James Birge takes oath as MCLA president

`I am honored to serve'

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NORTH ADAMS - After his ceremonial inauguration as the new president of MCLA, James "Jaimie" Birge explained why he quickly came to appreciate the school and its community.

He said the faculty is admirably dedicated to helping students achieve their educational goals, and that it is the students who bring vibrancy and curiosity to the college.

There is a "real sense of commitment we bring to students at MCLA," Birge said, "and the faculty has a special role in that."

And he was complimentary of the financial aid that allows more than 40 percent of its students attend college.

"One third of our students come from family that earn less than $32,000 a year; 43 percent of our students are Pell Grant recipients," Birge said, adding that the U.S. Department of Education recently recognized MCLA for elevating low income students through an education that yields work in high-wage fields.

Birge's inauguration comes over a year after he arrived on campus as 12th president of the college.

Family, friends and colleagues crowded the stage and front rows of the Eleanor Furst Roberts Auditorium for the inauguration at the MCLA Church Street Center on Friday afternoon.

Birge's twin sister, Elizabeth R. Birge, also an educator, delivered the invocation. She reminded the audience that the Birge siblings were raised in Lee, and played sports against high school teams at Drury, Hoosac Valley and Mount Greylock.

She noted that many of his close family members are educators.

"In our eyes, education is the highest calling one can aspire to," she said.

State Sen. Adams Hinds, D-Pittsfield, brought the congratulations of the Massachusetts State Senate, and noted that he has seen Birge's commitment to education for all people regardless of income.

"Unfortunately, the income of a family can often predict the life path of a child," Hines said, "a concept that is deeply at odds with who we are as a community and a society."

But he noted Birge's determination to change that life path through education.

"Dr. Birge recognizes this," Hines said, "that all men and women can reach their potential no matter the income of their families — a high calling to be sure."

State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, brought greetings from the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright lauded Birge's commitment to a beneficial relationship with the city.

"I'm absolutely thrilled to call Jaimie a friend and a partner in nurturing the campus/community relationship," he said.

Congratulations and expressions of support were also offered by representatives of the student body, the MCLA board of trustees, alumni, faculty, staff and by the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, a salute that was delivered by Birge's predecessor, former MCLA President Mary Grant.

Lloyd Astmann, a trustee at Franklin Pierce University, where Birge served as president for six years, also was there to offer his hopes for Birge at MCLA.

Susan Gold, chairwoman of the MCLA board of trustees, led Birge in his oath of office, and the president's medallion was presented.

Following the swearing in, during his inauguration address, Birge expressed his determination to be sure that MCLA will continue to provide students with "an agile education that allows our graduates to have jobs throughout their careers in a constantly evolving job market."

"It is rewarding to me to be counted among the faculty and staff at MCLA, and I am honored to serve as president of MCLA," Birge concluded.

His other sister, Mary Kate Birge, concluded the ceremony with the benediction.

Reach staff writer Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.


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