Remembering an agent for change

James Baugh was an early director of a program created to increase diversity on campus in the 1960s.

May 18th 2017 | Katie Vaughn
Faculty, Students
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Dr. James Baugh, an early director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Five Year Program, died on April 20, leaving a legacy of support and service that continues on campus today.

Baugh came to UW-Madison in the summer of 1968 to serve as the assistant director of a new program intended to increase the number of students of color at the university. The 26-year-old brought experience from teaching in Milwaukee’s public schools and the ability to identify students who were ready to be pushed academically.

Baugh connected immediately with students in the Five Year Program — a precursor to the university’s Academic Advancement Program, now known as the Center for Academic Excellence — in part because he came from a similar background. Raised by a single mother in northwest Ohio, Baugh found academic and athletic success at his predominately white high school and Western Michigan University, which he came to on a basketball scholarship and left with a degree in political science.

“These were things I could identify so closely with the students,” he said from his home in Virginia last summer. “And I knew you could rise above your circumstances.”

After becoming director of the Five Year Program just six months after arriving at UW, Baugh worked to expand its reach. In 1969, he brought nearly 200 underrepresented students to campus.

“Jim’s leadership of the Five Year Program established UW-Madison’s institutional commitment to the academic success of every student,” says College of Letters & Science Dean Karl Scholz. “He helped change so many lives.”

While running the program, Baugh also earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in educational policy studies. He then left UW-Madison to serve as the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Development at UW-Oshkosh, Senior Academic Planner in Academic Affairs for the University of Wisconsin System and Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council on Criminal Justice. Next, President Ronald Regan appointed him as the Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Jim’s leadership of the Five Year Program established UW-Madison’s institutional commitment to the academic success of every student. He helped change so many lives.

In 1981, the city of Madison honored him with the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award for his work in civic and community affairs. In 2007, he received the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Yet when asked to reflect on his career, Baugh said his time with the Five Year Program was a highlight.

“I’ve had a lot of different jobs, but the most fulfilling was when I worked with the Program,” he said. “I saw how you can take students and provide academic support, give them encouragement, and they become successful, they get confidence and they soar. I saw that up close and I had a hand in it.”

For more information on Baugh and details on memorial services, please click here.