My Freshman Year

Many people have asked me what I learned during my “freshman year” at Clemson.

Most of what I learned confirmed what I already knew. Our University has world-class faculty, dedicated staff, smart students, loyal alumni, great traditions, a proud history and unlimited potential.

In 2014, the rest of the country caught on to this truth as Clemson rose to the rank of No. 20 among national public universities in the U.S. News Guide to America’s Best Colleges. This recognition was based on the hard work done by thousands of people and the visionary leadership of President Emeritus Jim Barker that put a singular focus on improving the quality of undergraduate education.

We did it, and we should be very proud. But we know that Top 20 is not a destination. This is not a moment to kick off our shoes, sit back and relax.

Now the question is: With Top 20 as a starting point and a launching pad, where can Clemson go from here?

This question will be asked often this spring as a review of the current strategic planning gets underway, led by our new provost, Robert Jones, and co-chaired by Brett Dalton and Ellen Granberg.

If you are not familiar with his qualifications for the job, let me introduce Bob to you. He earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in forestry and forest management from Clemson. It was here that he met his wife Jeri, also a Clemson graduate. Both hold doctorates — his in forest ecology and hers in veterinary medicine.

Bob is not only provost, but also Clemson’s first executive vice president for academic affairs. That means he will provide leadership for our undergraduate and graduate programs, academic support programs, research and public service activities.

His previous experience at Georgia, Auburn, Virginia Tech and West Virginia included leadership of very successful strategic planning efforts. They were inclusive, “bottom-up” efforts that succeeded because they had broad participation and a big vision.

At a November 19 Town Meeting in Tillman Hall — which was well attended and live-streamed to online viewers through ClemsonTV — I asked the campus to think 10, 15, even 50 years into the future. Bob and I challenged all of us to seek not only undergraduate excellence, but excellence in graduate education and research. To meet that challenge, we will be guided by four key words that we hear over and over when people talk about Clemson:

  • Quality. This has been Clemson’s mantra and rallying cry for many years, and we must continue our push for academic excellence.
  • Impact. Thomas Green Clemson founded this University to have a positive impact — on our community and our economy.
  • Distinction. Where can we be the best? What will bring us distinction? We must focus our limited resources on building areas of strength.
  • Differentiation. What sets us apart from other universities? Let’s look for the niche areas to develop where Clemson’s unique strengths match society’s need for answers and innovation.

We need to look over the horizon to what might be future opportunities to serve humanity, drive economic growth and distinguish Clemson from other research universities. And we need to do this in a way that does not de-emphasize or diminish our unshakable commitment to undergraduate excellence.

Will it be hard? Yes. Can we do it? Yes.

But it will require the best thinking and the best efforts of every constituent, every stakeholder and every member of the Clemson family. That includes you, our fantastic alumni. I invite you to be part of this process of reflection, goal-setting and planning. Visit our website at and join the conversation.

In 2015, our focus is solidly on the future. By this time next year, we will be well on our way to building a new vision for Clemson in 2025 and beyond.

I am excited about our future!

Go Tigers!
James P. Clements

Meet the Provost: ROBERT H. JONES JR. ’79, M ’81

Bob Jones, Clemson’s new executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, has called many places “home” over the years. A native of western New York state, he came to Clemson as an undergraduate to study forestry, drawn to the area for the biodiversity of its trees. Since then, he and his wife, Jeri ’80, have been at the University of Georgia, Syracuse, Auburn, Virginia Tech and West Virginia University. But when Jones had the opportunity to come back to Clemson as provost, he knew he was truly coming home.

Jones took some time for an interview about his time as a student at Clemson and his goals to move Clemson forward.

Q: Tell me about your experience as a Clemson student. Do any special memories stand out?

A: A powerful memory was the first time I sat with about 60 other foresters in a class and realized there were 60 other people who had the same passion I did. I was a New Yorker, I had long hair and looked a little bit like a hippie, but I worked hard, and the faculty didn’t care what I looked like or what my cultural background was; they recognized that I was working hard and performing, and they rewarded me and encouraged me. All of my faculty were welcoming and encouraging, and they were an inspiration for me. I finally said to myself, “I want to be like them.” The Forestry Club was important part of my intellectual and social development. And I spent a lot of time learning — and playing — in the Experimental Forest. The Experimental Forest is a fantastic resource for the University that is somewhat underutilized and underappreciated.

Q: Your wife, Jeri, is also a Clemson alum. How did you meet?

A: Jeri was a zoology major in the pre-vet program. Her curriculum called for one plant class, so she took plant ecology, and we were in the same class — that’s how we met. She was involved in theater and chorus, and she invited me to come to a theater production where she was volunteering as an usher. That was our first date. She was worried I wasn’t going to show up, and when I did show up, all she did was show me to my seat and say thank you. On the surface, it wasn’t much of a first date! But it meant a lot to me.

Q. Has anything surprised you about Clemson since you have come back?

A: Clemson has advanced beyond most institutions in developing true interdisciplinary scholarship and learning. I was pleasantly surprised that we’re very good at that, ahead of most universities that I know. I knew Clemson had become strong in undergraduate learning and had built a strong cadre of undergraduate students working within a challenging learning environment, but when I saw Clemson’s highly innovative and interdisciplinary nature in person, I was very impressed. It’s a great platform to start from as the University continues to go forward.

Q: A lot has changed since you were a student at Clemson, but what have you found that has not changed?

A: <laughs> Johnstone Hall and the University Union! I know with the Core Campus project under construction and other plans being developed, those buildings will be coming down in the next few years, but I’m glad I got here before the end of that chapter. I have been able to relive some of my fondest memories there.

Q. This year, Clemson achieved a long-held goal by moving into the U.S.News & World Report top 20 public colleges and universities. So what’s next? What will the next major University goal be?

A: A new vision is now beginning to crystalize, and I think it will focus on three areas: continuing to improve the undergraduate learning experience, building a strong international reputation in graduate studies and increasing our national prominence in research. Those three goals have to be highly integrated — enhancing one area should automatically enhance the others. For example, as we grow our research programs, it should create more research opportunities for our undergraduates, and we’ll see higher quality teaching from Ph.D. students added to the mix. As we grow graduate studies, that will, in turn, help accelerate our research and provide more tutoring and mentoring for our undergraduate students. If you do it strategically, they are all linked. They can all push each other higher.

Q: You worked with President Clements at West Virginia, where you were dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. Describe your relationship with him and how the two of you will work together at Clemson.

A: President Clements and I share the same core values, and we have very complimentary skill sets. He is a charismatic, visionary leader; I am an implementer. Put those two things together, and we make a strong team.

Q. Clemson has a number of administrative and leadership positions that need to be filled. What types of people will you be looking for when filling those important positions?

A. There are two qualities I’ll be looking for in new administrators: they need to be collaborative and visionary. We need collaborators to help build teams that work together well, and we need visionaries to look at and plan for Clemson’s future.

Q. Any final thoughts to share?

A: Sometimes people have a hard time seeing the strengths and potential of their own institution. When you come from the outside, though, it’s really clear. Perhaps it’s just human nature; we are struggling with our daily workloads and tasks, and sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. Someone from the outside takes a look and sees the whole forest before they see the trees. That’s what I see when I look at Clemson. I see huge potential.