Mass. colleges attract new presidents from out of state

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BOSTON — Two public colleges in Massachusetts have new presidents, after the Board of Higher Education voted Tuesday to approve leaders for the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

New MCLA President James “Jaimie” Birge, a Lee native, was previously the president of Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. and the interim president at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.V.

MassArt President David Nelson comes to Massachusetts from North Carolina, where he was provost and chief academic officer at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Board Chairman Chris Gabrieli said Birge and Nelson represent “exciting examples of Massachusetts’ ability to attract terrific national candidates.”

“It’s kind of exciting to see two candidates bringing different sets of experiences to our table,” he said.

Birge left Franklin Pierce University last year after he and his wife decided they “wanted to be in a place that had a little bit more to offer than just a couple of Dunkin Donuts, a diner and a gas station,” he told the board. Birge said that growing up in Berkshire County, near the school that was then North Adams State College and would later become MCLA, gave him an early appreciation of the importance of access to public higher education.

According to MCLA, admissions applications increased 40 percent at Franklin Pierce during Birge’s tenure, with incoming class size and student retention rates also increasing.

Will Dudley, the vice chairman of MCLA’s board of trustees, described Birge as “even-tempered but engaging,” with “terrific experience” and a “very nice way with people.”

In moving from the University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts to MassArt, Nelson is transitioning from one of the country’s two state-funded arts colleges to the other. In North Carolina, he forged collaborations between his school and institutions like the Cirque du Soleil and the Lincoln Center in New York, MassArt trustees said.

MassArt trustee David Lee praised Nelson’s ability to work with the North Carolina legislature around funding.

A first-generation college student whose high school band director encouraged him to continue his education, Nelson said he believed in looking for the potential in all students.

“I just always wonder in my work where are the little David Nelsons out there, the young men and women who need someone to advocate for them in that way,” he said.

— Written by Katie Lannan

Copyright State House News Service