Former JMU President Jonathan Alger Named American University’s 16th President

Courtesy American University

After a competitive national search, American University named Jonathan (Jon) Alger as the institution’s 16th president. Alger comes to AU after 12 years as president of James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Alger will join AU on July 1, 2024, when current President Sylvia Burwell concludes seven changemaking years leading the institution to extensive impact.

Per American University: Under Alger’s leadership, JMU created and implemented a bold and visionary strategic plan focused on engaged learning, community engagement, and civic engagement. Alger led JMU to the R2 national research university designation under the Carnegie Classifications, and the university’s external research funding increased by 92 percent from 2019 to 2023. The university’s endowment more than doubled during his presidency and JMU exceeded its fundraising goal in its recent comprehensive campaign. Furthering JMU’s profile, competitiveness, and community spirit, Alger led the university’s move to the Sun Belt Conference as part of the most successful transition Division I’s Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in NCAA history. Other highlights of his leadership at JMU include creation of the Valley Scholars Program for first-generation students that created a pathway for hundreds of students with full-tuition scholarships; the Student Success Center; the nationally renowned Madison Center for Civic Engagement; creative philanthropic initiatives such as Women for Madison and the Madison Trust to support innovative projects; and the broadly inclusive Task Force on Racial Equity.

“Jon Alger is known for his community engagement, deep commitment to scholarship and research, and passion for learning,” said Gina Adams, SPA/BS ’80, chair of the AU Board of Trustees. “His vision for American University, his understanding of the unique attributes of a university community, and his proven ability to address the complex challenges facing higher education have prepared Jon to lead American University moving forward.”

Alger comes to AU as the institution continues to rapidly expand the reach of its scholarship, learning, and community impact. Thanks to the tireless work of faculty and staff and the comprehensive vision of the Changemakers for a Changing World strategic plan, AU doubled externally funded research, delivered more than 230 experiential learning opportunities for students, and opened the Hall of Science. Through the nearly complete $500 million Change Can’t Wait fundraising campaign, AU created or expanded more than 150 student scholarships, launched or named four signature academic centers, created eight endowed faculty positions, and began construction on the $109 million Student Thriving Complex, the largest investment in student thriving in the university’s history.

“American University’s stellar academic profile and global impact reflect the unique and inspiring characteristics of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni,” said Alger. “Encouraging students to dream big is the heart of higher education, and the opportunity to join American University is a dream come true for me and my family.” Prior to becoming president of JMU, Alger served as senior vice president and general counsel at Rutgers University. He also worked at the University of Michigan, where he played a leading role in two landmark cases on diversity and admissions before the U.S. Supreme Court. At JMU, Rutgers and Michigan, Alger has taught a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses in leadership, law, higher education, public policy, and diversity. Earlier in his career, Alger worked for the American Association of University Professors and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

“Jon Alger exemplifies the purpose, commitment to service, and dedication to learning and scholarship that are hallmarks of the AU community,” said Lilian Baeza-Mendoza, Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer, member of the AU presidential search committee, and former chair of the AU Faculty Senate. “The presidential search committee enthusiastically supported his selection as AU’s next president, and we look forward to working with him as we continue to move American University’s mission forward.” Alger has published numerous articles and completed significant editorial work for publications such as the Journal of College and University Law and The Law of Higher Education. He received the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Council of Fellows/Fidelity Investments Mentor Award in 2021 for his contributions to enhancing the diversity and skills of future higher education leaders. Alger currently serves as vice chair of the national board of directors for the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), chair of the Association of Governing Boards’ Council of Presidents, and on the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Alger earned his BA in political science with high honors and Phi Beta Kappa from Swarthmore College and his JD with honors from Harvard Law School. Higher education leaders praised Alger’s leadership and his selection as American University’s 16th president:

“Jon Alger’s experience in higher education generally and especially his extraordinarily successful tenure as president of James Madison University makes him an outstanding choice to lead American University. Those of us involved in the national higher education scene here in the nation’s capital are excited to have him in Washington, DC, and look forward to what he will accomplish at American.”

–Fred Lawrence, secretary and CEO, Phi Beta Kappa Society, and former president, Brandeis University

“Jon Alger is one of America’s great university presidents. His collaborative leadership style, deliberative demeanor, and strategic vision will only accelerate the great progress AU has made under President Burwell.”

–Ted Mitchell, president, American Council on Education (ACE)

“Throughout his career, Jon has demonstrated a deep and abiding commitment to liberal education as the foundation for our nation’s historic mission of educating for democracy. At a time when leading a university is more complex than ever, Jon brings a wealth of experience to the presidency, as a distinguished scholar of civil rights law and higher education; as a champion of academic freedom, shared governance, and access to excellence in higher education; and as a community builder. He leads with compassion, transparency, integrity, authenticity, moral courage, and humor. I can think of no better exemplar when it comes to American University’s mission of empowering lives of purpose, service, and leadership.”

–Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)

“I had the privilege of working with Jonathan Alger during my 20 years as President and CEO of the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA). Jonathan was chair of the NACUA board, a prolific author and scholar, and a much sought after speaker on myriad higher education legal matters covering a wide range of practice areas. He is regarded by his colleagues across the country as one of the foremost higher education attorneys in the country. He will bring his extensive substantive expertise, strong leadership skills, and immense knowledge of higher education to American University as its next president. I could not be happier for Jonathan and for American University!”

–Kathleen Santora, former president and CEO, National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA)

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