BLUFFTON, Ohio — Bluffton University President James M. Harder will retire June 30, 2018, after serving 12 years.
Kent Yoder, chair of the university’s board of trustees, announced Harder’s plans at the board’s June meeting.
“President Harder is a servant leader who faithfully continues to carry Bluffton University into the 21st century during a time of significant change in higher education,” Yoder said. “His steady leadership has positioned the university to move forward with new academic programs, global relationships, major campus facility enhancements and to achieve the largest fundraising campaign success in the university’s history.”
Yoder noted that Harder guided the university community through its baseball team’s deadly bus accident in 2007 and provided leadership to respond to the Great Recession of 2008-09.
Harder became president in 2006. Since that time, Bluffton has launched 14 new academic programs, including the most recent majors in nursing and in speech-language pathology and audiology, and has made significant enhancements to existing academic, athletic and other co-curricular programs.
In 2012, the university completed the “Extending Our Reach” campaign, the largest in Bluffton’s history, which raised more than $32 million and funded construction of the 60,000- square-foot Sommer Center for Health and Fitness Education.
Bluffton’s campus has experienced additional significant improvements during Harder’s 12-year tenure, including $3 million in student residence hall renovations and the building of the first on-campus student apartments. Other completed projects included an accessibility addition to College Hall that extended the functionality of the campus’ original building, along with accessibility upgrades to Musselman Library.
Multiple upgrades to Bluffton’s outdoor athletic facilities have occurred as well, including the all-turf Alumni Field in Salzman Stadium and the Circle of Remembrance permanent campus memorial following the 2007 baseball team’s tragedy. The charter bus accident in Atlanta claimed the lives of five student-athletes, in addition to the bus driver and his wife.
Currently, Bluffton’s “Simply Innovate” campaign is more than half way to its $26 million goal, which will build the Austin E. Knowlton Science Center and provide funds to the endowment.
Harder worked to expand Bluffton’s global education linkages by supporting May term cross-cultural experiences. In addition, Harder has worked to build new relationships in China, including faculty and student exchanges with China West Normal University.
“I am grateful for the wonderful support of the board of trustees, the Bluffton faculty and staff and the many generous supporters of the university as together we have carried out our work to extend Bluffton’s enduring educational mission,” Harder said. “It has also been a privilege as Bluffton’s president to regularly meet Bluffton alumni who are serving and leading in their communities all over the world.”
17 years at Bluffton
Harder’s retirement will conclude a 32-year career in Mennonite higher education. This includes 17 years at Bluffton University, where he served five years as professor of economics and as vice president for institutional planning before being invited to the presidency. Prior to that, he taught in and chaired the economics and business department at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., his alma mater, for 12 years.
Throughout his presidency, Harder shared his leadership, organizational and financial management expertise in many settings, including eight years as a member of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board and 12 years as a board member of Mennonite World Review.
The board has appointed incoming vice chair, Cheryl Hacker, a 1981 Bluffton alumna who serves on the fiscal affairs committee and the “Simply Innovate” campaign committee, to chair a search committee with the goal of achieving a presidential transition in the summer of 2018.