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Q & A with the President

This spring, Clemson World sat down with President James Barker to get his perspective as he prepares to step down from the presidency and back into the classroom.

CW: What was your first priority as Clemson’s president?

BARKER: The way I always respond to that question is the same, and that is, my first priority is our students. But that’s a set of people and really the reason for our existence, and it’s a reminder to all of us on the campus what role our students really play.

If I think back to that moment, there were two things. We needed some stability here. I had lived through five presidents in 15 years, and each of those changes was so disruptive that it was hard to have any momentum built, because you were constantly changing the strategic plans. So I reasoned that if I would commit to stay at least 10 years, then that would be a symbol about stability. The other was that some fractures were starting to get a little bit wider, and I was concerned about keeping the Clemson Family united and unified. So the idea of One Clemson emerged early on. And nobody is as strong as Clemson when we are united.

CW: In your inauguration speech you noted that Clemson is “a living organism with a core and surface,” the core having a covenant with tradition and the surface having a covenant with change. How have you balanced tradition and change in your leadership?

BARKER: This place has a special genius, a collective genius, about understanding that balance. Otherwise, we could not have experienced the degree of change that we did in the ’50s and ’60s when we went from an all-male and all-white military school, to the Clemson you see today, with students from 90 different countries, with 50 percent women. That would have torn many schools apart, and that did not happen to Clemson.

There’s this almost innate understanding about when it’s time to hold on to traditions tightly and when to let go and make sure that change is what dominates our thinking. All I really tried to do was not mess that up too badly — to just pay attention to that history and say, “We’re now in one of those times again, and it’s time for this amount of change or this amount of tradition to rise.”

In that quote, I was really challenging each of us to engage in that change-versus-tradition discussion — let it not be an abstract idea, but a very real idea on how we solve problems, how we build strategic plans, how we deal with the future. That dialogue about change and traditions served us very well. You can go back to the ultimate source of tradition, which is Thomas Green Clemson’s will, and he doesn’t make it very clear about how this is to be done. He saw it as a dynamic thing; he understood the need for change.

You can’t say in the 19th century what the 21st century’s going to be, or in the 21st century what the 23rd century Clemson should look like. We take seriously our roots as an ag school and an engineering mechanical school. But that doesn’t stop us from working with BMW, and that doesn’t stop us from doing wind energy. What will it take to bring prosperity to South Carolina in whatever century we’re in — that’s our charge from Thomas Green Clemson.

CW: You didn’t begin your presidency timidly. The top 20 goal was a bold reach. What motivated you to choose that?

BARKER: I’ve said jokingly that I wish I’d said top 25. That would have been very easy to do. Everybody thought that was ridiculous, because it seemed like a stretch too far. But when I think about the distinctive qualities of Clemson, it is clear that we are very competitive by nature. I challenged that competitive nature to say, “We can be top 20 in sports, and there’s no reason we can’t be top 20 in academics. This is something Clemson can accomplish if we work together.”

And yes, I gulped a few times before I said that, because I knew we had been in the third tier a year or two before. And we’re not there yet. But five consecutive years in the top 25 is clearly a trend, a level of success that I think we can be proud of.

CW: You also noted in your inauguration speech that “Clemson is still a work in progress.” What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your 14 years?

BARKER: It’s hard not to start with technology. The kind of impact that instant communication has had — much for the better I think. I would list the range and location of where we are attracting students now — truly a national base, and an international base. Paths are as well worn in parts of China for students following their colleagues as they are in Bamberg and up and down the East Coast and in California and all the Midwest.

The other thing that’s changed dramatically for the better is our self-concept. To a person, we believe that we are a great school. Now some would say we are on our path to being a great school, and I wouldn’t argue with that either. There are still many things we want to accomplish, but our expectations are that we’re going to be great. That’s emboldened us to dream bigger dreams and to try harder things. I’m proud of all three of those things, but I think the change in self-concept is fundamental to the success of what our university can be.

CW: What was your biggest challenge?

BARKER: We’ve never really had the financial base to be able to justify our dreams. At the start of my service, we were 40 percent funded by the state, and now we’re about 9 percent funded by the state. When I was a student, it was about 80 percent.

But the biggest challenge, I think, was the Great Recession, when we all were furloughed — all of us took a pay cut — and yet we came through without any layoffs. We kept the Clemson Family as united as can be in a crisis like that. Coming out of that now, we’re stronger than we ever were. Certainly our capital campaign has shown that — we’re approaching $700 million, and we’re dead serious about reaching that $1 billion goal. When we do, we’ll be the only school our size ever to have done that, and I think that shows a lot about self-confidence and self-concept.

CW: You’ve often begun speeches with stories of life in the president’s house. What’s one of your favorites from over the years?

BARKER: Maybe the first one I told is still my favorite. We were here on a Saturday — just the two of us, Marcia and I — and that doorbell rang. I was doing something, so Marcia opened the door. She found me and said, “There’s a group of students who want to talk to you.” So I went out to talk with them, and they said, “We’re on our way to Bowman Field to play Frisbee. Do you wanna play?”

I called back to Marcia and said, “Can I go out and play?” And she said, “Yes, as long as you’re back by 3 o’clock, because you have an appointment at that time.”

That engagement is something I treasure probably more than anything else about living on campus or this work. That students would think to invite the president to play Frisbee — there is just something right about that. And I guess that gave me the confidence, that maybe I ought to get in the Tiger suit and do push-ups, and who knows, water-ski behind the rowing team. That degree of engagement always seemed to me to be the most joyful part of the job, but an important part of the job too.

CW: How has your background in architecture enriched your presidency?

BARKER: I can’t imagine a better preparation, a better education for a university president than architecture. I never thought of it this way, but at some point about six months into this service, it dawned on me that I’m practicing architecture.

My education was very broad — all the way from poetry to plumbing — but it wasn’t very deep. And that’s what a president’s job is. You don’t have to be an expert in everything on campus, but you need to have some understanding. The liability is that I don’t have the depth in any one area, but as president, that could get in your way. I really value that education because of the breadth that it gave me. It also asked for me to use both sides of my brain, the left brain and the right brain. So you’ve taken physics and you’re also taking painting.

The other part is that I am conditioned to strive for the beautiful. My eyes and my brain are very much tuned to things that aren’t, and they stand out when you’ve had that kind of education. I really value the beauty of this campus and making sure that it continues to become even more beautiful with every decision we make. It’s not just an aesthetic game I’m playing; we attract students and faculty to this campus because they look around and say, “This is beautiful — I want to live here.” It makes me look forward to getting up and coming to work every morning because I’m surrounded by this kind of beauty.

We have to make sure that we continue to do that in both the design of our buildings, and in the spaces between the buildings, the outdoor rooms. We ought to strive for this place to be a garden — every inch of it to be a garden — and I think we’re making real progress there.

I get to live here, and enjoy it when it’s filled with people and enjoy it when it very quiet and the mist is coming off of the lake. It’s a spectacular piece of the earth.

CW: When you look back, what were your proudest moments, both personally and professionally?

BARKER: Let me touch on a few of the highlights. I think that each one was a success that I didn’t do, that the campus did — everybody was a part of this. These things are too complex for one person to do. But I would list among them the fact that we set out to get a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, and now students are leaving Clemson with that very important credential, and it’s changed our self-concept.

The fact that we enrolled and created the National Scholars Program in 2000 — I would list that as a major moment.

The fact that we raised tuition 42 percent in one year and kept this family together. People rallied to support it because they believed in the quality of a Clemson education. We were one of the lowest priced, in terms of tuition, statewide, and we should have been priced according to the value we were giving. We built that base, and heaven knows — that was before the Great Recession — where would we be if we hadn’t done that? The quality wouldn’t be there.

The partnerships we’ve enjoyed with BMW, with Michelin, with the City of Greenville and with the state that created ICAR. It was a matter of really good teamwork and really good timing, and it’s helped give South Carolina a direct look at what a knowledge-based economy looks like.

The way we got through the Great Recession, with no layoffs, and we kept ourselves together.

The fact that, at the start of the Will to Lead capital campaign, we could have delayed that announcement, because you don’t do that kind of fundraising in the worst recession in 60 or 80 years. The Board said continue, the Foundation Board said continue, and we did. And that’s why we are where we are now.

Winning both a National Championship in Golf and the Habitat for Humanity International College Chapter of the Year. That shows the true balance of Clemson.

The Department of Energy grant we got to develop the drivetrain test facility in North Charleston, which is nearing completion now. That $45 million, combined with the state match, produced a $100 million project that we were able to capitalize on to create an environment that will help industry and serve our students remarkably well.

Creating the Academic Success Center, and Dori Helms, our provost, deserves credit for that. It was her idea and now we see the physical manifestation of a very good idea in a brand new building on campus.

I was touched by the Ring Ceremony, and having Col. Ben Skardon, one of my teachers, talk about what his ring had meant to him on the Bataan Death March and his prisoner-of-war experience for almost four years in the second World War.

And one that was hard, was the brawl we had with the University of South Carolina in football in 2004. We decided that we weren’t going to go to a bowl game. That was behavior we couldn’t accept, and we were not going to reward ourselves by having a bowl experience. I think that sent a pretty clear message about where our priorities were and a little bit of a statement about Clemson’s integrity. It was not universally praised, but I think it was the right thing to do.

CW: How has being an alumnus affected your presidency?

BARKER: Clemson is not ordinary; it is not normal. It is a school with all sorts of idiosyncrasies. We just don’t behave like other schools behave, and we don’t put priorities on things that some people, at other schools, might put priorities on. But the things we do put priorities on are critically important to us. It has taken me a lifetime to figure those things out.

I started at Clemson as a 17-year-old, the oldest of three boys, in a family that never had anyone go to college. My father died a year before the first time I walked across Bowman Field. I’ve just found that knowing that history, those traditions, how a campus can embrace someone — that’s where our priorities ought to be, and I understood that almost instinctively. I would have been a lousy president somewhere else because I didn’t understand those things. I think that understanding those distinctive qualities, praising them, strengthening them, has been an important part of what I hope we’ve accomplished.

CW: Is there anything you would characterize as “unfinished business” as you retire?

BARKER: The enterprise legislation. I knew it was a very hard task to get that through in one year and even more so in an abbreviated year. But that’s unfinished. It must happen — it is vital to our future. But we’re halfway there, and we’ll be planning our efforts between now and when the legislature begins in January. And we’ll be very active in this offseason to plant the right seeds hopefully so that we can be successful.

CW: What will you miss as you return to the classroom?

BARKER: No more knocks on the front door and to see who’s there — to open that door and to see what kind of Clemson experience someone is having, and whether or not I can make that better. I will miss that. I’ll miss the interaction with students and with faculty and staff too, but that interaction with students. That’s one thing we’ll miss, living right here in the middle of campus, surrounded by that energy, or that depression after the first round of tests. You can feel it by just being a part of this campus. So being an integral part of the campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is something I think we’ll miss.

CW: Is there a place on campus that has been particularly significant for you, either as a student, faculty member, or as president?

BARKER: There are moments when you walk on this campus that you get these glimpses of the mountains. There are a couple of beautiful spots where that happens on the campus; one of them is at the base of Tillman Hall. You look down College Avenue, and you see those mountains looming in the distance. I never get tired of that view. It’s breathtaking.

And Bowman Field, because every time I walk across it, I have that memory of the first time I walked across it, and the sense that this campus gave me, just intuitively, that said, “You’re going to be okay. We know you’ve got lots of challenges, financial, you lost your dad, you’re sort of representing your whole family in this effort. Trust us, you’ll be okay.” I felt that very much that first time, and now when I walk across Bowman Field, I feel the same way, every single time.

CW: Is there a person who was particularly significant for you as a student?

BARKER: Ben Skardon. This Marine reading poetry in his big deep gravelly voice and reading Shelley and Keats — I was just mesmerized by that.

Two faculty members in architecture who realized that I was having a financial crisis. They found a scholarship that fit my grade point average and need, and that kept me from having to drop out of school.

And then there was this speech teacher who had us listen to the speeches of Martin Luther King back in 1966 or ’67. She never talked about the content. She would say, “Listen to the inflection here. You know I’ve been teaching you about how repetition works when you’re giving speeches, and inflection and volume.” I was a changed person coming out of that class. I was not the same person walking out of there that I was when I walked in. It wasn’t just about technique and speech either.

CW: It’s obvious that you and Mrs. Barker have approached this presidency as a partnership. How has that enriched and strengthened your presidency?

BARKER: That’s absolutely true. The grace that she’s shown and the hospitality that she’s shown — I think it’s in her DNA. But also the kind of preparation that I had for the job — she had the same. Consider this — our first year of married life was in married student housing here. So she had that same understanding about Clemson that I had and was an active part of the community. From her preschool days [as a teacher and director at Fort Hill Church], she has a lot of alumni in this town, and now they’re my alumni. So we’ve handed off four-year-olds who became Clemson graduates, and that’s really a joy to see. When she sees them walking across the stage getting their degree, it’s a special moment for her too. I don’t have any doubt that the best first lady that Clemson’s ever had is Marcia.

CW: Any other thoughts you’d like to share with us?

BARKER: I think the thing that I’m feeling right now, as the time for us to change majors comes, is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I am overcome by moments that are so special to me that demonstrate the opportunity that we’ve been given, and the gratitude that I feel for that opportunity to serve my alma mater for 14 years, to be the spokesperson for the Clemson Family, in times of loss, in times of celebration, all the way to memorial services for students, to picking up the trophy from the ACC Championship on the field and everything in between. I just have an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

CW: I would say the University probably has the same sense towards you.

BARKER: I don’t know about that part, but I just know what’s rolling around in my head and my heart, and it’s powerful.

Orange Rose

Since 1999, Marcia Barker has called the two-story white house situated off Cherry Road, atop a grassy hill, “home.” Shortly after she and husband, Jim, moved into the space, she affixed a sign to the front door that said as much. The small plaque has a simple message, but it makes an intentional distinction: This is the “President’s Home.”

In the Barkers’ 14 years of living and entertaining here, tens of thousands of guests have crossed the threshold — each one enjoying an introduction to Marcia’s hospitality and her love of all things Clemson. Whether it’s a donor event, Woman’s Club gathering, faculty reception or alumni celebration, an invitation to the President’s Home is always an invitation to time well spent with Marcia, as she entertains alongside her high school sweetheart, life partner and best friend.

The flowers are fresh, and guests are welcomed with a warm smile and open arms. And if Marcia can help it, the roses are always orange.

“When we lived in Clemson as students, Jim’s architecture faculty embraced all their students,” she recalls, seated in her well-appointed front living room and explaining that, as a young couple in the late 1960s, they were invited to picnics, dinners at faculty homes and all variety of outings.

“So, when Jim started his first faculty appointment, we just opened the door, because that’s the way we had been treated,” Marcia says. Now, nearly five decades after they began their Clemson journey together, Marcia is readying herself and her husband to exit the presidency and begin the process of reflecting on their time spent here. “I realized early on how fast this would go, and that it would pass,” Marcia says quietly and thoughtfully. “I’ve tried to embrace every single moment.”

Marcia and Jim met in Kingsport, Tenn. They were high school sweethearts, dating for five years before they were married in 1969, him at 21, her at 20. Her father signed for her to wed the young Clemson architecture student, and she left Winthrop College lacking one year of school so she could move to Clemson. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in elementary education at Georgia State University in 1972.

Their marriage marked the beginning of a partnership that would carry them through life and academia, starting out in “married student housing” at Clemson, a modest group of buildings known as the “pre-fabs.” The small metal buildings on Jersey Lane have long since been replaced by the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts. But every time the Barkers attend a performance, Marcia says they smile a little at the memory of their Clemson beginnings.

“We just thought it was the most wonderful house in the world,” she says laughing. “It would probably fit in the foyer of the President’s Home. That’s where we learned about the Clemson Family, too.”

They moved straight into the pre-fabs after their August 1969 wedding and prepared for Jim to finish his bachelor’s degree. “You know how hot it is here in Clemson,” she recalls of that first summer. “There was no air conditioning, and those little metal houses were warm.”

Shortly after they’d unpacked, one of Barker’s architecture professors, Hal Cooledge, appeared at their door with a window air conditioning unit in hand. He told them he just happened to have an extra one lying around. Marcia may never know if that was true, but she says this, smiling: “It cooled that whole little place, and probably saved our marriage.”

Nearly 45 years later, she’s seen more kindness extended to her family by the Clemson Family than she could ever have imagined.

“It’s been overwhelming and very amazing,” she says. “We can just feel their genuine care and concern.”

Barker was appointed dean of the College of Architecture in 1986, and the couple left Mississippi State University to return to Clemson for the second and last time. Marcia had one lament about the move back, after years of making the trip to Clemson to visit friends:

“We were so excited to start this adventure here,” she recalls. “I said, ‘There’s only one bad thing about coming back to Clemson.’”

It was a comment that she remembers surprising her husband: “When we would come back to visit, we would drive into town, and I would get that excited feeling in my stomach when I would get to Bowman Field. And I said, ‘I will miss that.’”

She found out that the feeling never actually went away, whether she was driving to work as a teacher at Fort Hill Presbyterian or passing by Bowman on one of her early-morning walks around campus, something she enjoys with a small group of friends as often as she is able:

“I still get that feeling, because there’s always something different going on there. It’s the heartbeat of the campus.”

Through the years, the Barkers worked together to serve the students and faculty and to advance Jim’s career, raising two sons, Jacob and Britt, along the way. They celebrated a wedding and two grandchildren in that time — son Jacob married Rita Bolt Barker and they have since had two daughters, Madeline and Eliza.

On her own, Marcia has served the community with diligence and selflessness, volunteering her time and her talents to many, many organizations — America Reads, Friends of Lee Gallery, Fort Hill Presbyterian Church, Clemson Child Development Center and University organizations among them. As first lady, she is honorary president of the Clemson University Woman’s Club, and each year she hosts their open house. As a caring friend, she can be counted on for her homemade breakfast casserole during times of loss (a death) and moments of celebration (a new baby!). She is often responsible for flowers when a special event is happening at her church.

Those who know her well say Jim has always been her No. 1 priority. Marcia explains her support of him the same way she characterizes her engagement with students, faculty, staff and donors: “When you care about someone or something, you really want to do what you can to make that person successful and happy. That’s the way the people at Clemson are.”

The Barkers moved into the President’s Home in 1999, and since 2000 they have hosted an impressive 93,708 guests at 789 events there.

In all that time, Doris Johnson has been the executive housekeeper. And in all that time of sharing a house and a calendar with Marcia, Johnson says, “I have never seen her upset.”

Johnson works hand in hand with Marcia’s executive assistant, Linda Wofford, to support the events and entertaining that take place at the President’s Home. Johnson and Wofford have been a team since they both worked for University dining services in the 1990s. They agree that Marcia’s cool, calm and collected public persona doesn’t change behind closed doors. What folks don’t see as often, they say, is her sense of humor.

Case in point: Years ago, the Barkers were entertaining a group of college deans with an outdoor, white tablecloth dinner reception. As Johnson and Wofford were just finishing setting the tables and the Barkers were inside getting dressed, the backyard sprinklers went off. Everything was soaked.

The two staffers looked at each other and realized that someone was going to have to tell the Barkers. So, Wofford stood at the foot of the stairs and called up to them, saying, “We have a problem.”

The Barkers emerged. They saw the soaked table settings. Their response? “They laughed,” Wofford recalls, smiling. The four of them worked as a team to wipe down the glassware and china and replace the soaked tablecloths. Minutes before guests walked through the door, Marcia was helping her team dry off the wet grass with bath towels.

“If anybody had seen us, they would have thought we were crazy,” Johnson says. It remains one of her most treasured memories from her years at the President’s Home.

There’s seldom a face that Marcia Barker forgets. Rare is the occasion that doesn’t merit a hand-written note in her perfect script. She’s in a constant state of outreach — be it congratulations or condolences. It’s not out of obligation. It is, friends say, because she really cares.

“She will know as much about you as you know about her,” says Hazel Sparks, a longtime friend of Marcia’s and her former teacher’s assistant at Fort Hill Preschool. Marcia taught and served as director of the preschool for 10 years, prior to becoming first lady. Sparks, a Clemson institution in her own right, connects the dots between Marcia’s teaching days and her role as first lady.

“She could focus on one child’s need and still be aware of everything else going on in the classroom,” Sparks says. “In a social situation, she can focus on the person she’s talking to, but she still knows what’s going on around her.”

And chances are, if you had a nice conversation, she’ll write a thoughtful note to say so. There’s no telling how many notes Marcia has penned through the years. But if you ask her, it’s one too few.

“I write a lot, but that’s one thing that’s really hard for me. I always feel like there’s one more I need to write that I don’t get time for,” she says. “I do think it’s important, and people have been so incredibly great to write us — just some heartfelt thanks and gratitude. We will definitely treasure those.”

It’s been years since they’ve gone back and looked in the wooden box that holds the thousands of letters they’ve received through the years, dating back to when President Barker was inaugurated. In retirement, they have plans to revisit those letters and those memories, one at a time.

A favorite memory Marcia shares occasionally is a valentine’s party that several male students talked them into hosting at their home. The undergrads convinced the Barkers to let them cook dinner in their kitchen and have their blindfolded dates chauffeured to the President’s Home to share the meal.

The young women took turns gasping at the surprise before being invited to sit down to dinner. Afterward, the group of about eight ladies gathered in the den with Marcia, and the next thing they knew, one of the young men had slid behind the grand piano. He started playing. The rest of the men, including President Barker, then filed in through the French doors and surrounded the piano, proceeding to perform a choreographed rendition of the song, “L-O-V-E.” (Think, “L, is for the way you look tonight.”) The song ended with Jim on bended knee in front of Marcia, an orange rose in hand.

At the end of the night, they were in a state of shock, Marcia recalls. “We just looked at each other when they walked out the door and said, ‘What just happened?’”

It’s clear that memories like that will live on long after the last of the Barkers’ belongings are moved out of the President’s Home and into a home off campus. Marcia hasn’t spent too much time being reflective about her tenure as Clemson’s first lady, in part because she’s still so busy, but also, she says, because it makes her emotional.

“Jim always says it’s been a great honor in his life to serve Clemson as president,” she offers. “When he says that, I always in my mind say, ‘It’s really been an honor for me to serve alongside him.’”

Danni M. Allen ’09

Danni Allen

Danni Allen competed and won on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.”

A winning determined spirit

Danni Allen knows hard work and dedication can get you where you want to go. She practiced this while she was a student and continues to live by it today.

Allen competed and won the 14th season of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” a weight-loss reality show. She attributes much of her success in the competition to the lessons she learned at Clemson. As a freshman, she had not been accepted into the major of her dreams, architecture. Allen double-majored her first semester, worked hard and was accepted into the program. She says that lesson set her up for life. “‘The Biggest Loser’ was the same way,” she says. “I worked really hard and it paid off.”

During her appearances on “The Biggest Loser,” alumni and students noticed that Allen was showing her Tiger pride by wearing her Clemson ring — which she never takes off. Allen received Facebook and Twitter comments from Clemson people supporting her throughout the season. Football great C.J. Spiller let her know that he was pulling for her. When Allen responded that she had cheered for him in college, he said, “Now I’m cheering you on.”

Allen is paying forward her success by speaking about what she has learned through her experiences and encouraging others to find the inner strength to meet their goals, not just in weight-loss, but also life.

Joseph G. Mizzi ’88

Joseph Mizzi and children

Joseph Mizzi ’88, with children in Zambia, where construction began this spring on Chipakata Children’s Academy.

Empowerment through Education

Joseph Mizzi knows the impact of education. The grandson of immigrants, and among the first generation in his family to attend college, he values deeply the opportunities and advantages his Clemson education provided. Making education available for others is a passion that motivates and energizes this architecture alumnus.

That passion is evident through his work as treasurer and vice-chair of the board for the Salvadori Center, which uses structures in the environment to teach NYC kids math and science, and as a member of the board of directors of the Boy Scouts of America Greater NYC Councils and an active participant with the Boy Scouts’ Explorer program, which introduces students to potential careers. But his excitement is palpable when he starts to talk about his 14+ Foundation and its work in Zambia.

Mizzi, who is president of Sciame Construction Co. in New York City, co-founded 14+ Foundation with Nchimunya Wulf, a Zambian-born fashion stylist, with whom he shares a vision for educational initiatives in Zambia and other areas in Africa. The nonprofit works to build schools and orphanages in rural African communities.

Construction for their first project, Chipakata Children’s Academy, began in Zambia this spring. The school and orphanage will encompass more than 200 acres, and the foundation has already completed road improvement work, drilled water wells and provided a grinding mill and a supply store to allow the community access to basic goods and services. Development plans also include a health clinic and community center.

For more information on the 14+ Foundation, go to www.14plusfoundation.org.

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