After nearly a year and a half of searching for its next president, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts has selected a career educator with ties to western Massachusetts.
A graduate of Lee High School and Westfield State University, Jaimie Birge is making his way back to western Massachusetts. The current interim president of Marygrove College in Detroit has been selected as MCLA’s 12th president. He says the school’s liberal arts foundation and academic programs – mainly in the arts and social and physical sciences – drew him to the college.
“My sense is that the way American higher education is going, it is the combination of professional education with a foundation of liberal arts that’s going to give students the best opportunity at long-term employment and meaningful contributions to their communities,” Birge said. “It seemed to me from what I initially read about MCLA that they were doing that work.”
Birge served as president of Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire from 2008 until this past January. During some reportedly tough financial times, the school expanded academic and athletic programs while building a health science and athletic training center.
“I want to be the most visible advocate for the institution with perspective parents and students, legislators, donors, people who support the institution and with the local community,” he said. “My experience as a president has been that those are the roles that a college or university president has to engage with. I’m very comfortable with that. I like that kind of work.”
MCLA’s Board of Trustees chose Birge after the presidential search committee interviewed 11 applicants from a nationwide search. Board Chair Tyler Fairbank says Birge brings tremendous managerial and leadership experience. Fairbank added that Birge’s years of work in student affairs also played a role in his selection.
“Our student trustee who was very much involved in the whole selection process reported back that so many of the students really found him [Birge] to be engaging and he connected with the students,” Fairbank said. “That’s a really key attribute.”
Pending approval from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education on Jan. 19, Birge is expected to officially become MCLA’s president in March. That day will bring an end to a process that’s been ongoing since August 2014 when Mary Grant announced she was leaving for the University of North Carolina at Asheville at the start of 2015.
Then, in March, MCLA’s presidential pick Greg Summers withdrew because of family health concerns that made him unable to relocate. This summer, MCLA trustee James Clemmer took over for interim president Cynthia Brown when she decided to seek the full-time post. With all that said and done, Fairbank says MCLA has found an outstanding president.
“There’s a real feeling of satisfaction, that even though it’s been an extended search, we have really found the right person to lead MCLA moving forward,” Fairbank said. “And certainly there’s somewhat of a sense of relief that ‘OK, we can put this elongated search process behind us and start really focusing on moving forward.’”
The North Adams college has a combined undergraduate and graduate enrollment of about 2,200 students directed by an academic staff of less than 200. Birge says his years in student affairs have made him into an administrator who is responsive to students’ needs and desires.
“When all of us come to work in the morning our thought should be ‘What are we doing today to help students succeed?’” said Birge.