BY RACHEL JENKINS, EDITOR IN CHIEF
As the old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” Or, in Susquehanna’s case, you make him your president.
From “The Night Before Finals” to first-year Move-In day, President L. Jay Lemons has been as much a part of campus as the traditions he and the rest of Susquehanna’s community has taken part in over the years.
Following a 16-year run as president at Susquehanna, Lemons announced on Feb. 29 during a town hall meeting his decision to leave following the expiration of his contract on June 30, 2017. At that time, he will begin serving as president of Academic Search, according to Lemons.
Revealed in a letter written to Chairman of the Board of Trustees John Strangfeld, Lemons described Academic Search as “an exceptional organization dedicated to executive search and higher education leadership development.” While the organization is based in Washington, D.C., Lemons and his wife are unsure of where they will relocate to once his term on campus is over. During a press conference following the town hall meeting, Lemons said they will stay in the Selinsgrove area until their youngest daughter, currently a high school sophomore, graduates from Selinsgrove High School.
Throughout the press conference, town hall meeting and as stressed in letters and press releases, Lemons has served as a proud president of Susquehanna’s community. He shared the wisdom, “I want to know it’s the right time to go before others do,” in an effort to describe and support his most recent career move.
During the town hall meeting, he said, “There really are ways in which continuity in leadership has been a great Susquehanna strength looking back over time,” speaking in regards to the history of Susquehanna presidents serving long terms on campus. During the press conference, he said, “Susquehanna’s a place that’s had very long-serving presidents,” and he continued on with examples, including President Charles T. Aikens, who served from 1905 until he died in office three days before graduation in 1927, according to Donald D. Housley’s book “Susquehanna University 1858-2000: A Goodly Heritage.” Another example, according to both Lemons and Housley, is Morris G. Smith’s term as university president. Currently holding the record for longest term, Smith served for 30 years from 1929 to 1959 at Susquehanna.
Looking back at his 16 years on campus, Lemons described his gratitude toward Susquehanna’s campus for being open and accepting of new ideas, perspectives and changes brought upon by himself and others throughout his term on campus. He said, “I know how unbelievably pleased, excited and open this community was to fresh ideas and a new perspective more than 16 years ago.”
During the town hall meeting, Strangfeld shared some statistics and facts about the growth of Susquehanna during Lemons’ time on campus. Serving as the fourteenth president of Susquehanna, Lemons oversaw more than 70 percent of the campus’ current faculty and staff and served as president for about 40 percent of those alumni still living. Strangfeld informed the audience that “the average term of a university president these days is seven years. [Lemons’] leadership run with [Susquehanna]… will be 17 years.”
According to the university website, Lemons’ has served as president on campus since February of 2001, at which point most current seniors would have been about seven years old. Many aspects of the current campus experience have either been established, improved or implemented during Lemons’ term.
According to the press release, enrollment on campus has risen from 1,639 students to more than 2,200 students. The progression and growth Susquehanna has seen under Lemons’ leadership includes the creation and development of the central core curriculum, Susquehanna’s nationally recognized GO program, endowment growth peaking at more than $150 million, and several new buildings and housing options being erected, including the Geisinger Medical Center health complex, 18th Street Commons and the Natural Sciences Center.
With a little over 16 months left of his presidency on campus, Lemons has several goals and projects in mind that he’s looking forward to seeing through before leaving campus. These include continuing to focus on engaging with new students and Susquehanna’s continuously growing enrollment rates as well as the development of a new admissions building in an effort to better welcome prospective students to campus.
As Lemons shared with the Board of Trustees and with those attending the town hall meeting, one of his hopes post-term is to remain active within the Susquehanna community. “I’ve all along sort of imagined that I was a young President when I arrived here, and unless I left as a president as an old man, that there might be a time after I’m president in which there might be a value in having some sort of continuing tie,” he said. “In a way, we may not be really going away… I hope that I will be able to teach a course from time to time, it’s one of my great joys and loves and that I can continue to help support Susquehanna by waving the orange and maroon in places near and far.”