State Board of Higher Education approves James Birge as Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts president

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BOSTON — The Board of Higher Education voted Tuesday to approve the new leader of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

New MCLA President James "Jaimie" Birge, a Lee native, was previously the president of Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H., and the interim president at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va.

Birge, who has agreed to a contract with the college, is set to begin as MCLA's 12th president on March 1.

"He's the full package, and he brings to the presidency an experience of being a president an institution [previously]," said MCLA board of trustees Chairman Tyler Fairbank.

State Board Chairman Chris Gabrieli said Birge and a second college president confirmed by the board on Tuesday represent "exciting examples of Massachusetts' ability to attract terrific national candidates."

"It's kind of exciting to see two candidates bringing different sets of experiences to our table," he said.

At the time of his appointment, Birge had been serving as interim president at Marygrove College in Detroit.

Birge left Franklin Pierce University last year after he and his wife decided they "wanted to be in a place that had a little bit more to offer than just a couple of Dunkin' Donuts, a diner and a gas station," he told the board. Birge said that growing up in Berkshire County, near the school that was then North Adams State College and would later become MCLA, gave him an early appreciation of the importance of access to public higher education.

According to MCLA, admissions applications increased 40 percent at Franklin Pierce during Birge's tenure, with incoming class size and student retention rates also increasing.

Fairbank said he conferred with Birge's previous board chair, who confirmed that Birge "managed some very turbulent waters there, and he managed those waters with grace."

Will Dudley, the vice chairman of MCLA's board of trustees, described Birge as "even-tempered but engaging," with "terrific experience" and a "very nice way with people."

Birge holds a doctorate 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.

Fairbank said the state board's decision came as no surprise, given that he and the trustees valued its input and kept it in the loop throughout the search process.

"It was more ceremonial than anything," he said.

Birge's selection was the result of a second search for former President Mary K. Grant's successor. The first search was completed last March, but the finalist had to withdraw due to family medical issues.

Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.


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