The Idea of Clemson

Fourteen years ago, James Barker approached the podium for his inaugural address. Unlike many new presidents, he already had a fairly comprehensive understanding of the institution. After all, “president” was just the most recent of his Clemson monikers. Student, alumnus, faculty member, dean, parent — he had already experienced the University from all of those perspectives.

As he reflected with those in attendance on “The Idea of Clemson,” it was from a very well-informed perch. In an address that was forward-looking and optimistic and challenging, he examined nine qualities — of being inclusive, academically challenging, visionary, indomitable, bold and innovative, distinctive, sensitive to the needs of others, focused on the value of the individual and based on family — that he said described the “wonderful, powerful, noble idea called Clemson.”

“The most important ideas,” he said, “have a physical manifestation. The idea of Clemson surrounds you today in the ‘sense of place’ and ‘sense of community’ you can see and feel on this campus.” He went on to say, “To all gathered here today, I say that with everything I am, I believe in the idea called Clemson. But Clemson is still a work in progress.”

And the charge that Jim Barker accepted at his inauguration was “to ensure that the idea of Clemson will be stronger at the end of my service than it is now at the beginning.” In what is known now as characteristic Barker, he stated his strong conviction that “the only way to fulfill this responsibility is to find the way for each of you to join me in this effort.”

With that statement, and the one that followed, he launched the idea of “One Clemson.”

“I am convinced,” Barker said, “that there is no university in America stronger than Clemson when we are ‘one Clemson.’ … If we unite around the idea of Clemson, we have a future beyond our highest aspirations.”

After referencing the legacy and destiny of the University, President James Barker finished by simply saying, “Let’s get started.”

And get started he did. In the next few pages, alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends share their reflections on the ways in which Jim Barker’s presidency advanced what he called “The Idea of Clemson.”

In my humble opinion, James Barker and R.C. Edwards were the best presidents to have served Clemson in any time or season, but especially this was the case when it came to their steadfast leadership surrounding issues of race relations.

Dr. Edwards’ leadership during Harvey Gantt’s 1963 enrollment is well documented and widely known. What many may not know, however, is the quiet, dignified and determined way that President Barker built on President Edwards’ legacy to garner Clemson the coveted reputation as one of the nation’s premier institutions for tackling very complex and vexing issues surrounding diversity in higher education.

Three such initiatives that he led include:

• The visionary Call Me MISTER program: No one really knew what to do about the chronic black male teacher crisis until this program unfolded. It is the national model.

• The National Best Practices Conference in the Achievement of Students of Color: Poor retention of all students had been one of higher education’s ugly secrets for many years.

This challenge was most acute among black students. After more than a decade, this annual gathering has become the gold standard for identifying solutions to this persistent problem. President Barker has participated in every minute of every session. He thus created an indelible impression about Clemson on the minds of the thousands of leaders from across the nation.

• Black faculty recruitment: With the appointment of Dr. Juan Gilbert as chair of Human-Centered Computing and later as the first Presidential Endowed Chair, President Barker has done what many in higher education, industry and government thought to be impossible. Recruiting and retaining black faculty is intensely competitive in all disciplines, but especially in science, technology and mathematics. In short order, Clemson now has the largest concentration of black computer science faculty and Ph.D students in the nation. This could not have happened without President Barker’s leadership.

These accomplishments have truly been game changers in terms of how Clemson is perceived across the nation and around the world. President Barker’s singular ability to do the right thing while institutionalizing positive outcomes will hold Clemson in good stead for decades to come.

Frank Matthews

— Frank L. Matthews ’71
Co-Founder, Cox Matthews and Associates
Publisher, Diverse Issues in Higher Education

During most of President Jim Barker’s tenure as president of Clemson, I served as the director of the National Scholars Program, which was inaugurated by President Barker in 2000. “To be a national university,” he said at the time, “we must have a national-caliber scholarship program, and this is it.”

For me, the National Scholars Program symbolizes Clemson’s extraordinary academic and intellectual growth during Jim Barker’s presidency. To create the program called for extraordinary vision and for enormous faith in Clemson’s students, staff and faculty. To sustain it required a continuing commitment to providing the resources necessary to recruit, educate and challenge some of our very best students. Finally, to establish the program as a vital and integral part of Clemson’s culture required President and Mrs. Barker’s personal involvement and support. Jim and Marcia have been at nearly every important National Scholars event. They have entertained every group of National Scholars freshmen at their home. And they have made it clear to everyone at Clemson that the National Scholars Program — and the Calhoun Honors College as well — are both key symbols and very real products of Clemson’s commitment to academic excellence.

William Lasser

— William Lasser
Alumni Distinguished Professor of Political Science
Director, Calhoun Honors College

I believe that President Barker’s commitment to elevate the academic standards of Clemson, to lead with transparency and to be accessible to the entire Clemson family, especially to students, is second to none. Although I did not attend Clemson, I have worked here for 41 years, and it has been so rewarding during President Barker’s tenure to watch the University develop from an excellent regional university to one that is highly ranked nationally and well-respected. All Clemson alumni, and past and present faculty and staff, are proud that a degree from Clemson means much more now than in the past.

In addition to being a masterful architect of so many academic innovations and accomplishments, President Barker’s handprint is obvious in the improvements on the facility and the landscaping that have occurred during his tenure as president.

I will always be grateful to President Barker for the wonderful support that he has given the arts programs at Clemson, for no university can be considered great without having a strong program in the arts. He and Clemson’s gracious first lady attended performances at the Brooks Center as often as their schedules would allow. President and Mrs. Barker leave huge shoes to fill.

Mickey Harder

— Mickey Harder
Director, Brooks Center for the Performing Arts

“Do you wish to be great?” St. Augustine once asked. “Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundations.”

Fourteen years ago, Jim Barker set out to build a better university. He had a vision that Clemson could be a nationally recognized public institution. The fact that President Barker’s lofty vision for Clemson has been realized is certainly commendable by itself. But the most compelling part of the story is not about the obvious success President Barker has achieved, but rather how he went about achieving it. He met the challenge posed by St. Augustine to the faithful so many centuries ago — he stayed grounded in humility — built a foundation on it — even as Clemson soared.

History is replete with examples of powerful leaders who are larger than life, whose force of personality makes them irresistible to watch; leaders who are at their best and most dynamic when the spotlight shines the brightest on them. Few of us equate power, much less success, to those who turn the spotlight away from themselves. And yet, that is exactly how President Barker has achieved such remarkable success as one of the longest-serving college presidents in the U.S. He is always ready to lead and always reluctant to take credit. His humility encouraged and enabled other talented people to work on Clemson’s behalf — all headed in the same direction, all following his lead.

He and Marcia were always exceedingly gracious, greeting students, parents and staff as warmly as they did visiting dignitaries and VIPs. They represented Clemson globally and championed the University in prestigious venues. But he and Marcia were just as content — probably more so — opening their home at night to students who simply needed some support. He was comfortable walking the campus and cheering at games. He wanted Clemson to succeed on his watch, not because of his own personal investment or aggrandizement, but because when he went off to college as a young man, he went to Clemson. He wanted to give back better than he had received.

Today the University stands taller than ever, nationally recognized for its academics and athletics. It’s in the top tier of public schools — just as Jim Barker envisioned more than a dozen years ago when he began building a lasting foundation.

For Barker, it was always about Clemson rising tall, about generations of students crediting CU for providing a springboard to countless opportunities. It was never about his own legacy. Yet, history will undoubtedly record President Jim Barker’s rich contributions to Clemson, accolades the man himself is too humble to accept.

David Wilkins

— David Wilkins
Chair, Clemson University Board of Trustees

I have been privileged in my teaching career at Clemson University to have had James F. Barker as a student in my classes for three of his early semesters (one B, two A’s).

Few people have known that Jim Barker came to Clemson on a partial athletic scholarship. He was a pole-vaulter from Kingsport, Tennessee. Like his reticence to talk about his ability to draw, he seemed less inclined to review his brief career as a vaulter.

During his early years as a student in the school of architecture, he had an assignment, possibly in design or to test his creative inclinations. He visited my office and asked if I would take a look at his project. To me, Jim always had been a serious student. Naturally, I was flattered by his request. He unveiled plans and drawings for a city to be constructed in the area where South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina boundaries are contiguous. The overall concept was a layout of a series of concentric circles, in which each circle some function or activity — habitation, religion, education, civic government, business, medical, etc., would be planned. I was amazed at his vision.

Jim Barker’s vision has carried over to the planning and development of the Clemson University campus, which now impresses students, visitors and local residents.

I have always taken pride in and have admiration for my former student from Kingsport, Tennessee.

Ben Skardon

— Col. Ben Skardon ’38
Professor Emeritus of English

As I reflect on the presidency of Jim Barker, I am so very proud of the accomplishments that Clemson has achieved over the course of Jim’s administration. Under Jim’s leadership, Clemson has risen to become a top-25 public university. Jim aspires to see Clemson improve because he wants to see Clemson students have an opportunity to receive the best education possible.

Jim Barker is a man of integrity. He is a great visionary and great strategic planner. He leads with a core passion to put the students and their success first. Most importantly, this “down to earth” man loves Clemson University! Marcia Barker has been an incredible leader as well and a fantastic ambassador for Clemson. She leads with a very special style and grace, and she has made Clemson a much better university.

Clemson has been blessed by the Barkers!

Harvey Gantt

— Harvey B. Gantt
Principal, Gantt Huberman Architects

I have always admired Jim Barker as the essence of a true Clemson man. He proved my long-held belief that architects, because of their unique education and training, could go out into the world and do much more than design buildings. Jim and I have often reminisced on a speech I gave at the College of Architecture years ago. I spoke on the theme of how some of us student architects could one day leave Clemson to serve as leaders in society … because we were being trained to analyze problems, examine alternatives, choose a way forward, and execute a solution with conviction. In other words, we were trained to be leaders, in our design firms, in civic life, in politics, in business, and even to lead a great university … like Clemson. Jim was in that audience when I spoke, and says he was inspired. Wow!!! And he has gone on to build a great record as one of Clemson’s finest presidents and a great leader in education for South Carolina.

Smyth McKissick

— E. Smyth McKissick III
Clemson University Trustee

Jim Barker is well-known for his intense interest and caring spirit for the well-being of Clemson students. What is not so well-known is his unique ability to manifest that same level of interest for campus organizations that are not an integral part of the University’s core mission of teaching and research.

I witnessed this during the past two years as IPTAY went through a reorganization. Early in the process we sought guidance from President Barker. He maintained a high level of interest in IPTAY , and never failed to avail himself to us. As the IPTAY Board moved through our changes, we recognized that the new landscape of college athletics suggested more involvement of college presidents. President Barker was aware of this new trend, and embraced our idea to have him become an active member of the IPTAY Board.

Jim never hesitated to help IPTAY through these changing times and was fully engaged and supportive during my term as president. I saw firsthand why the Clemson Family has so completely embraced
the Barkers.

Charles Dalton

— Charles Dalton
President, IPTAY Board of Directors

Jim Barker is one of the finest individuals I know, and I’m incredibly appreciative of what he’s meant to me both personally and professionally during my time as ACC commissioner.

As I look back over his tenure as president of Clemson University, it’s important to note that his fingerprints are all over the many monumental milestones that have happened within the ACC . From the league’s expansion in 2003, through the latest expansions and the grant of media rights, Jim has been instrumental in strategically positioning the Atlantic Coast Conference for the long term.

There’s no question that Jim is one of the most well-respected presidents, not only in the ACC but also across the NCAA landscape. As an educator and leader, he is insightful, thoughtful and brings tremendous wisdom.

Jim has become one of my most trusted advisers, and I’m thankful for the friendship we’ve developed over the years.

I wish Jim, Marcia and the entire Barker family nothing but health and happiness in the years ahead.

John Swofford

— John Swofford
ACC Commissioner

I first met my architecture classmate, the future president James F. Barker, on Riggs Field in August of 1965. Riggs served as the track at that time, and Jim was practicing his event, the pole vault. My first Clemson roommate was the other freshman vaulter, and he was excited to introduce me to his teammate since, he surmised, we had so much in common as architecture majors. Little did he know that this thoughtful introduction would lead to a lifetime of collegiality marked by true friendship.

As we approached the field from the south stands, Jim picked up his pole, took a deep breath and ran at full speed toward the box, the bar and the pit. Jim planted the pole perfectly in the box, leaned back with all his strength and swung his body skyward into a handstand with amazing grace. Then, the pole shattered. The sound was like a rifle’s blast echoing off Holtzendorff and the Barracks. All motion stopped and all eyes turned to the vaulting pit. Seeming unfazed by the disruption, Jim continued the backward flow of his body, executed a perfect back flip and landed on his feet in the pit. Still holding a four-foot piece of the offending instrument, he strode out to greet his teammate and his classmate with a broad smile as if to ask: “How’d you like that?”

Occasionally I will retell this story as I introduce President Barker and I like to add: “and he’s been landing on his feet ever since.”

John Jacques

— John Jacques ’70, AIA, CAF Director
Professor Emeritus of Architecture

From my perspective, the most significant contribution made by Jim Barker during my tenure as vice president for research and economic development was to articulate the “Top Twenty” Vision, and hold us accountable for it. The vision was compelling, succinct, memorable and measurable. It galvanized our thinking about Clemson University as a distinctive, national research university, guided our strategic planning and drove our implementation. The quarterly “Report Card” measured our progress.

For me, the second most important concept by Jim was to challenge us to develop a “Town/Gown” relationship with the City of Greenville.

These two bold ideas set in motion the deliberations and strategies which culminated in CU-ICAR and the other innovation campuses. As we worked on developing the practical implications of public/private partnerships that were aligned with the University’s core academic missions of teaching and research, and fostered economic development for South Carolina, Jim was personally engaged in these discussions. As the physical campus of CU-ICAR was designed and built, he brought his architectural background to the design charrettes. It was a personal privilege for me to tour the CGEC with Jim, and have him give me a passionate description of the sight lines and the architectural highlights of the building.

Finally, from a personal perspective, I could not have asked for a more supportive and encouraging president than Jim Barker. Recognizing the very high risks associated with such a bold idea as CU-ICAR , he consistently was the “champion” with our Board of Trustees, our state legislators and the Greenville community. I consider it a great honor and privilege to have spent the last nine years of my professional career serving under President James F. Barker.

Chris Prizembel

— Christian E.G. Przirembel
Vice President Emeritus for Research and Economic Development

It would be easy to rhapsodize about Jim Barker’s intelligence, his dedication and his humaneness. But anyone who has been near Clemson University in the last dozen years knows about all that.

So I add this comment: Throughout his presidency, Jim taught a course called “The President’s Seminar.” It met on Tuesday afternoons each spring and included about 15 students from several different disciplines. And it included six or eight faculty who, along with the president, made presentations and joined discussions. I was lucky enough to get in on it, and I count it as one of the best experiences of my 38 years at Clemson. As I look back on that seminar, I realize that, except for his Tiger Paw cuff links and ties, Jim did not appear to be president of anything. He was just a part of the general fray. Maybe he was so good with the students because he had been a Clemson student himself; maybe he was so good with the faculty because he had been on the faculty — and was still on the faculty. Whatever the cause, he was one of us, and we loved it.

Bill Koon

— Bill Koon
Professor Emeritus of English

“One Clemson” was more than a motto to President Jim Barker. He truly wanted the academic and athletic communities to merge and achieve a unified pride in Clemson University. That’s where Solid Orange came from — speaking to our traditions and how we conduct ourselves to understand our part in making the University strong. He worked hard to create an environment of unity when so many campuses across the country experience disunity.

He not only talked about supporting athletics, but as a former student-athlete, he is competitive. He and Marcia would attend many, many sporting events; they welcomed student-athletes regularly into the President’s Home, and knew most of our coaches and staff by name. You could count on seeing their Labs, Macs and Mookie, at rowing meets. In addition to an already full schedule with campus responsibilities, he chose to be involved with the NCAA at the national level.

He entered his tenure with extremely high athletic goals, targeting national success especially for football and men’s basketball. We’re all proud that under President Barker’s leadership, Clemson football has returned to the Top 10, won three divisional championships and the first outright conference championship in 20 years.

While men’s basketball at Clemson had historically struggled, President Barker’s support enabled our program to enjoy some unparalleled success and continuing progress — specifically, four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, a first in Clemson history.

Certainly, Clemson enjoyed success and significant progress in other sports as well, but I find it fitting that as a track letterman, his final spring as president included Brianna Rollins’ thrilling individual national championship at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and our men’s and women’s track programs again competing at the highest level.

What’s refreshing about the athletic success is that it was accomplished with President Barker’s high academic expectations as well. While Clemson’s student-athlete academic performance has been strong in the past, it became measurably stronger in all sports the past decade.

Jim Barker gave our athletic program his support, his vision and his energy. He gave us “One Clemson.”

Terry Don Phillips

— Terry Don Phillips
Former Clemson Athletics Director

Jim Barker’s passion for being a president who was devoted to public service became evident within his first 100 days in office. He took teams of his administrative group on two trips across South Carolina to meet the people who love Clemson dearly but rarely get to the main campus. He continued that enthusiasm for engaging with the public throughout his time as president.

He extended that commitment to public service when the University embarked on the creation of “new” enterprise campuses in locations across the state. His brand of economic development was to take the University to where the action was located. This idea has led to one of the country’s most relevant and successful university technology-based economic development strategies. Jim’s unique ability to engage with the state’s citizens has allowed Clemson University to maintain a strong sense of reality as we do our daily work.

John Kelly

— John Kelly
Vice President for Economic Development

In early May 2006 a senior, Travis Rada, realized he was an hour short of graduating. Travis’ mother, Janet, was very ill with cancer, and he had lost track of his hours since he had been trying to spend as much time with his mom as possible. Travis took the course during Maymester to complete his requirements to graduate in August. But the doctors had told Janet that she probably wouldn’t be alive in August. Through all of Janet’s cancer treatments, her one goal had been to see Travis graduate from Clemson, and Patrick, her youngest son, graduate from T.L. Hanna High School, both that May.

With the help of registrar Stan Smith, President Barker presented Travis with a certificate of completion on June 1, 2006. The ceremony took place in the President’s Office with Travis’ parents, brother and grandparents present, Travis in his cap and gown and President Barker in his academic regalia. Less than six weeks later, I attended the memorial service for Janet Rada. Front and center of all the pictures that were placed on the table to honor Janet’s memory was the photograph of President Barker and Travis in their academic regalia and Travis’ proud family members.

Sandy McKinney

— Sandy McKinney
Executive Assistant to the President

President Barker’s accomplishments at Clemson will leave a lasting impact on the future of the University. His consistent involvement with the student body has been a major factor in producing the “Clemson Experience” that is so often discussed. Students have been reflecting on their favorite memories with him, including times when he passed out lollipops at the Homecoming floats, opened his home for trick-or-treating on Halloween, allowed students to walk his dogs, did pushups as the Tiger mascot during a football game and helped with freshman move-in.

President Barker’s desire to make Clemson the best it can be, while preserving the rich heritage and traditions that make the Clemson experience so unique, is remarkable. Clemson’s success in the past decade is largely due to his leadership and unwavering values He will always be remembered as one of Clemson’s most outstanding and respected presidents, and I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work with him during these last few months of his presidency.

Kayle Seawright

— Kayley Seawright
President, Undergraduate Student Body

As I reflect over the past 14 years of Jim Barker’s tenure as president of Clemson University, two words, in particular, come to mind — Clemson Family. President Barker really does understand the meaning of these two words because he was reared in the family that is so proud to call him one of our own.

He possesses a deep sense of caring and placing the Clemson Family and, in particular, the current Clemson students first. His unwavering resolve has helped Clemson remain a “high seminary of learning” just as Clemson’s founder, Thomas Green Clemson, so eloquently stated in his Will. We are so proud and fortunate to have been able to call Clemson’s 14th president one of our own.

Ann Hunter

— Ann W. Hunter ’80, ’82
President, Clemson Alumni Association

Jim Barker has been the only president I have known since I came to Clemson in 2003. He has set the bar very high for future presidents and has certainly brought Clemson to a higher level academically, athletically — in all areas.

He is a class man who has been a joy to work with. I will be forever indebted to him for supporting my hire as head coach in 2008. He has treated me with respect in every way since I have been here.

What I will remember most about Jim Barker is his genuine love for Clemson.

Dabo Swinney

— Dabo Swinney
Clemson Head Football Coach

Cappy and Sweet, you’re our favorite Tigers! Thank you for teaching us cadence count, that orange and purple are the best colors, and for letting us hitch rides at the First Friday Parades. We’ve loved our many adventures in the President’s House, like counting tigers and camping out in our tiger tent in the living room. We’re saving chairs for you at the tailgate. We love you!
Madeline and Eliza Barker

We would just like to thank you both for introducing us to so many friendly students over the years. You are so right when you say Clemson students are the best! We sure are going to miss our morning walks on campus with you guys.
Mookie and Macs
Barker pups-in-residence

P.S. We really are SO SORRY for chasing after that skunk we found in front of the P & A Building one morning. We had no idea he would spray us and that it would take a week full of baths to get us clean!

President Barker was never just a figurehead — he was an active participant in every Clemson student’s experience. Few university presidents have improved their school’s academics so remarkably, and even fewer have earned the genuine love and respect of its students.

At the Clemson vs. Furman game this past year, the crowd bellowed, as usual, in coordination with the Tiger’s pushups. After a fairly long count, the Tiger unexpectedly stood up, threw off his headpiece and revealed an impassioned President Barker. Upon recognizing him, the stadium’s roar soared because we all knew that he shared our love, devotion and pride for Clemson.

At my ring ceremony, President Barker showed his unyielding devotion to Clemson students once again. I had always heard that there is something sacred about a Clemson ring ceremony; after 90 hard-earned hours we would walk with our fellow classmates to receive that famous and celebrated Clemson ring. Unfortunately, we knew that President Barker had recently received emergency surgery and assumed he would not be able to present our rings. However, as he had throughout my entire Clemson experience, he proved that Clemson students were his first priority. As he presented me with my ring, he leaned over and said, “We’re proud of you,” and I, along with the rest of the students receiving their rings April 8, 2013, knew that he truly was.

Ashton Lee

— Ashton Lee
Senior, Clemson University

When I think of the Barkers’ tenure at Clemson, I am struck by their family approach. They always would speak at orientation programs and offer their home, their dogs and even themselves to anyone feeling a little homesick. I believe Clemson is such a happy place because you do not feel like you’re at an institution. There is a constant feel of home, no matter where your other home may be. I truly feel the Barkers were at the center of this warm, caring atmosphere.

On a personal note, they arrived for move-in day for my daughter Libby, and then a couple of years later for my daughter Hannah. President Barker gave them each a signed miniature Clemson banner and told them to keep it with them till graduation for luck. Right from day one it was a personal, magnetic approach that made our whole family feel like we were home. The Barkers’ genuine love of the place was transparent and infectious, and thankfully will continue to live at Clemson.

— Bart Proctor
Parent of Libby ’13 and Hannah (sophomore)

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