About President Harder

President Harder w/students 2016James M. Harder is the ninth president at Bluffton University and is serving in his fourth term.

“Dr. Harder has provided Bluffton University with strong and effective leadership. His commitment to strengthening the university through continued development of the relationships with alumni and organizations over the last decade has been realized in campaign efforts and in the leadership for securing the largest single gift in the history of Bluffton, the $4 million gift from the Knowlton Foundation for the new science building, scheduled to be open in 2019,” said Kent Yoder, president, Bluffton University board of trustees. “The board is grateful for Dr. Harder’s leadership talents and the ability to move Bluffton forward through new, strategic initiatives while maintaining Bluffton’s commitment to the Anabaptist faith perspective and continued relationships cultivated with the Bluffton and broader communities.”

Currently in his eleventh year, Harder became president in Aug. 2006. Since that time, the university has launched 14 new academic programs and made significant enhancements to existing academic, athletic and other co-curricular programs. Bluffton achieved a successful reaccreditation from the Higher Learning Commission in 2009 in addition to program reaccreditations in education, social work and music. In 2016, Bluffton added an accredited nursing program for a 4-year bachelor’s degree and an RN to BSN degree completion program. 

In 2012, Bluffton completed the Extending Our Reach campaign which raised more than $32 million and included construction of the Sommer Center for Health and Fitness Education and financial resources to establish the Nord-Ignat Endowed Chair in Theatre, several endowed faculty and student research grants, and a number of student scholarships. Over the last decade support for the annual fund has grown as has giving to the school’s endowment, which provides ongoing support for scholarships and future operations.

“I consider it a privilege to work together with faculty, staff and the board to ensure that Bluffton’s distinctive faith-based educational mission remains vibrant and transformative for current and future generations of students at Bluffton University,” Dr. Harder said.  “Bluffton is truly blessed with a more than 115-year legacy of support from our wider alumni, church, and community and business constituencies.”

President Harder earned a Ph.D. in economics at Notre Dame University. He holds undergraduate degrees in economics, history and business administration from Bethel College, Kansas.

Bluffton is a liberal arts institution that takes seriously its role in preparing students for living and working within a global marketplace. Harder’s life experiences provide a valuable model of living out Christian values in a global community that are a reflection of Bluffton’s mission.

Harder was born in Germany where his parents were engaged with post-WWII housing reconstruction with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Following his undergraduate program at Bethel College in Kansas, Harder served for three years with his wife, Dr. Karen Klassen Harder, Bluffton professor of business, as an MCC volunteer in Kenya.

During his doctoral studies in economics, Harder conducted field research within his international economic development specialty in Tanzania, working for Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). He also served as a research consultant in Togo and Cameroon in West Africa.

Harder was a faculty member at Bethel College, where he taught economics and business for 11 years. His teaching areas included economics and courses related to the intersection of global economic, environmental and conflict studies.

In 2001, Harder came to Bluffton University and was employed as vice president for institutional planning and professor of economics. During his time at Bluffton, Harder has taken active interest in students participating in cross-cultural experiences. Today, all Bluffton students participate in cross-cultural experiences in the United States and internationally. In June 2008, President Harder and Professor Karen Klassen Harder led students and Bluffton MBA program alumni in an inaugural cross-cultural experience in China. The group spent 15 days traveling throughout China, learning about the country’s business environment, economy and culture.

President Harder provides strong leadership in non-profit, for-profit and church-related governance settings. He serves on the Lima-Allen County Chamber of Commerce Board, the Bluffton Pedestrian Pathway Steering Committee and is chair of the Goodville Mutual Casualty Company. In the past, he has provided leadership within the Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges (OFIC), the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio (AICUO), the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC), and Mennonite Church USA board governance structures. 

Dr. Harder and Dr. Karen Klassen Harder, work as volunteer organization consultants for Mennonite World Conference, an organization of 102 national church groups with 2.1 million members in 87 countries on six continents. In that capacity they have worked with the conference’s 130-person General Council, the Executive Committee and a global network of Anabaptist educators. Recently, they have led workshops in Colombia and Pennsylvania. Next year they will lead workshops for organization leaders in Germany.