Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

In service to the U of R

Donna (Johnson) Ashby ’83 and Jim Ashby ’82 on the main Redlands campus by the Phi Beta Kappa courtyard. (Photo by Coco McKown '04, '10)

When successful health-care executive Jamison (Jim) J. Ashby ’82 was asked to serve as the chair of the U of R Board of Trustees early this year, he knew he had to do it. It wasn’t just because of his Redlands legacy and family connections. Ashby’s father, Ted Nicolay ’44, sat on the Board when Ashby was a student, and his sister, Kathleen Ashby Modlin ’88, is also a Bulldog. In addition, Redlands was where Ashby met his wife of 37 years, Donna (Johnson) Ashby ’83, as well as his business partner, Sherri Medina ’82, ’84, with whom he served as a U of R trustee. 

More than that, Ashby says he accepted the role because, after serving as a trustee for seven years, he felt called to lead the University during this period of extraordinary transition. “I’ve always stepped up and taken responsibility for getting things done when asked. It’s in my DNA I suppose,” he says. Prior to this role, Ashby held several leadership positions, including chair of Academic Affairs and second vice-chair of the Board. He also served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors in the 1990s.

Ashby describes himself as a “service-oriented leader” and has served as CEO in three different multistate companies, including in the health-care and veterinary fields. His current endeavor, Nova Health, focuses on urgent and primary medical care. He has also held top leadership roles in numerous for-profit and not-for-profit boards, so developing people, building teams, and growing impactful organizations is a passion for him.

The U of R Board of Trustees’ most important duties are threefold: “to be a fiduciary body—responsible for the University’s financial health, to ensure that the institution stays true to its mission, and to keep leadership accountable,” says Ashby, whose five-year term began July 1, coinciding with newly appointed President Krista L. Newkirk’s start date. 

As chair, Ashby keeps the Board focused. “The Board plays a pivotal role in shared governance, working closely with Newkirk, her Cabinet, and the faculty,” he says. “I talk frequently about flying at altitude because it’s not the Board’s responsibility to tell Krista or the Cabinet how to do their jobs or to tell faculty what they should teach. The Board focuses on the ‘why’ of it all, engaging in strategy-setting, higher-level issues, and big decisions, ensuring that the institution stays true to its purpose. We, your Board, are stewards, servants, and passionate contributors of time, talent, experience, relationships, and personal resources.”

Overcoming numerous challenges—including COVID-19, budget constraints, enrollment concerns, increasing competition, falling demand, and price inflation—are big pieces of the puzzle Ashby wants to solve, he says. “Certainly, the past two years have been the most challenging in our history. We have to figure out how we take Redlands’ wonderful heritage and meet the market where it is.”

He also notes the changing constituency of the Board of Trustees—now with more women and people of color than in previous times—will help ensure diverse and balanced perspectives on those key questions. “We’re inviting more dialogue, more work, more tough questions of the status quo—the Board’s experience and influence will help us work through the various challenges at Redlands,” he says. “Change occurs by intention but not without difficulties. Having the will, setting clear goals, building-specific plans, resourcing, and executing are all key. We’ve got miles to go, for sure. But the impact from these changes, coming from the Board’s sensitivity to what’s happening globally around unintentional bias and diversity, equity, and inclusion, I expect will continue to make forward progress.”

Ashby is excited about the University’s future and is appreciative of the “excellent additions” to the Trustees over the past 16 months, including Jan Berckefeldt ’67, Javier Garcia ’02, Dan Hanson ’75, Eugene “Mitch” Mitchell ’90, and Colin Romer ’18. “We have lots of challenges, but we are going to see a lot of positive movement,” he says.

He adds, “We are so fortunate to have recruited Krista Newkirk as our 12th president. I’ve been impressed so far by her style, demeanor, approach, intelligence, and energy. I look forward to working closely with her and all of our stakeholders to not just be relevant, but to be a vibrant beacon of hope for Redlands and the world at large. Yes, one could say that I’m ‘all in.’”