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Dr. James M. MacLaren

Dr. James M. MacLaren 
President, Lebanon Valley College

Dr. James M. MacLaren, an award-winning physicist and a passionate advocate for student success, became Lebanon Valley College’s 19th president in July 2020. 

In his first year at LVC, President MacLaren led the COVID-19 pandemic response that established mitigation protocols and reopened campus to in-person learning for the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters. These efforts included expanding Shroyer Health Center staff and the College’s contact tracing program and establishing COVID-19 partnerships with Penn State Health, Quest Diagnostics, and WellSpan. As a result, case numbers on campus remained low relative to regional rates. 

MacLaren initiated a collaborative strategic planning process with the Board of Trustees in Fall 2020 and is facilitating conversations about initiatives, mission, vision, and values in Spring 2021. The new strategic plan, Imagine LVC, will establish priorities for the next three to five years that will position the College and its graduates for long-term success. Imagine LVC will be delivered to the Board of Trustees in August 2021 and will inform self-study LVC is conducting before its 2023 Middle States Commission on Higher Education reaccreditation process.

MacLaren believes LVC has a moral and ethical imperative to increase diversity and support student success. He is committed to increasing diversity among faculty, staff, and students; enhancing intercultural learning; addressing gaps in retention and graduation rates; and preparing students for global citizenship. He has increased funding for the Committee on Intercultural and Inclusive Learning, which organizes the annual Symposium on Inclusive Excellence.

Graduate and post-graduate certificate programs that meet regional needs will continue to expand with MacLaren’s leadership. The undergraduate experience grounded in the liberal arts will remain core to LVC’s mission.

Before Lebanon Valley College

President MacLaren arrived at LVC after serving as provost of St. Xavier University in Chicago, Ill. At St. Xavier, a Hispanic-serving Catholic university, MacLaren oversaw the academic enterprise, including the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graham School of Management, and the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, as well as graduate admission, instructional design and technology, the library, and summer programs. He led the university in securing the largest federal award to St. Xavier, a $3 million Title V grant from the United States Department of Education to increase first-year retention and graduation rates.

Born in London, MacLaren earned a bachelor’s and master of arts in natural sciences from Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, U.K. He went on to study the electronic properties of catalyst surfaces at Imperial College, London, earning a Ph.D. in condensed matter physics. His research focused on the electronic structure of materials, particularly layered magnetic materials. His collaborative work demonstrated that spin-dependent tunneling between two epitaxial layers of iron separated by magnesium oxide could lead to a remarkably sensitive read head for magnetic hard drives. The United States Department of Energy recognized his work with an Outstanding Scientific Accomplishment in Metallurgy and Ceramics Award in 1995. MacLaren has published a combined 150 peer-reviewed articles, reviews, and books and presented 22 invited papers at national and international conferences. As a professor, he regularly collaborated with undergraduate and graduate student researchers.

He began his academic career at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he worked for 28 years, rising through the faculty ranks to become chair of the Department of Physics, associate provost, and then acting dean of the liberal arts and sciences faculty. He created the Tulane Interdisciplinary Experience Semester (TIDES), a signature of the Tulane First-Year Experience that brings together small groups of students and faculty to explore academics and the city of New Orleans from multiple academic perspectives.

After Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, MacLaren collaborated remotely with his colleagues to develop and implement the Renewal Plan, a roadmap for Tulane to reopen and rebuild. He was appointed the founding dean of Newcomb-Tulane College, which united students in those schools offering undergraduate programs to form a holistic experience that was key to the university’s recovery. During his 12 years leading the college, retention rates increased significantly.

As dean of Newcomb-Tulane, MacLaren established the Center for Academic Equity to support traditionally underrepresented and first-generation students. He also integrated academic and career advising, introduced career development courses into the curriculum, and developed professional development opportunities for students on campus and in many major U.S. cities.

MacLaren exceeded fundraising targets each year, setting a record in 2015–16 of more than $7.8 million in gifts and pledges. He also obtained funding for scholarships and diversity initiatives such as POSSE and College Track.

Because of these efforts, Newcomb-Tulane College’s first- to second-year retention rates increased from 86 to 93 percent and contributed to Tulane’s rise in U.S. News & World Report rankings. The number of applicants and winners of national fellowships and scholarships also increased, and Tulane was recognized as a Fulbright Top Producer by the Chronicle of Higher Education twice in three years.

MacLaren was appointed provost at St. Xavier in 2018. There, he transitioned most graduate programs to online formats; added new graduate programs in medical sciences, health sciences, and human sports performance; added a new adult degree-completion program in law enforcement and administration; and redesigned the MBA curriculum, which resulted in a 50 percent growth in summer credit hours. He also guided the redesign of general and developmental education to improve student success and retention.

MacLaren received the Tulane University Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1999. Tulane recognized MacLaren as an Honorary Alumnus in 2015 and named the James M. MacLaren classroom and MacLaren Garden at Mussafer Hall, the home of academic support services, in his honor. In 2018, donors whom MacLaren had worked with as dean of Newcomb-Tulane College established an endowed fund for an early career professorship in his name in the Tulane University Physics Department.

His wife, Gina, is a realtor. In 2013, President MacLaren donated a kidney to a stranger through a “closed exchange” at Tulane, making it possible for his wife to receive a transplant from a different donor. The MacLarens participate in efforts to support and promote awareness of kidney health and transplants. They have three daughters, Emily, Meg, and Caroline.