Later this morning, all eyes will be on the James Madison University Convocation Center as JMU marks the changing of the guard in its leadership with great pomp and circumstance.
Jonathan R. Alger will be inaugurated today as the sixth President of James Madison University, capping off a week of celebrations on the eve of the 262nd birthday of the man for whom the school is named.
Mr. Alger has led the university since July 1, coming most recently from Rutgers University, where he served as Senior Vice President and General Counsel at the State University of New Jersey. He brings an impressive resume and an outsider’s perspective to a school that has grown to great prominence in higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia over the past several decades.
The new President has spent much of his first year on a listening tour, fanning out across the community and the country to hear what alumni and other stakeholders think about the university. And, as Emily Sharrer reported earlier this week in the Daily News-Record, input from the tour will feed into a strategic planning process to set the course for the next several years. The path to this blueprint for the future will be “overseen by the Madison Future Commission, a group of more than 150 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members.”
President Alger has taken the reigns at both an exciting and challenging time for James Madison University and higher education in general. JMU has experienced great growth in the past few decades, and decisions will need to be made as to what future expansions will take place. Initial indications are that future growth will be much more targeted.
Funding for higher education remains a great challenge, and the new President faces a faculty and staff that is looking for greater financial rewards in coming years than have been offered over the past several.
On the heels of a successful fundraising campaign for its centennial, JMU still lags most schools in the size of its endowment and the level of support from alumni, and Mr. Alger will need to map out a plan for greater success in that arena. At many large universities, the president is the de-facto fundraiser in chief, and while that has not been the case in the past here at JMU, the pressure will mount during his tenure.
The men’s basketball team delivered the first gift of inaugural week this past Monday, winning the Colonial Athletic Assocation championship and earning the team’s first NCAA bid in 19 years. Moving forward, Mr. Alger will need to decide what resources to dedicate to athletics. Will the football team make the leap to Division 1? Will JMU put significant money into a new facility to replace the one in which he will be inaugurated later this morning?
JMU remains a driving force in the local economy, and many area non-profits simply would not exist without the support of JMU students and staff. The service culture at JMU is too often overlooked for the great asset it is to our community.
Clearly, the challenges of running a major university like JMU are significant, but so too are the opportunities. Later this morning, Jonathan R. Alger will be celebrated in the glory of a ceremony that has only been held six times in 105 years, and then he will return to the mission at hand
We congratulate him on this important day and wish him all the best for future success.