Photo by Robert Boag
Linwood Rose has been the president of our university for almost 14 years. He has worked for JMU for 36 years. During his final year, he sat down with P&M Editor-in-Chief Rachel Dozier to talk about his time as president and the impact this campus has made on his life.
While you were president, the school has increased by 25 buildings, 20 academic programs, expanded 2.4 million square feet, increased enrollment by 37 percent and increased the four-year graduation rate by 6 percent. What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment as president?
It’s tough because I really think it’s an accumulated body of work, it’s not just one thing. But one is at a time when we were growing rapidly, when we were hiring people from many diverse backgrounds, it would have been easy to lose our way, to lose our identity, to have the thread that has linked us and our commitment to students unravel. And that hasn’t happened. We remained true to our mission. The second is that, as we have grown, our student satisfaction ratings have improved. Many people have been fearful along the way that we should stop the enrollment where it was at the time for fear that we would lose that identity, and in fact not only have we not lost it, but I think it’s stronger now than it’s ever been. I’m much more proud of that than I am the buildings or the size of the budget.
Are there any hidden treasures at this school you think people should know about?
If you look at the backside of Gibbons Dining Hall, there is a walkway that goes over the loading dock and there is a pretty massive bluestone staircase that seems to go nowhere. And that was apparently designed as the first piece of a pedestrian bridge that conceivably would have gone across the campus to approximately where White Hall is right now, so merging the Valley between here and the interstate. That never happened. It was never funded and I don’t mean to offend whoever wanted to do that, but I think it would have been pretty ugly.
What is JMU’s biggest contribution?
In a word it’s our graduates. It’s not so much the institution as a physical entity. It’s the students that go through this collegiate experience and leave hopefully as better people, prepared to come to grips with the problems that are out there. I don’t have any doubt that that sense of contribution is just going to be magnified in the future.
How would you describe a JMU student to someone who didn’t know anyone from the school? It’s probably not fair to completely stereotype all JMU students as one, but I think if one were to generalize I think our students tend to be engaged and involved beyond just their classroom experience. They are involved in university activities, often leading in one or two. I think our students tend to have a perception of the world around them that suggests they have a role or a place and, in fact, an obligation to try to make things better. I’m told by employers of our students that one of the things that they like about our graduates is that they’re ready to come to work to make a difference. They don’t feel entitled to suddenly be the vice president of a unit, but instead are ready to work and have their achievements speak for themselves.
What is your fondest memory on this campus?
If I can, I’ll give you two. I think achieving Phi Beta Kappa [the nation’s oldest academic honors society] was maybe something that didn’t touch a lot of people but it was a really significant achievement for the university, so that would be my academic item. In terms of athletics and student life I think the 2004 National Championship was pretty exciting. We were playing away games in every play-off game. We were never at home and so we were the underdog in every game and won them all.
What’s your biggest regret as president?
I don’t have do-overs. I have regrets. The decision to eliminate 10 sports because of compliance with Title IX  is something I regret, but I don’t think a mistake was made. I think we were limited in our choices and we made the best decision. I certainly regret the impact of it. I’ve spent my whole life trying to create opportunities for students and so to take opportunity away is not something that I think is typical of this university or what I want to achieve. I’m rarely faced with choices of good and bad. The choices I’m faced with are between many good things. So we have to decide what’s the best one. What provides the greatest positive rate of return for the university. It’s disappointing that we don’t have enough money to support everything that everybody would like to do.
Do you have a bucket list of things to do before your term ends? Are you planning on streaking the Quad?
Well, I hadn’t, but you’ve got me thinking now. All I can say is that I want to try to attend as many particularly student-involved events as possible this year. If you look at everything that goes on in the Forbes Center, lectures by our faculty, our athletic teams that aren’t the ones that come first to mind, over the years I’ve attended all of those, but in my last year, I’m more conscious of trying to be at as many of those as I can and to have the full experience of what’s going on here, what’s available for students.
What does it take to be a great professor at JMU?
The ability to go beyond just possessing knowledge. To transcend that and be able to inspire and take advantage of the spark of genius that everybody has related to the topic that they’re teaching. To really create an interest on the part of the student to want to learn more and want to know more.
What do you plan to do after you leave JMU?
I’d like to go to a football game without a suit. I intend very much to stay a part of JMU life and a part of this community just not in any kind of administrative way. It will be up to the new president to assume the reigns and the leadership in the university. When I became president, Dr. Carrier, who had been president for 27 and a half years, was such a hands-on kind of leader that everybody expected he would kind of reach back from the grave and try to control things and direct things. To his credit, he never once did. I’m sure there were times when that was hard for him because he’s been right here in Harrisonburg and watched things develop. So I’ve learned a lesson from that. He’s always been there to support me when I’ve asked for it. I think that’s a good model for how I should behave and act.
What do you think the future president needs to be successful?
Well hopefully the board will hire someone who shares the kind of values and beliefs and mission for the university that exists now. In terms of changes, I would expect that a new person would bring their personality, their energy, their talents, will have their interests and will effect some change in the university. Our history has been with only five presidents in 103 years, and people have made decisions for the long-term benefit of the university as opposed to decision to beef up their résumé and prepare themselves to go on to another job. So you’ve seen a real commitment to the institution … people were really dedicated to the university. I think a new president, if he or she is going to be really successful here, will need to bring that same kind of quality and same interest in the institution, which really means an interest in students and the faculty and staff.
Sum up your term in one word.
It’s a little cliché, but I guess I would say, love. Because a long time ago, this stopped being a job. I don’t just mean being president, but being here 36 years. You have to love what you do and you have to love where you are and you have to love who you’re working with. All those things have clicked here for me.