When Dr. Herman D. James retired in 1998 after 15 extraordinary years as Rowan University’s fifth president, it would have been easy for him to be content with his accomplishments.
But James had another goal, one that was vitally important to him, both professionally and personally.
“My whole idea was to finish my academic career in the classroom,” James said in 2008, after he spent a decade beyond his presidency teaching in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the College of Education and The Graduate School as a university-wide distinguished professor.
While his accomplishments as Rowan’s president were vast—and historic—James never forgot that a great college education is defined in large part by what happens inside the classroom. He clearly relished the chance to return to teaching, going so far as to volunteer to teach an introductory sociology course in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.
James, 67, passed away on Saturday, October 2. He leaves behind a rich legacy that includes his family, numerous successes as a teacher and scholar, and a University community that continues to benefit—every single day—from his extraordinary vision and leadership.
“Herman James led our university through a period of enormous change. At the beginning of his presidency, we were ‘Glassboro State College;’ by the end of his presidency, we were ‘Rowan University,'” said Donald Farish, president, Rowan University. The change in name reflected both the transformative Rowan gift, and an increasingly complex and diverse set of academic offerings, including the first doctorate program to be offered by the state colleges and universities of New Jersey. He created a remarkable legacy, and will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
Under James’ leadership, the University received a transformative, $100 million gift from industrialist Henry Rowan and his wife, Betty. At the time, the 1992 gift was the largest single gift ever given to a public university or college.
The gift allowed James to realize most of the goals he had for the institution. They included attaining university status, establishing the College of Engineering, expanding the Department of Communication into the College of Communication, and establishing a doctoral program in educational leadership in the College of Education.
The College of Engineering and the doctoral program were the first of their kind among New Jersey state colleges.
Known for his love of students and college life, his visibility and accessibility to students, faculty and staff, his good humor, and his desire to create a close-knit, “family” atmosphere at the University, James may be most remembered for his vision for the future of Rowan. He clearly believed in Rowan’s potential, something the institution reaps even today, according to Thomas Gallia, who served as James’ chief of staff, a position he also holds with President Farish.
In fact, Gallia noted, James was so forward thinking that, some 14 years ago, he developed a vision for the University for 2010.
“Historically, the leaders in society and the work world have come from colleges and universities, and that will be true even more so in the future,” James said at the time, noting that Rowan needed to become “a comprehensive, regional university of national prominence.” He added, “We want students totally immersed in their collegiate experience.”
Inside the classroom and out, James worked to transform Rowan into a more residential campus. Applications from students during his presidency increased more than 45 percent and average SAT scores rose significantly. He also improved campus diversity by doubling the number of minority students and faculty.
During his tenure, Rowan Hall, the $28 million engineering building, opened, as did the $16.6 million Campbell Library and the $8.6 million Recreation Center. Sports teams thrived during the James era as the men’s basketball and soccer teams won national championships.
When James retired from the presidency, he did so with satisfaction.
“I stepped down as president after reaching almost all of the goals I had for Rowan when I first took the position,” he said in 2008.
James, who was a graduate of Tuskegee University, St. John’s University and the University of Pittsburgh, is survived by his wife, Marie; his children, Renee, Sybil and Sidney; and two grandchildren.
“His warm smile, affection and concern for every member of the University family will long be remembered, said Gallia.
A memorial service will be held at the Platt Memorial Chapel (2001 Berlin Road, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003) on Friday, October 8, at noon.