The Trinity Reporter Spring 2004
President-Elect James F. Jones, Jr.
The College’s 21st president on the role of alumni and parents, the endowment, the city of Hartford, and much more

interview by Drew Sanborn
photographs by Robert Reichert


James F. Jones, Jr., president of Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan, will take office on July 1, 2004, as Trinity’s 21st president. At Kalamazoo, Jones initiated development of a strategic plan and a comprehensive capital campaign that led to the endowment of 10 faculty chairs, substantial student scholarship and faculty development funds, as well as the renovation of major buildings. Under his leadership, the College was repositioned to play a pivotal role in the local community while gaining extensive external funding support nationally.

Prior to joining Kalamazoo in 1996, Jones was professor in the humanities and vice provost of Southern Methodist University and dean of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences in Dallas, Texas. From 1975 to 1991, he held various academic positions at Washington University, Saint Louis, Missouri, including professor and chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literature for almost a decade, as well as serving as the founder and director, Summer Language Institute in France, Château de la Hercerie, La Croix-en-Touraine. Earlier, he served as preceptor, Department of French and Romance Philology, Columbia University, and as chair of the Department of Foreign Languages, Woodward Academy, Atlanta, Georgia.

Jones received his Doctorate and Master of Philosophy degrees from Columbia University and earned a Master of Arts from Emory University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia. He holds a Certificat, Degré Avancé, from the Ecole des Professeurs de Français à l’Etranger, the Sorbonne. He is the author of three books, the last of which, Rousseau’s Dialogues: An Interpretive Essay, was nominated for the prestigious Gottschalk Prize, and more than 50 articles and reviews. His scholarship was recognized by the French government when he was named a Chevalier des Palmes Académiques in the mid-1980s.

Dr. Jones was interviewed for the Reporter by Drew Sanborn, director of publications at Trinity.

If you could pick one moment from your lifetime that you think most strongly shaped your philosophy as an educator, what would it be?
I will never forget that moment! My father died in 1951, when I was not quite four, and my brother and I went through a pretty rough time. But one of the threads in the fabric of our life was our beloved housekeeper who had worked for our family for a long time and who was one of the great unifying factors of our childhood. When we were small children, she would make us do our homework before we were allowed to go out to play. We would have to take it to her, and she would say, using wonderful 19th-century terms, “You need to go in there and write your sums better, they are not orderly.” Or if it were spelling, she would say, “Well, I think you don’t have this spelling down right,” and she would send us back to do our work over.

Then one day when I was 11 and my brother was 9, I realized that she couldn’t read! I grabbed my brother, dashed out into the backyard, and said, “She’s had us buffaloed all these years. She can’t read!” To the day she died, and she lived to be 87, we never let on that we knew.

I will never forget that moment, because I suddenly realized that wisdom has nothing to do with knowledge and that—as she would teach us—what mattered most was what she used to call “the size of your heart, not the color of your skin.”

Of all the great transformational moments of my life, and there have been many, that was by far the most life-altering. I have used it in many speeches and sermons over the years because it was the greatest lesson about what’s really important in life, which is not the number of diplomas you have but how you learn to live your own life and what you put down as priorities as you deal with those around you.


Trinity has been widely recognized over the past decade for its efforts to engage in a variety of ways with the city of Hartford and with the neighborhood around the College. In what ways do you anticipate that Trinity will continue to interact with the city when you are president?
What Trinity did with the city of Hartford was very cogent, because just simply saying that you are one among the 637 liberal arts colleges left in the United States is not good enough, not with the rapid changes washing over liberal arts education today. Right now, we think that probably only four to five percent of the college-bound cohort of high school students is headed the way of these 637 schools, so carving out a niche for Trinity’s future was a wonderfully prescient thing for the College to do.

Trinity is in a unique position. Unique is a word schools overuse all the time—all you have to do is look at their PR material—but in Trinity’s case it’s true. I don’t know of any liberal arts college in the country in an urban area that has embraced its environment to the degree that Trinity has. What is going on here, in the curriculum and in extracurricular activities, is informed by where we are geographically. The College has embraced the city as a partner and as a learning environment for the students, and I plan to continue that legacy.

Being a good partner with the city and with other local educational institutions is something we did in Kalamazoo when that city was confronted with some pretty serious economic changes. The various educational institutions banded together to form the Consortium for Higher Education, which it was my privilege to chair. We brought in David Ross, a great urbanologist who wrote about Hartford in his book Cities Without Suburbs, which is one of the reasons why, when I was asked to pay more attention to the presidency here, I was already familiar with what Trinity is doing. Actually, we used Trinity as a model for a lot of our development projects in southwest Michigan, especially in the Kalamazoo public schools. We studied the Learning Corridor schools here on Broad Street when Kalamazoo College adopted the Woodward Elementary School in the city’s public system.

All of the issues confronting older cities in the Northeast are prevalent right here at our doorstep. As I walk around our campus, around Broad Street and New Britain Avenue, and look at the difference Trinity has made in the neighborhood, I think, “This is an absolutely splendid platform to underscore the interconnectedness of the College and the city of Hartford.” So I very much look forward to working with Mayor Eddie Perez, a Trinity alumnus, as well as other local leaders, in continuing to strengthen the connection between the city of Hartford and the College.

Kalamazoo College is ranked first in the country for excellence in international programs. In what ways do you anticipate that your leadership in this field will make a difference at Trinity?
In today’s environment, we are being derelict in our duty to our students if we do not make certain they have as much of a global perspective as we can give them. Kalamazoo College has sent 85 percent of the student body abroad for the past 40 years, and 16 percent of the current student body will graduate having had two experiences abroad, which is why U.S. News & World Report keeps putting Kalamazoo first in the country.

I have already started doing some things here to help more Trinity students go abroad. I talked to a new colleague in the Trinity chemistry department when I was on campus here a couple of weeks ago about programs in Australia that we can easily broaden to include Trinity. I have already talked to colleagues of mine at the Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia, about that. Also, I have been on the board of trustees of the Centre d’Echanges Internationaux in Paris for a long time and will help make connections there. These are just two of the many possibilities I hope to bring to my new academic home that will benefit Trinity students.

You have noted that the first few weeks of a student’s college career are among the most important. Please explain why that is.
Students decide within the first six to eight weeks whether they have connected with their college or not. Students connect to the larger institution by connecting to one of its salient parts. Of course we would love to have a checklist for what works, for what helps students make these connections, but it is very subjective. It may depend on what happens at the point when they enroll in the college, what happens when they first move into their residence halls, what happens at the initial meeting of their first-year seminar, what happens with their peer leaders, which is why I’m very interested in reading the faculty’s proposal on enhancing the First-Year Program. Where this program is going at Trinity appears to be exactly on target, as the faculty thinks about small, interdependent, first-year seminars and looks at what happens during the matriculation period, for example.

Dick Light, in his wonderful book, Making the Most of College, talks about a young woman he met at Harvard who didn’t feel connected with anything. She said she always thought it would be great to be a member of the band, but she didn’t play an instrument. And Light said, “Well, there are drums in the band so large that someone has to help carry them. Why don’t you go and do that.” Here is this eminent professor of education at Harvard suggesting that she should carry a drum! But it worked, and she belonged to Harvard ever since.

The example Light used is perfect—you can belong to Harvard simply because you carry a drum in the band. That’s how students belong to a school—they belong to the larger thing we call “Trinity” by belonging to some smaller constituent part or parts, which is one of the important things I learned at Kalamazoo about first-year retention issues.

One of the things I hope to do here in the first year or so of my presidency is to set up a program that we might call Quest, which would take maybe 100 of the first-year students and put them into a really serious outdoor experience like Outward Bound in one of our national parks. I’ve participated in the Land/Sea Program at Kalamazoo College for the past seven years, and it’s amazing to be with the first-year students and watch what happens. They become bound to the College through something to which they can attach their souls before they even move into the residence halls.


The College’s endowment is a key factor in our ability to create new opportunities and meet future challenges. What are your plans for strengthening Trinity’s endowment?
Trinity needs a much larger endowment, and therefore we will need to mount a comprehensive campaign. But we will do so only after we have made very certain that we have done our homework and have earned the right to ask. A school of Trinity’s prestige and national distinction simply needs more endowment to face the challenges of the present and the future. I would love to see the endowment grow by a quarter of a billion dollars.

Campaigns are 90 percent preparation and 10 percent execution. Trinity’s exceptional Board chair, Paul Raether, and I have already had a number of conversations about this critically important matter. Vice President Janet Faude and I, in fact, had a thorough conversation about retaining two of the best campaign consultants in the country within a week after I was selected as Trinity’s next president.

Campaigns are really, at the end of the day, harvests of the good will the faculty and staff have instilled in alumni, parents, corporations, and foundations. Trinity attracts the nation’s brightest faculty and finest students. The College delivers on its promise to transform lives and provide a first-class liberal arts education. Our ability to continue to do so in the future will be tied to our ability to attract and leverage additional endowment resources to continue that legacy. Supporting the endowment through gifts is the most lasting investment one can make in the future of the College.

What roles do you see the alumni/ae playing in the life of the College?
Alumni/ae are the front-line missionaries, which means that they can do much more than write checks. Sure, we need to support the schools we love with our financial resources, but alumni/ae can do so much more. They can refer first-class students our way. They can talk about the value of a Trinity College education in the corporate environment. We can enlist their assistance when we go in front of major foundations with requests for support. I look forward to the opportunity to meet with Trinity alumni/ae around the country and here on campus at Reunion, Homecoming, and other events. Our alumni/ae are our primary source of strength.

My wife Jan and I intend to spend a considerable amount of time during our first year meeting alumni/ae all across the country. Over the course of the past seven-plus years in Michigan, I have loved listening to the stories from our alumni/ae. I know that the Trinity alumni/ae have myriad stories of their own experiences with the College.

Just a few days ago, I had the most touching letter from Jim Nadziega, Class of ’04, who served along with Lydia Potter ’05 on the presidential search committee. In Jim’s beautiful letter, he wrote of his great love for his school. That love transforms the lives of countless students, all of whom then graduate to become the first-line volunteers who serve Trinity’s future as modest recompense for what they have received in this wonderful place.

What do you see as the role of today’s parents in the lives of their children who are college students?
That is a tough question today. The technological miracles of our age have altered massively the interconnectedness between our students and their parents. Thanks to e-mail and to attachments, cell phones, and the like, parents are now in daily contact with their children away at college or university. This is a massive change from the time when their parents—and Jan and I are their age precisely, with one child still left in school—were their age. I used to write, and receive, one letter per week from my mother when at the University of Virginia. Today, often several times a day, children are in contact with their parents. Parents also feel quite differently about contacting school officials about their children’s lives, something most of our parents would not have dreamt of when we were students.

I have come to view parents as our single greatest resource in trying to make students accept responsibilities for their own decisions and actions. A wizened old dean of students I knew used to quip that no parent wanted to be so successful in sustaining bonds with a child as to have that child, age 30, call up from his basement apartment asking what time dinner was going to be ready. Parents can, by their own wisdom and example, join with faculty and staff in allowing their children to fly on their own wings.

One of the joys of a liberal education is that it prepares people to continue learning throughout their lives. In what ways to you continue learning?
I’m an inveterate reader. I have, for example, just started re-reading the Levin edition of Samuel Johnson’s great Dictionary, which was published in the middle of the 18th century. It may sound odd to be sitting around reading a dictionary, but this book is one of the great lexical contributions of the 18th century to the English language. I’m also working slowly on Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum.

The thousands of books we own—my wife Jan calls them my “intellectual ballast”—now provide their own difficulty as we try to figure out just where they are going to go in our new home at Trinity. Every time we move, it gets worse! Sometimes she jokes that we’ll end up living in the garage with the books because there is no other place for them in the house. And that may be true here—I may be stuck in the garage at the president’s house, with huge rows of bookshelves and me camped out beside them! But what would the world be without books? Horrendous. Unimaginably so. Books are the lifeblood of the mind. It could be worse!

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