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.
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.
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