Jonathan Alger became the 6th president of James Madison University (JMU) on July 1, 2012.  Under his leadership, this public comprehensive university in Virginia with approximately 22,000 students developed a bold new vision to be "the national model of the engaged university:  engaged with ideas and the world," and a strategic plan focused on engaged learning, community engagement, and civic engagement.  This plan has included the development of ambitious new programs and initiatives across the institution, such as the Valley Scholars Program (for first-generation students from public schools in the region), the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement (which provides national as well as institutional leadership), the Economic Development Council (to support regional economic growth), the Madison Trust (to provide philanthropic support for innovative projects), the Engagement Fellows (a public service year program for recent college graduates), the comprehensive Task Force on Racial Equity, and a strategic partnership with the Republic of Kosovo among many others. 

JMU has evolved significantly under President Alger's leadership, developing new undergraduate and graduate programs as well as many significant new and renovated buildings (e.g., for the life sciences, health and behavioral studies, business, history, residence life, dining, and athletics).  In 2022, JMU was reclassified as an R2 national research university under the Carnegie Classifications.  Its endowment has more than doubled, and the institution surpassed its stretch goal to raise over $251 million in the comprehensive Unleashed campaign to support the university's vision.  The university has received the highest level of autonomy under state law based on its bond rating and overall management, and has also been recognized with the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement.  In 2022, JMU also transitioned to the Sun Belt Conference and the highest level of Division I Football.

Career Highlights and Achievements

Prior to coming to JMU, Alger served as senior vice president and general counsel at Rutgers University, where he provided strategic leadership on a variety of issues and established a comprehensive compliance program.  He had previously worked as assistant general counsel at the University of Michigan, where he played a key leadership role in the university's efforts in two landmark Supreme Court cases on diversity and admissions and coordinated one of the largest amicus brief coalitions in Supreme Court history.  Earlier in his career he worked in the national office of the American Association of University Professors on issues such as academic freedom, shared governance, tenure, and due process.  He also served for several years in the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, where he was the point person on the development and implementation of national policies on race-conscious financial aid, racial harassment, and free expression.  He began his career as an associate in the Labor and Employment Section of the international law firm of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius.

Scholarship and Teaching

Alger is a nationally recognized scholar and speaker on higher education policy and law, and has given hundreds of presentations across the United States and abroad on a wide range of topics.  He has published numerous articles and has done significant editorial work for scholarly journals and publications such as The Journal of College and University Law and The Law of Higher Education (the leading treatise in the field).  Alger received the American Council on Education Council of Fellows/Fidelity Investments Mentor Award in 2021 for his contributions to enhancing the diversity and capacity of future leaders of American higher education.  A national leader in the field of civic engagement in higher education, Alger also received the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge Standout Campus President Award in 2019 and chairs that organization's Presidents Council.  He has co-taught a leadership seminar in JMU's Honors College and has previously taught graduate and undergraduate courses at Rutgers and Michigan in law, higher education, public policy, and diversity.

Boards, Memberships and Service

President Alger has been recognized as a leader by his peers nationally in many contexts. He currently serves on the national board of directors for the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), as chair of the Association of Governing Boards' Council of Presidents, and on the NCAA's Division I Infractions Appeals Committee.  He also serves on the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which plays a key role in national conversation and reform on these issues.  Alger is a member of the Council on Competitiveness, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the national leadership council for More Perfect (focused on the health of democracy).  At the state level, he serves as a board member of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, the Virginia Business Higher Education Council and the Region 8 Virginia Growth and Opportunity Regional Council.  He was previously appointed by the Governor to the Virginia Complete Count Commission (focused on the 2020 Census), and has served as the chair of 4VA multiple times (a partnership of 8 Virginia universities for course sharing and redesign, collaborative research, and degree completion).

Alger is past chair of the Board of Directors of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, which has honored him with Life Membership and the Distinguished Service Award.  He has also served on the American Council on Education Board of Directors (2018-21), the Campus Compact Board of Directors (chair, 2021-22), Division I Board of Directors for the NCAA (2014-16), as chair of the Colonial Athletic Association board (2016-18), and as chair of the Virginia Council of Presidents (2018-19).  He is a past member of the American Bar Association’s Accreditation Committee (which oversees the accreditation of the nation’s law schools), and has led or served on numerous accreditation site visit teams for major universities and law schools.  He was a public member for several years on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Advisory Council at the National Institutes of Health, which provides advice and oversight on grant applications to support biomedical research and research training activities.  He has also participated on national advisory committees for many different organizations (such as the Association of American Universities, College Board, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), and has chaired national conferences on diversity, discrimination, civic engagement, technology, and academic freedom.

Personal History and Family

Alger was born and raised outside Rochester, N.Y. He earned his B.A. with High Honors and Phi Beta Kappa from Swarthmore College (political science major, history minor and public policy concentration), and his J.D. with Honors from Harvard Law School.  His wife, Mary Ann, serves in many volunteer capacities at JMU and in the community and has a B.S. from Auburn University and an M.B.A. from the University of Miami (FL).  Her extensive business background includes experience with university technology commercialization and start-up companies. The Algers have a daughter named Eleanor, who holds degrees from Miami University (OH) and the Savannah College of Art and Design.  The JMU president has sung with acclaimed choral groups that have toured internationally, made professional recordings, and performed on national television.  His other interests include travel, history, tennis, hiking, and coin collecting.  All three family members are avid fans of college sports and arts programs, and the family has also been involved in numerous community and charitable organizations.

Last updated: July 2023

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