Inauguration Flashback

James E. Douthat

James E. Douthat

By John F. Piper Jr., Ph.D., ’07H
Professor of History and Dean of the College, Emeritus

James E. Douthat became the 14th president of Lycoming College in summer 1989. The college held his formal inauguration on April 6, 1990, in the Lamade Gymnasium. On that occasion, he said: “The world needs many places like Lycoming College where the goal is not only to educate our students to be prepared for work, but also to be truly prepared for their life’s work by the development of character, the support of morality, the centeredness of humanity, the willingness of sacrifice. We must all strive to be liberally educated – to have the habits of continuous learning, to know how to ask the right questions, and to wrestle with the consequences of our own judgments.” When he retired in summer 2013, he had served for 24 years, which makes him the third longest serving president in the college’s history.

The previous two decades before his arrival had been difficult ones for higher education in the United States in general and at Lycoming in particular. Stagnant enrollments and low faculty and staff morale were part of the Lycoming story. President Douthat began his career at the college by creating a strategic planning process, which set an important forward-looking tone among all the constituents of the college. This led to an important curriculum review that included a renewal and extension of the liberal arts and sciences commitment. At the same time, a new director of admissions, Jim Spencer, was showing dramatic success in recruiting new students. Part of the planning process involved setting goals for increasing the endowment.

The first 10 years of Douthat’s presidency were among the most significant in the 200-year history of the college. A new faculty governance system gave the faculty a much greater role in the governance of the college. The student body increased to about 1,500. A major gift of computers made it possible for Lycoming to make a great leap forward in computerization. The new curriculum encouraged dramatic growth in the study of foreign languages. Athletic teams had remarkable success. The college built a new athletic facility, the Robert Shangraw Athletic Complex, and made substantial additions to the Wertz Student Center.

Two dramatic developments were the direct result of Douthat’s leadership. First, the endowment grew from a little more than $17 million in 1989 to $71 million in 2000, which in the context of Lycoming was a dramatic four-fold growth. Second, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching had classified Lycoming as a regional liberal arts institution. In August 2000, the Carnegie Foundation reclassified the college and named it as one of 213 national liberal arts colleges. In the years after 2000, President Douthat sustained these two developments. In particular, the endowment has continued to grow. On the occasion of his retirement it reached $191 million, an 11-fold growth since his inauguration, providing more funds for the enhancement of the programs of the college.

For more information about the history of Lycoming, consult “Lycoming College 1812-2012” by John F. Piper, Jr. and the Lycoming College Digital Archives: