People

What I’m Reading: ‘Becoming Madison’ and ‘Madison’s Gift’

Mike Miriello

Jonathan R. Alger
July 06, 2015

Jonathan R. Alger, president of James Madison University

In an era when the purpose of higher education is often framed solely in terms of private good and gainful employment, I believe a critical part of our mission is to produce educated and enlightened citizens who will engage in the ongoing work of strengthening our great experiment in democracy. As president of the university named for the father of the Constitution, I have turned to biographies of James Madison to reflect on the meaning of citizenship and the role of higher education in cultivating it.

Madison was a voracious reader and lifelong student who pored over the works of political philosophers to gain insights for shaping a bold new model of government. Two recent biographies recount how he overcame significant obstacles through preparation and collaboration. In Becoming Madison, Michael Signer describes "Madison’s Method" of developing thoughtful ideas and governance structures to create a society in which the passions of diverse interests could be represented and checked without tearing the system apart. And David O. Stewart focuses on Madison’s ability to form partnerships with very different personalities to pursue important civic goals in Madison’s Gift.

Madison embraced education because he knew that "knowledge will forever govern ignorance." As we continue to prepare students for jobs, I hope we will also remember his words and the equally important civic purpose of higher education.

What have you read lately that is insightful and useful to you as you think about higher education? Send submissions of 100 to 200 words to people@chronicle.com.