James F. Jones Jr., retiring president of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., has been named the interim president of Sweet Briar College. He succeeds Jo Ellen Parker, who announced in April that she had been recruited for the presidency of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. Jones will assume his new duties Aug. 15.
Jones’ appointment follows an intensive recruitment and selection process, according to Sweet Briar College Board of Directors chair Paul Rice, who noted the search committee was impressed with Jones’ professional accomplishments, his commitment to collaboration and transparency at every level, and his understanding of the College. Jones’ wife, Joan “Jan” Sheets Jones, is a 1969 graduate of Sweet Briar.
“We are pleased to welcome Jimmy Jones as interim president of Sweet Briar College and delighted to welcome back his wife, Jan,” Rice said. “Jimmy’s twenty years of experience as a highly effective president of two distinguished liberal arts colleges, his academic credentials, his boundless energy, and his knowledge of Sweet Briar uniquely qualify him for this appointment. He will be a solid leader as we navigate the College’s immediate future and complete the research and planning already underway for long-term sustainability.”
During his 10-year presidency at Trinity College, Jones led a college-wide strategic planning process, with input from hundreds of faculty, staff, students and the Trinity Board of Trustees. The resulting 2005 Cornerstone Plan was instrumental in establishing an ongoing process for annual planning at the college. In addition, the Cornerstone Plan helped Trinity develop the goals of its six-year Cornerstone and Legacy Campaigns, which concluded in 2012 after raising $369 million in contributions and donor commitments — more than double the amount of Trinity’s previous fundraising campaign.
Jones oversaw the successful $33 million restoration and renovation of Trinity’s historic Long Walk buildings. Other campus improvements during his tenure include the establishment of the Crescent Street Townhouses and the Koeppel Community Sports Center; renovation of Vernon Social into a vibrant student gathering place; and the creation of the Gates Quadrangle, linking the classical architecture of Trinity’s Long Walk Quad with the modern buildings of its math and sciences quad.
During Jones’ decade as president, Trinity saw more than 30 percent growth in its overall College endowment and achieved significant annual fund growth. Today, annual fund contributions represent between 8 and 9 percent of the college’s operating budget — almost double the contribution 10 years ago. In addition, Jones, who also served as Trinity College Professor in the Humanities, taught at least one class every year.
As he looks toward his interim presidency at Sweet Briar, Jones is taking a personal approach to an institution to which his family has strong ties. In addition to his wife, his sister-in-law Elizabeth Sheets Reed graduated from the College in 1982 and a great-niece, the child of the Joneses’ goddaughter, is currently enrolled.
“My wife loves every blade of grass on Sweet Briar’s campus, and the College has played — and continues to play — such an important role in her life and in our life together. As with many of the college’s alumnae, Jan’s excitement and enthusiasm for her alma mater are contagious,” Jones said. “I view the next two years as a professional and personal obligation to safeguard Sweet Briar in the face of shifting demographics in our country. We must continue to adjust to the myriad changes that confront higher education. I have known Jo Ellen Parker for many years and hold her in the highest regard. I know she has constructed a firm foundation for us to build upon as we move forward.”
Parker says she is leaving assured the College is in very capable hands.
“Sweet Briar could not have found a more ideal interim president,” Parker said. “For me, personally, passing the torch to Jimmy Jones, an admired colleague and friend, is an honor — and knowing that Sweet Briar will be in such good hands is a joy.”
Prior to Trinity, Jones served for eight years as president and professor of humanities at Kalamazoo College, in Kalamazoo, Mich. Before that, he was at Southern Methodist University in Dallas as professor of the humanities, dean of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and vice provost of the university. Earlier, he served as professor of Romance languages and literatures, director of the Summer Language Institute in France, and chair of the department at Washington University in St. Louis, and as preceptor for the Department of French and Romance Philology at Columbia University.
A native of Atlanta, Jones graduated cum laude from the University of Virginia. He earned his master’s degree at Emory University and did doctorate work at Columbia University, earning both an M. Phil. and a Ph.D. He also holds a Certificat, Degré Avancé, from the Ecole des Professeurs de Français à l’Etranger, the Sorbonne.
His publications include “Rousseau’s Dialogues: An Interpretive Essay,” which was nominated for the Louis Gottschalk Prize; “The Story of a Fair Greek of Yesteryear”; a translation into English of L’Histoire d’une Grecque moderne by Antoine-François Prévost; and “La Nouvelle Héloïse: Rousseau and Utopia,” along with more than two dozen scholarly articles.
Jones has received numerous awards for his community alliances and scholarly and cultural achievements on both sides of the Atlantic, including Chevalier, Ordre des Palmes Académiques by declaration of the French government. He maintains positions on numerous boards, with directorships and trusteeships on select educational and cultural committees, including the Consortium on Financing Higher Education; the Centre d’Echanges Internationaux, Paris; and the Rassias Foundation at Dartmouth College.
Jones and his wife have three children, Jennifer, Justin and Jason; six grandchildren; and an Irish field setter, Colleen.