. The report was conducted by a PR firm and measures the engagement (the number of clicks, shares, comments or likes) on content produced by universities and posted to their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. We moved up four spots since being included in the report last year as number seven overall. Also cited as a best practice for social media engagement was JMU’s Giving Day carpool karaoke video.

These are just a few of the many achievements by our talented students, faculty and staff. I look forward to hearing about many more accomplishments and seeing you at upcoming events this fall. Welcome to a new academic year! Go Dukes!


Jonathan R. Alger, President

Published: Monday, August 28, 2017

Last Updated: Monday, October 2, 2017

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