A Message from Clemson’s 15th President

I am thrilled to be named the 15th president of Clemson University. I want to thank the Board of Trustees and the search committee for this incredible opportunity and for believing in me and my family. It is obvious that the board really loves this University and cares very deeply about it. Their love and passion for Clemson are contagious.

One of the things that excited us so much about Clemson is that this is a family-oriented place, and the phrase “Clemson Family” means something very special. As one of the greatest public land-grant research universities in the country, Clemson has a wonderful history and a bright future. It is highly respected for being a student-centered campus that provides a top-notch, high-quality education while producing world-class research and vital services to the community.

Clockwise, from left: Maggie, a freshman at WVU; Grace, a seventh grader; Tyler, a fourth-year student at WVU; Hannah, a freshman at Clemson; Jim; and Beth Clements

Clockwise, from left: Maggie, a freshman at WVU; Grace, a seventh grader; Tyler, a fourth-year student at WVU; Hannah, a freshman at Clemson; Jim; and Beth Clements

The Clemson Family is not something new to me. Beth’s family lives near the University, and her two brothers and a sister-in-law are graduates of Clemson. For more than two decades, I have seen how passionate they are about this place — and how thankful they are for the great education they received here. Our youngest daughter, Grace, has special needs, and as she enters the next phase of her life, we believe that having her extended family close to her is something that will be very important.

I am humbled to walk in the footsteps of so many great presidents who have served at the University. I have been a big fan of President Jim Barker for a long time. He is highly respected across the country for his leadership, and he is also lucky to have a wonderful partner in First Lady Marcia Barker. I can promise you that Beth and I will rely on the Barkers’ advice and guidance in the years to come.

Clemson truly is a gem in higher education. I look forward to working with our elected officials and business leaders to promote economic and workforce development. I believe that working together — as one team — is the only way we can succeed.

When I was a kid my mother always told me to be a good person and to make a difference. I promise you that I will do my very best — working with you — to fulfill the vision set forth by Thomas Green Clemson.

Go Tigers!

James P. Clements

EDUCATION

  • B.S., Computer Science; M.S., Ph.D, Operations Analysis, University of Maryland Baltimore County. M.S., Computer Science, Johns Hopkins University

CAREER

  • West Virginia University, president and professor of computer science and electrical engineering, 2009–2013
  • Towson University (Maryland), provost and vice president for academic affairs, 2007–2009; vice president for economic and community outreach, 2004–07; executive director for the Center for Applied Information Technology, 1999–2003; professor of computer and information sciences, 2000–2009; chair, Department of Computer and Information Sciences, 1997–1999; associate professor, 1995–2000; assistant professor, 1993–1995; visiting assistant professor, 1989–1993

NATIONAL LEADERSHIP POSITIONS

  • Chair-elect, Board of Directors, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities; co-chair, APLU Energy Forum
  • Chair, American Council on Education’s Commission on Leadership
  • Business Higher Education Forum
  • Council on Competitiveness
  • U.S. Department of Commerce Innovation Advisory Board

The Last Lecture

‘President Barker was the keynote speaker at the Victor Hurst Academic Convocation on August 20, marking the beginning of the 121st academic year. This is an excerpt from his remarks.’

This morning, I will attempt to answer the question:
“If this was your ‘last lecture’ what would you say?” I’ll use this time to share with you some of what I’ve learned over the past 14 years about how my idea of Clemson has continued — and will continue — to evolve. Then I’ll try to say something useful to those of you who will help write the next chapter in Clemson history.

 

First, I’ve come to understand that Clemson must pay special attention to our relationship to both change and tradition.

Clemson exists explicitly to be an agent of change. After all, what was Thomas Green Clemson’s great cry? “Our country is wretched in the extreme,” he wrote. Our economy is struggling. Our people are struggling. And something needs to change. We need education and research to solve problems, to bring prosperity. Clemson must deliver this much-needed transformation.

So, a commitment to bold, even radical change is a true Clemson tradition.

Going forward, Clemson must take care not to embrace a false sense of tradition — the one that leads to protectionism and resistance to change masquerading as some proud commitment to the past. But Clemson must embrace its covenant with — and tradition of — change. Finding the proper balance becomes ever more important.

The ability to “dance with uncertainty” will be a fundamental quality needed in Clemson University’s next president.

Second, I’ve learned the truth of something Gen. Dwight Eisenhower once said: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Clemson has a well-deserved reputation for doing effective, meaningful planning. But the true value in any planning is not the document you produce at the end of the process. A plan is merely a tool to inspire good, clear thinking about the future.

In the end, sound thinking yields strategic behaviors that persist long past the discard date for the plans themselves. We describe these behaviors with words like honest … brave … resourceful … nimble.

The Clemson 2020 Plan must be carried forward and implemented with honesty, resourcefulness, courage and … never forget … adaptability and flexibility.

Third, I’ve learned that the world truly needs its educational institutions to be incubators of creativity.

All children are naturally curious and creative. Too often, our educational system is guilty of drumming the creativity out of them instead of helping them to nourish it and channel it in constructive ways. Creativity — where good ideas come from — is a special interest of mine. My soon-to-be department chair, Kate Schwennsen, has asked me to prepare a course on “Creativity and Leadership,” and I hope to do so.

There is a proper emphasis here on equipping our students with the skills of math, science and technology. But if you ask business leaders — and I have done this — “What do you value most in prospective employees?” They will answer: “People with skills who are also creative thinkers and problem-solvers.”

Finally, I’ve learned in the most personal sort of way that leadership is service. It is the opposite of self-advancement or resume building. In fact, people who claim for themselves the mantle of leader are often not the ones whom other people want to follow.

Clearly, I felt called to this service out of my deep affection for this place — Clemson.

Your next president will likely be answering a different call. The love of learning … or a passion for making sure venerable 19th century institutions can remain viable and sustainable in the age of digital, mobile technology. The kind of chief executive Clemson needs tomorrow is different from the kind we needed in 1999 — after five presidents in 15 years.

I’ve always thought that leading a university is more like conducting a symphony orchestra or jazz band … one in which each individual player is a skilled, talented and creative star in his or her own right.

But I know that it is you — the faculty, staff, students and alumni of Clemson— who work in harmony to turn the noise into music. And what a beautiful song it has been for us for 14 years. Today, Marcia and I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude at being given the responsibility and the opportunity to serve, with all of you, in protecting and advancing this noble idea of Clemson.

The lasting imprint of the Paw

President Barker's view from his office in Sikes Hall

President Barker’s view from his office in Sikes Hall

From my second-floor office window in Sikes Hall, I look down every day on Bowman Field and a giant orange Tiger Paw painted on the road at the intersection of Old Greenville Highway and Calhoun Drive. You can see it, too, on a live webcam at clemson.edu.

From all points on the globe, alumni send us photos of themselves holding Tiger Rags and Tiger Paw flags. The backdrop may be the Eiffel Tower, a glacier in Alaska or a fighter jet on a dusty runway in Afghanistan, but the people are always smiling. You can see these photos, too, in this and every issue of Clemson World magazine and throughout the social media world.

Wherever Marcia and I travel, our Tiger Paw shirts and caps and lapel pins are recognized by strangers. They also smile and say: “You’re from Clemson!”

These are the measures of a successful graphic design.

The Tiger Paw is universally acknowledged as the most recognizable logo in all of college sports. It has helped define Clemson athletics and Clemson University for more than four decades. It has brought joy to thousands of alumni and fans.

The evolution of a symbol

The paragraphs above were read aloud from a message I sent to Arlene Antonio, the wife of the late John Antonio, at his memorial service in June. John and his talented team at Henderson Advertising had created the Tiger Paw logo for Clemson.

On behalf of the Clemson Family, I was proud to express our gratitude for the excellent work they did on our behalf.

More literal representations of tiger mascots — even cartoon versions — come and go in style. Some are ferocious and intimidating, others are cuddly and lovable. The Paw, on the other hand, is ageless.

The Clemson Tiger Paw is as fresh today as it was when it was introduced in 1970. As a designer myself, I can appreciate the skill it took to create such a successful, enduring piece of graphic art.

As an alumnus and Clemson’s 14th president, however, I have come to appreciate its symbolic power.

The Paw has evolved from an athletics logo into a university symbol. Why? Because the Tiger Paw managed to capture something essential about the “One Clemson” spirit. It is beloved by all and we are united, as a community, by that simple affection.

It also represents not only our ferocious power, but the lasting imprint Clemson folks leave upon the world as we pass by.

Go Tigers!

James F. Barker, FAIA
President

A time for change

For the first time in 14 years as Clemson’s president, the volume of mail I received this semester was so great that I could not even consider answering all of it. So forgive me if I use this space in Clemson World in a very personal way — to say thank you to alumni and others who sent messages of support, encouragement and gratitude, and to reflect on what I learned during my “medical sabbatical” and return to duty this spring.

Lessons learned

First, I learned that the “Clemson Family” is very real. After my heart surgery in January, Marcia and I received literally thousands of cards, letters, emails and posts to a special “get well” blog. And when I say “literally,” I mean it in the classic not ironic sense — literally thousands! These messages were a vital part of my recovery.

Some were heartfelt and touching. Others were funny. Many alumni welcomed me to membership in the “zipper club.” They shared stories of their own or a family member’s improved health and well-being after the same surgery.

Second, I learned that it is humbling and healthy for a pilot to step out of the cockpit and into the passenger cabin once in a while. When you do, you quickly learn there are many people capable of flying the plane.

To paraphrase something former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once said: When you think you are important or essential, stick your hand in a bucket of water and then pull it out. The hole you leave behind is how much you will be missed.

Clemson University is and always has been larger than the individuals who serve her at any given point in time.

Today, we have many, many dedicated and able folks working for Clemson’s success — faculty, staff, administrators, Trustees and volunteer leaders. So I am also grateful to Chairman David Wilkins, Provost Dori Helms and all others who stepped in to keep the University machine running smoothly in my absence.

Finally, I learned that though my arteries were blocked, my heart was and is very strong.

Eight weeks after my surgery and two days after this picture was taken, Marcia and I left for a trip to Germany and Italy. I met with BMW’s Board of Directors in Munich, and we attended the 40th anniversary celebration of our architecture center in Genoa. It was a wonderful trip in a beautiful place. We were happy to be there, and even happier to be home.

Changing majors

I returned from my medical leave on March 29 and two weeks later asked the Board of Trustees to begin its search for the 15th president of Clemson University. I will remain in office until the new president is found and begins work. After that, I will begin preparing for the next phase of my Clemson career as a faculty member in the School of Architecture.

This is a transition I had always planned to make, and it is not directly related to my surgery. I feel good, have a high level of energy and plan to remain engaged. The personal journey I have taken in the first half of 2013 led me to conclude that this is the right time to “change majors” from the president’s office to Lee Hall simply because Clemson University is in such good shape.

We have a high demand for everything about Clemson. We’re attracting great students, faculty and staff. We are blessed with alumni support and a capital campaign that has been very, very successful. We are financially healthy; in fact, we are in better shape financially than we were before the Great Recession. And we have a plan that has broad support by our alumni and, most importantly perhaps, by our Board of Trustees.

We are on an upward path, and I pledge to do everything I can to continue this positive momentum.

It has been the honor and privilege of my life to serve as your 14th president, and I will always be grateful to Clemson students, faculty, staff and alumni for giving me a chance to serve my alma mater in this special way.

Thank you very much. Go, Tigers!

James F. Barker, FAIA
President