James M. Smith, President
Dr. James M. Smith is the 23rd president of Eastern Michigan University. He began his duties July 1, 2016.
President Smith has led an active presidency at EMU, undertaking many positive strategic initiatives. These include the introduction of several new academic programs in high-demand areas; launching the 4WARD scholarship initiative; creation of the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion and the President’s Sustainability Commission; launching an update to the University’s Strategic Plan; and making key appointments to the University’s leadership team (Provost and Executive Vice President; Vice President, Advancement; General Counsel; and Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics).
In addition, President Smith has overseen a significant investment in capital improvements across the Eastern Michigan University campus. These include the comprehensive renovation of Strong Hall, the third and final building in the University’s Science Complex; the renovation and expansion of Sill Hall, home of the GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology; constructing a new campus health center; renovation of the recreation/intramural building (Rec/IM); renovations of campus dining halls; upgrades to other facilities including academic buildings, classroom technology, and residence halls; infrastructure improvements, including a new co-generation unit that provides more than 90 percent of the University’s energy needs; installation of a new underground power system; expanded wireless capabilities; and upgraded roadways, sidewalks, and parking areas. An extensive array of new lighting and security measures further enhances the campus environment.
President Smith has initiated strategic efforts to increase EMU’s international footprint and recruitment base. He traveled to China during his first year to strengthen established relationships and identify new opportunities. President Smith is also supporting faculty efforts to travel abroad for academic, recruitment, and alumni engagement activities. Under President Smith’s leadership, the University is a proud supporter of the national #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign, encouraging international students to study in the United States.
Before coming to EMU, Smith served as president of Northern State University (NSU) in Aberdeen, South Dakota, since June 2009. From 2008-2015, NSU was named by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best undergraduate public institutions in the Midwest. At NSU, he led an initiative to develop the first and only Confucius Institute in the Dakotas, dedicated to the teaching of Chinese language, culture, and business practices.
Smith, who grew up near Columbus, Ohio, in Washington Court House, knew early on he wanted to be a teacher. He always had admired teachers and enjoyed school. He became an elementary and middle school teacher after earning his Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1979. He would go on to earn a Master of Education, Educational Administration, from Xavier University in Cincinnati and a Doctor of Philosophy, Educational Leadership, from Miami University.
Over the next 28 years, he served as an elementary school principal, a teaching fellow and assistant professor at Miami University, director of the Experiential Program for Preparing School Principals at Butler University in Indianapolis, and director of the Educational Leadership Program and coordinator of doctoral studies at West Texas A&M University. Smith was also vice president for Economic Development at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, before heading to NSU.
Smith’s wife, Dr. Connie Ruhl-Smith, has an impressive resume of her own. She has been a teacher, author, and administrator and has done extensive work in student retention and student academic support, introduction of international partnerships, and much more. As Director of Development for International Relations at EMU, she actively engages the campus community with international development opportunities.