Clemson chooses West Virginia leader as its president

ashain@thestate.comNovember 11, 2013 

  • Clemson’s new president Jim Clements

    Age: 49

    Hometown: Arlington, Va.; raised in Maryland

    Family: Wife, Beth, and four children, three of whom attend West Virginia University

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in computer science, and master’s degree and doctorate in operations analysis, all from the University of Maryland Baltimore County; and a master’s degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University

    Work history: West Virginia University, president; Towson State, provost, vice president for economic and community outreach, and computer and information sciences department chair

    Notable: Clements’ parents did not go to college but their four children have 11 degrees combined

Clemson University found a new president Monday who says he already has a little orange in him.

“My wife and talked about getting to Clemson 20 years ago,” said James Clements, the West Virginia University president who will succeed Jim Barker at the upstate school in January. “We heard how special it is, and we think it has a world-class faculty.”

Clements’ in-laws donated money to Clemson’s golf team clubhouse, and his wife’s two brothers graduated from Clemson and have homes around Lake Keowee. Much of Beth Clements’ family lives in Georgia and North Carolina, not far from the Clemson campus.

Clements also has been a Clemson fan for years. He has followed Tiger sports since the 1981 national football title. And he used Barker’s leadership ideas, including his 10-year strategic model, at West Virginia University.

Clements said he is heading to Clemson, which is smaller school than West Virginia, at the same salary as he was paid in Morgantown for a chance to be closer to his wife’s family and help build on Clemson’s recent successes. He added a mentor he met in Maryland was former Tiger baseball player Mike Gill, a member of the president’s advisory board at Clemson.

“We loved our time at West Virginia,” Clements said of his four-year-stint. “This is where we wanted to end up.”

Barker is retiring as president of South Carolina’s second-largest public university after 14 years at its helm.

“He’ll be a great fit,” said Barker, who will remain a faculty member in Clemson’s architecture school.

Clements, who becomes Clemson’s 15th president, will earn $775,000 a year from state and university foundation sources. He earned the same salary at West Virginia this year.

Clements will be the highest-paid S.C. public college president. Barker makes $471,200 a year. University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides, who leads the state’s largest school, is paid $681,200.

Pastides said Monday that he did not know Clements well but looks forward to having a “speed-dial relationship,” where the two presidents can call each other any time. Both are active in their college trade organization, the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities.

“I know he’s well versed on national issues affecting universities, and I look forward to hearing his views on South Carolina’s unique version of those issues,” Pastides said.

Pastides also said he will send Clements “an invitation to a special event on the Saturday after Thanksgiving on the USC campus” -- the annual football clash between the Gamecocks and Tigers.

Clements helped West Virginia set records in private fundraising, enrollment and research funding, while overseeing nearly $1 billion dollars in capital improvement projects, Clemson said.

Clemson trustees chose Clements from 83 applicants. The school did not release the names of other finalists.

School leaders said they were pleased to nab the leader of a large university who understands how to navigate challenges from the president’s office.

“He’s got all the credentials,” Clemson trustees chairman David Wilkins said. “He’s been a success and done great things at West Virginia University. ... He engages people well. He’s got tons of energy.”

West Virginia has 29,466 students -- more than 40 percent more than Clemson’s 20,768.

“If you’re measuring Clemson on quantity rather than quality, you’re missing the point,” Barker said.

Clemson stood 21st in the latest U.S. News and World Report ranking of public colleges. West Virginia ranked 94th.

Clements’ will work on finishing Clemson’s $1 billion fundraising campaign, which has collected $728 million thus far.

Barker also thinks Clements should concentrate on improving Clemson’s graduate and research programs “to build a stronger intellectual environment” after years of emphasis on undergraduate programs.

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