In Remembrance: CASE President Emeritus James Fisher
CASE was saddened to learn of the death of President Emeritus James “Jim” Fisher. He passed away on Sept. 7, 2022, at the age of 91. Jim served as CASE’s second president from 1978 to 1986. He assumed the role following the retirement of CASE’s founding President Alice Beeman.
We extend our deepest condolences to his children Kerry, Kathy, Curt, and John, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as well as the many other family members, friends, and colleagues whose lives he touched.
Throughout his service at CASE, Jim was dedicated to fostering professionalism, unity, ethics, and integrity in higher education. In 1985, he convened a seminal event in the history of educational advancement: the Greenbrier Colloquium on Professionalism in Institutional Advancement. Known as Greenbrier II, the three-day event brought together more than 30 educational leaders. Greenbrier II established that higher educational advancement was an executive function which should report directly to the President and detailed the role’s responsibilities and criteria.
“Ultimately, the professional is defined in terms of action and attitudes toward people, one at a time,” Jim wrote in the September 1985 issue of Currents, reflecting on Greenbrier II. “You must continually ask: Will this action I contemplate result in the best interest of the person I’m dealing with? And, is this in harmony with my and the university’s (or college’s or school’s) absolute, unshakable commitment to truth?”
Jim was a groundbreaking leader.
In 1979, he partnered with the National Association of College and University Business Officers to develop the first data-driven benchmarking tool for advancement: Management and Reporting Standards for Educational Institutions: Fund Raising and Related Activities. In 2021, CASE released its fifth iteration of this foundational resource, which also provided the very first set of Global Reporting Standards for the profession worldwide.
In 1982, he built partnerships for CASE with 11 other higher education associations to create the Action Committee for Higher Education. The group was founded in response to a proposed federal budget that would have nearly halved some needs-based higher education programs.
Prior to ACHE, higher education had often struggled with political organizing. The establishment of ACHE marked a turning point. It unified higher education institutions, students, alumni, and other stakeholders to mobilize against the higher education budget cuts.
ACHE’s work drew the attention of lawmakers. Then-Senator Claiborne Pell, for whom Pell grants are named, remarked: “In the past, I have often been critical of the higher education community for its lack of effective lobbying and political action. I must say that in the past few months, friends of higher education have done a very good job at letting members of Congress know of their strong opposition to the proposed cuts in the student assistance programs. Letters, telegrams, and calls have flooded the Hill…”
Prior to leading CASE, Jim served as president of Towson University for 10 years. There, he established an Office of Institutional Development—an unusual commitment for a public university.
Jim received his Ph.D. in psychology from Northwestern University. He taught at Northwestern, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Illinois State University, and the University of Georgia. He was a widely sought expert on institutional and governance reviews, presidential searches, and presidential evaluations.
Of his selection as CASE president, CASE Board Chair at the time Colette Murray said: “Jim was the best choice. He was definitely a leader, very charismatic. He wanted to make CASE more visible and went around the country to talk to presidents and let them know more about CASE.”
Detailing CASE’s mission in the April 1979 edition of Currents, Jim wrote:
“Our function should be to dramatize issues, highlight accomplishment, and generally enhance the public estimate of quality education. There is no group or organization better equipped for this task than CASE. What other organized assembly includes the best public affairs officers, fund raisers, publications professionals, government affairs specialists, and alumni administrators in our society? No other group is so qualified; and if we systematically harness ourselves in this effort, we could do so much more than enhance ourselves. This effort could in fact be crucial to society.”
In 1984, he published his book Power of the Presidency, which Change magazine described as “arguably the best book yet published about leadership in American colleges and universities.”
“Jim was a big idea guy,” recalled Donna Orem, a longtime CASE staff member.
CASE’s James L. Fisher Award for Distinguished Service to Education is named in honor of Jim’s remarkable contributions to higher education. The award recognizes individuals and organizations that have had an “extraordinary impact on education, beyond service to a single institution.”
We at CASE are grateful to Jim for his decades of leadership. He guided the organization and the higher education field with vision and clarity.