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Birge To Be Inaugrated As MCLA President

James F. "Jaime" Birge, a former president of Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H., is the next president of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
MCLA President James Birge has been in the position since March 2016.

It’s Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President James Birge’s inauguration day. Birge took office last March, but says he wanted the big day to come during a week full of campus activity.

MCLA President James Birge has been in the position since March 2016.

An extended interview with MCLA President James Birge about his plans for the North Adams school

The permanent job opened up in 2014 when then-MCLA President Mary Grant left after 12 years to head the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

The North Adams school named a replacement who later pulled out of the job, throwing the college into another search.

Birge, the former president of Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, says he opted to have the inauguration at the end of a week full of school activities dedicated to the programs and achievements of students and faculty.

“But I am actually a little bit uncomfortable with that attention on me, so as I had done in New Hampshire, I used the event to leverage focus on the institution,” he says.

And it was a busy week on campus – three sporting events, two admission day previews, an alumni meet and greet, an academic achievement ceremony, an entrepreneurship challenge, an undergraduate research conference and the final day of the Green Living Seminar series.

Birge says that’s exactly the type of school spirit he’s excited to lead.  

“It's really worked out to be a great opportunity to leverage the various activities that are going on at the institution and to highlight the really good work that goes on here,” Birge says.

Born and raised in nearby Lee, Birge has worked in higher education for more than 30 years. It all started when he was a residence hall director at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. 

“Which is really gave me a sense of a career path working in higher ed. So I earned my master’s degree and started working at Bryant University in Rhode Island – at the time it was Bryant College – as an area coordinator. And, I married a woman that I met at Plymouth. And the both of us decided to take an adventure early in life, so we moved to Colorado and lived out there for nine years, I think. We had two of our children and we decided it was time to get back to the Northeast.”

As the fourth president of Franklin Pierce University, Birge established several undergraduate and graduate majors, and expanded its athletic program.

But along the way he worked at a number of institutions…

“…public and private, large and small.”

While a possible faculty “no confidence” vote brought controversy last year and student protests earlier this year made headlines, Birge has been revered by both faculty and students for his eye for diversity and transparency, according to MCLA Board Chairwoman Susan Gold.

“President Birge fits in so well into the community in the Northern Berkshires, as well as the all of Berkshire County. He is already involved in a number of different activities and boards and community efforts. ”

Since taking office, Birge has changed the strategic planning cycle and process. Gold says it will allow the college to make changes as needed.

“And it just makes the perfect alignment with the educational endeavors going on at MCLA and at other places. And it's just a terribly exciting time for all of us who live here.”

The inauguration starts at 2 p.m. today at the Eleanor Furst Roberts Auditorium in the MCLA Church Street Center. 

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