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Dr. James M. MacLaren Named 19th Lebanon Valley College President

March 5, 2020

Elyse E. Rogers, Esq., ’76, chair of the Lebanon Valley College Board of Trustees, announced today that the board unanimously elected James M. MacLaren, Ph.D., provost of St. Xavier University, to become the College’s 19th president. The award-winning physicist and passionate advocate for student success will join the College July 1. Rogers said MacLaren has the experience and qualities to build on the eight years of success the College achieved under the leadership of President Lewis E. Thayne, Ph.D.

“Dr. MacLaren is data- and values-driven. He exhibits an unequivocal commitment to the success of all students—undergraduate, adult, first-generation, and underrepresented,” said Rogers. “His commitment to a comprehensive education grounded in the liberal arts, combined with a realistic assessment of the demands facing institutions like Lebanon Valley College, was immediately evident. He has the strategic, collaborative, and transparent leadership qualities the College will need as it continues to grow and thrive in the competitive higher education landscape.”

“My wife, Gina, and I are unbelievably excited by this opportunity,” said MacLaren. “We have received such a warm welcome from the people we have met. Lebanon Valley College is a place where students are the center of the enterprise—where faculty and staff help students achieve their dreams and reach goals they perhaps thought were not possible. When I saw the opportunity, I wanted to be part of that kind of transformational education.”

He said his primary goals will be to diversify revenue at the tuition-based institution and engage the community in strategic planning. The College’s current plan, Envision 2020, is nearing completion. “Together, we will think about how Lebanon Valley College can best serve its students and the community, whether through expanding opportunities in graduate education, the online space, allied healthcare, technology, or degree completion.”

At St. Xavier, a Hispanic-servicing Catholic university in Chicago, MacLaren oversees 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 recently 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 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.

Among his proudest accomplishments as dean at Newcomb-Tulane, said MacLaren, was establishing the Center for Academic Equity to support traditionally underrepresented and first-generation students. A believer in guiding students while they are in college and during their post-graduation lives, 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. The college received $23 million in gifts during the quiet phase of its capital campaign. He also obtained funding for scholarships and diversity, as well as inclusion 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 has 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 also 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.

Gina MacLaren is a realtor in New Orleans. In 2013, MacLaren donated a kidney to a stranger through a “closed exchange” at Tulane that made 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. The MacLarens will reside at Kreiderheim, a historic presidential residence on the north side of the Lebanon Valley College campus.