Trustee Spotlight: James Fletcher Thompson
When Spartanburg MethodistCollege board of trustees chairman James Fletcher Thompson says the college “figures prominently in my family’s history,” he’s offering up something of an understatement.
His connections to Spartanburg Methodist College run quite deep. His parents met at the college, and their experiences reflect the fascinating history and unique mission of the institution.
His father, Fletcher, was in the last graduating class of the Textile Industrial Institute (TII). He was from Virginia, where one of his high school teachers learned about a program at TII for students to work part-time in a textile mill while going to school. Fletcher seized the opportunity.
In 1942, TII became Spartanburg Junior College. That was the year Thompson’s mother graduated.
After finishing SMC, Fletcher Thompson went to work at the FBI, continued his training and education, and rose to the rank of assistant director for the agency before retiring in 1975. James Barrett, then president of SMC, invited Thompson to return to his alma mater to teach criminal justice.
The Thompson family settled in Spartanburg, where Fletcher also started the law firm that son Jim now leads.
Jim Thompson attended Vanderbilt University, but his family’s past binds him to SMC. And as a trustee, he’s committed to – and excited about – the college’s future.
He believes the goal to increase enrollment to about 1,000 students is both important and attainable. “What we realize is that socially and educationally, we need a critical mass for the vibrant environment we’re looking for,” he said.
He adds, “SMC is a great fit for a lot of students. They just need to hear about us.” Pointing to the paucity of private two-year colleges in the region, Thompson says, “Higher education is a competitive business, but SMC has a unique role and mission, and it’s a unique student we are reaching out to.”
Thompson, whose work as an adoption attorney is widely respected, believes president Scott Cochran is the right leader to take SMC to new heights. “He embodies the drive and determination and energy that we need.”
The Board of Trustees, Thompson says, has an important role in providing a combination of direction and support for the administration. And while he’s confident in the college’s growth plan, he stresses that SMC will not lose the essential qualities that make it a special place.
The college will continue to have a vital relationship with the United Methodist Church. It will continue to foster a tight-knit campus community. It will continue to seek young people – including many first-generation college students – who look to thrive in small classes and strong relationships with faculty members.
At a large state school, it’s easy to get swallowed up,” Thompson says. “If you take a student who is ready to allow SMC to be that place to make the transition – and we have good arrangements with four-year colleges with the knowledge that we have good faculty-student relationships – it can be a great fit.”