MCLA selects Jaimie Birge, higher education veteran and former Lee resident, as next president

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NORTH ADAMS — A veteran of higher education who grew up in Lee has been selected as the next president of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

James F. "Jaimie" Birge, who is currently serving as interim president at Marygrove College in Detroit, was named on Thursday as the board of trustees' choice to be the college's 12th president.

"We are so pleased that Dr. Birge will be MCLA's next president. He will be a great fit for the campus," said Mohan Boodram, co-chairman of MCLA's Presidential Search Committee and a member of the board of trustees, in a prepared release. "His appointment comes after an intensive search process and an extensive program of outreach to both the campus and alumni communities, as well as to colleagues and our community partners."

The board's recommendation will be submitted for final approval by the state Board of Higher Education, which will vote in a special meeting to be held on Jan. 19 in Boston.

Birge would succeed former President Mary K. Grant, who left last year to become chancellor at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. Board Vice Chairman James C. Clemmer is serving as interim president.

The decision on Thursday came a week after the search was narrowed to two finalists: Birge and Alan Ray, a former president of Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill.

It also marked the end of the college's second search for a new leader, which began in July. A previous search was completed last March with a finalist who accepted the position, but then had to withdraw due to family medical issues.

The appointment followed a national search facilitated by Korn Ferry, a consulting firm which recruited candidates who met the criteria and qualifications for the next president at MCLA. A group of applicants was forwarded to the 14-member Presidential Search Committee, which selected 11 to interview.

Birge served as the fourth president of Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H., from 2009 to 2015. Previously, he served as the executive vice president and interim president at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.V.

He spent much of his early career in the student affairs area followed by work with faculty and staff to integrate community-based learning into academic course objectives, according to the release. Birge has worked in public and private higher education as well as with an association of academic presidents. Most recently, his work has been in private higher education.

While at Franklin Pierce, Birge and his leadership team were credited with securing the largest single donor gift in University history, the largest planned gift in history, four of the six largest annual fund contributions in history, and completing the comprehensive capital campaign above goal.

They also expanded undergraduate academic majors to include health science, business + (three-year degree), environmental studies, public health (three-year degree), and social media and emergent technologies, and established new graduate degrees.

His team expanded athletic programs to include sprint football; track and cross country; women's ice hockey; women's bowling; and women's golf, the college said. He increased admissions applications by 40 percent, incoming class size by 15 percent, and student retention by 8 percentage points.

Birge also oversaw construction of a center for health science and athletic training, a softball complex, and a baseball clubhouse, and he implemented a faculty governance model, as well as faculty participation on the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees.

"We are grateful to have had so many qualified candidates from which to choose the next president for MCLA," said search committee Chairwoman Susan Gold in the release. "Ultimately, Dr. Birge stood out as the right person to lead this campus, at the right time, because of his vision and passion for the liberal arts, and his keen sense of MCLA's path and the opportunities that await us."

Birge holds a Ph.D. in leadership studies from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., a master of education in guidance and counseling from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Westfield State University in Massachusetts.

He said he was grateful to be selected and that he looked forward to working closely with the board.

"As one of only 28 members of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges in the United States, MCLA's unique and important mission is distinguished and exciting," he said in the release. "My wife, Lisa, and I are thrilled to become part of the MCLA community.

"Having grown up in Lee, I have always known about the important presence of public higher education in North Adams. I am honored to be the next president at MCLA and to become part of that rich history."


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