James Mullen

Outgoing Allegheny College President James Mullen talks about the past 11 years he has spent at the college and how much the staff, students and city of Meadville mean to him and his family.

After 11 years of service, Allegheny College President James H. Mullen has been a part of history.

Leading the college through its bicentennial year, Mullen will step down after school responsibilities conclude for the 2018-19 year. Hilary Link, current dean of Temple University's Rome campus, will take over as the 22nd and first female president of Allegheny College.

Looking back, there were several things that Mullen was pleased the college achieved, but his most meaningful accomplishment was the connections he forged with students, he said.

"They give me the greatest gift you could give someone, which is the gift of hope," Mullen said. "They’re remarkable young people who are going to make a real difference for the good in the world, and I get to watch them arrive as first-year students, grow and mature into young people that are going to be great citizens of the world."

When he and his wife, Mari, and two children moved to Meadville, "We really felt at home the day that we arrived," he said. Soon, Mary was working with Women's Services and later the Special Olympics while Mullen served on the board of Meadville Medical Center.

"Part of what attracted us here was that sense of a smaller city where you could know people and build those kinds of connections that are important," Mullen said. "I inherited a college that was very committed to its community and this region. I think we’ve tried to build on that."

As an example of such a focus on Meadville, he said every year students complete 70,000 hours of community service to the area.

Mullen also was proud of Allegheny's continued commitment to the goal of a completely carbon-neutral campus by 2020. According to Mullen, the goal, first set forth under President Richard James Cook a dozen years ago, is nearing completion as Link takes over.

"This is the continuity of commitments that transcend presidencies," Mullen said. "I had the privilege of inheriting that commitment, and I think I’ve tried to carry it forward. A handful of colleges said they were going to go carbon neutral by 2020, and we’re one of a smaller handful that are actually getting it done."

Something else culminating in 2020 is the institution's comprehensive fundraising campaign, which is expected to cross $200 million by that time. The funds will go toward the college's endowment as it continues to build on its national profile through awards such as the Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life, added during Mullen's tenure, and recognition from publications like U.S. News and World Report.

Due to Allegheny's growing prominence, Mullen said, he was able to chair the American Council on Education board and serve the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

"We are recognized increasingly as an institution that is innovative, an institution that is setting high standards of rigor in liberal arts education," Mullen said. "At a time when you read every day about the challenges facing higher education or liberal arts colleges, we are in a strong position."

Allegheny was not the first chance in Mullen's career to serve in an educational leadership position. He was in several roles at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Connecticut, a vice president at Trinity College in Hartford, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville and president of Elms College in Chicopee, Massachusetts, before taking on Allegheny in 2008.

"It is significant to think a third of my life I’ve been a college president," Mullen said. "I’m 61 years old, and for 20 years I’ve done that, having this privilege in my life. I’m very lucky."

Over the past 11 years, Mullen has overseen several campus expansions and improvements, including adding the North Village II residence hall, extensive renovations to Carnegie Hall, six solar panels added to the roof of Steffee Hall of Life Sciences and resurfacing of the 27,000-square-foot Sports Forum.

"You come to an institution that in 200 years it’s had 21 presidents, to celebrate the bicentennial, a chance to build its strategic future, that’s a privilege of a professional lifetime," Mullen said. "I can’t say how honored I’ve been."

Mullen and his wife plan to move back to Asheville, North Carolina, where he said they maintained great friendships. Mullen will not be completely separated from Allegheny College, however. He agreed to work on projects for the college in a limited capacity and assist with Link's leadership transition.

"Beyond that, we’re going to take a few months and take a little bit of a breather, and then we’ll see," Mullen said. "I told our graduating seniors a few days ago that we’re all going to graduate together and see what that big world has in store for us."

Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at tdague@meadvilletribune.com.