President Alger (BoV copy)

President Alger at a Board of Visitors meeting in 2015. Alger spoke during the Feb. 8 meeting and thanked the board and others involved with the naming of the new East Campus dorm. 

The JMU Board of Visitors met Friday at the Festival Conference and Student Center and backed the name “Paul Jennings Hall” for the East Campus dorm set to open in the fall of 2019 with a unanimous vote.

The Office of Residence Life opened a survey for students to submit names for the dorm. A number of names were suggested, Alger Hall being among the most popular, but Paul Jennings Hall stuck out to the university due to the historical and cultural significance of the name.

The idea to name a building on campus after Jennings, an African-American enslaved by James Madison, has been around for several years. The university gained support from descendants of Paul Jennings, the Student Government Association and its Taskforce on Inclusion prior to approving the name.

“When the board voted for this today, I have to say this was probably one of my proudest moments to be a JMU Duke,” Tim Miller, vice president for student affairs, said. “To sit here and see this board realize the power of this and realize that we can honor the entire history and really recognize this, the timing of this is great.”

Later in the meeting, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Heather Coltman, along with deans of the Colleges of Business, Science and Mathematics and Integrated Science and Engineering, gave a presentation on the development of JMU’s STEM curriculum. Coltman stressed the relevance of continuing to update programs in the field to respond to the workforce needs in the Commonwealth, considering the November 2018 announcement that an Amazon headquarters is coming to Virginia.

The group discussed the addition of a data analysis minor and major and an information technology major. While JMU STEM faculty discussed an additional emphasis on these and related programs before the Amazon deal, which will bring about 25,000 jobs to Virginia, the group said the announcement accelerated the process.

“We need to be able to be nimble to respond to changing opportunities,” Bob Kolvoord, dean of the College of Integrated Science and Engineering, said. “We’re trying to understand how we can react.”

As part of his president’s report, JMU President Jonathan Alger highlighted upcoming events related to the ‘Unleashed’ fundraising campaign, including events on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia and Baltimore, respectively. Alger also updated the board on the dean search for the College of Education, and recognized Bethany Nowviskie, new dean of libraries, and Michael Busing, new dean of the College of Business.

Though his president’s report covered a wide variety of topics pertaining to the university, he and many of the board members saw the dorm naming as a large step for the university that required additional recognition. Following the approval of the Paul Jennings Hall name, Alger addressed the board to thank those involved in the process.

“There’s certainly much more work to be done as we think about the history and the context of Madison,” Alger said. “But I think this is a really important moment for us and I just greatly appreciate the board’s support today.”

Contact Thomas Robertson at For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.

Thomas Robertson is a staff writer for the Breeze. He’s a senior media arts & design major. Thomas is a die-hard DC sports fan who also enjoys trying to be good at golf, listening to hip-hop and arguing about sports.