Mason’s Presidents

Photo of Anne HoltonAnne Holton (2019- ) On Aug. 1, 2019, Anne Holton became the seventh president of George Mason University, the largest, most diverse and fastest-growing university in Virginia. The former Virginia Secretary of Education is the first female president in Mason history.

Since May 2017, Holton has served as a Mason visiting professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government and the College of Education and Human Development. She is serving as interim president while a national search is conducted for a permanent successor to Ángel Cabrera.

Holton leads one of the highest-achieving research universities in the country as determined by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. With 38,000 students, Mason is equally committed to providing opportunity, accounting for 64 percent of public university enrollment growth in Virginia from 2010 to 2018.

Mason’s mission of access to excellence mirrors Holton’s impactful career in education, law and public service, leading efforts on behalf of families and children. After earning her law degree at Harvard, Holton worked as an attorney for low-income families from 1985 to 1998 with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. She then served as a judge on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court for the city of Richmond from 1998 to 2005, including a stint as chief judge from 2000 to 2003.

As Virginia’s First Lady when her husband, Sen. Tim Kaine, was governor from 2006 to 2010, Holton championed foster care system reform. Her program, For Keeps: Families for All Virginia Teens, helped find permanent families for foster children of all ages. Holton consulted on national foster care reform with the Annie E. Casey Foundation Child Welfare Strategy Group and later directed Great Expectations, a Virginia Foundation for Community College Education program that assists foster youth in pursuing a college education.

As Virginia’s Secretary of Education from 2014 to 2016, Holton worked to increase Virginia’s investment in public education, to promote innovation and teaching and learning in state schools, and to ensure every student has a successful pathway to the future, particularly children who live in poverty.

In addition to her work as a Mason visiting professor researching education, social welfare and urban policy, Holton is a visiting Fellow at EdPolicyForward: The Center for Education Policy @George Mason University, which promotes equity and improved educational outcomes for all students by connecting research to policy and practice.

Holton’s commitment to equal opportunity in education started early. Her father, former Virginia Gov. A. Linwood Holton Jr., helped integrate the inner city schools of Richmond by sending his own children to Richmond city schools. Anne Holton’s three children, now adults, also attended Richmond public schools.

The Holton family also has a long history with Mason. Her father as governor in 1972 signed legislation that granted George Mason University its independence from the University of Virginia. That measure cleared the way for a state university to anchor the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., resulting in the vibrant Northern Virginia of today. Mason in 2016 named a plaza on the university’s Fairfax Campus in honor of the elder Holton.

Anne Holton’s awards include Outstanding Woman of the Year in Law from the YWCA of Richmond in 2006 and the Annie E. Casey Foundation Families for Life Award of Distinction in 2008. In 2017, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed her to the Virginia Board of Education.

Holton, a Roanoke, Va., native, graduated magna cum laude from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1980 and earned her law degree from Harvard in 1983.

Ángel Cabrera (2012–19) In fall 2018, Ángel Cabrera entered his seventh year as president of George Mason University, the largest and most diverse public university in Virginia and one of the commonwealth’s leading research institutions.

Established in 1972 in Fairfax, Virginia, Mason operates campuses across the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region and in Incheon, South Korea, with an enrollment of more than 37,000 students from 130 countries.

Listed among the top 300 research universities in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, Mason is equally committed to academic and research excellence and providing access. Mason has accounted for 48 percent of public university enrollment growth in Virginia in the past decade. Committed to being a well-being university, Mason was named by Forbes as one of America’s best midsize employers in 2018.

See here for Dr. Cabrera’s blog archive.

Before becoming Mason’s sixth president in 2012, Cabrera served as dean of IE Business School in Madrid and as president of Thunderbird School of Global Management (now part of Arizona State University). Cabrera is the first native of Spain to have served as president of an American university.

As a business educator, Cabrera played a key role in advancing professional ethics, internationalization, and corporate social responsibility. As a senior advisor to the United Nations Global Compact, in 2007 he was the lead author of the Principles for Responsible Management Education, now adopted by more than 700 schools around the world.

The World Economic Forum named Cabrera a “Global Leader for Tomorrow” in 2002, a “Young Global Leader” in 2005, and chair of the Global Agenda Council for entrepreneurship in 2008. In 2004, Businessweek named him one of 25 “Stars of Europe.” Cabrera was an Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellow in 2008 and a Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting topic leader in 2010.

Cabrera chairs the Commission on International Initiatives for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and is past chair of the Virginia Council of Presidents. He serves on the boards of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, the Bankinter Foundation of Innovation in Madrid, the National Geographic Society, and the Center for Innovative Technology. Cabrera also serves on the advisory boards of the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars (Fulbright Program), Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico. He is a member of the Inter-American Dialogue and the Council on Foreign Relations and has served on the corporate boards of three public companies: eFunds, PetSmart, and, currently, Inovio Pharmaceuticals.

Cabrera’s research has been published in leading academic journals. His papers on global leadership, management, and higher education have been cited more than 4,000 times. He has been quoted by leading global media, including The Economist, BBC, CNN, CNBC, El País, Forbes, the International Herald Tribune, and the New York Times. His op-eds have been published by the Washington Post and the international press, and he has appeared on NPR programs and PBS NewsHour.

Cabrera is co-author of Being Global: How to Think, Act, and Lead in a Transformed World, published by Harvard Business Review in 2012.

Cabrera holds a telecommunications engineering degree from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (BS and MS in computer and electrical engineering) and an MS and PhD in psychology and cognitive science from Georgia Tech, which he attended as a Fulbright Scholar.

In 2014, Cabrera received an honorary degree from Miami-Dade College, and in 2018, he received an honorary doctorate from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. The Carnegie Corporation of New York named Cabrera to its 2017 class of “Great Immigrants.”

Alan G. Merten (1996–2012) The reputation of George Mason University as a progressive, innovative institution of higher learning continued to gain in strength and scope under the presidency of Alan G. Merten. Becoming the university’s fifth president in July 1996, Merten was instrumental in Mason gaining national and international acclaim for a number of significant initiatives and achievements such as dramatically increasing its basic and applied research activities.

During Merten’s tenure, Mason became the fastest-growing university in Virginia, with student enrollment climbing from 24,000 in 1996 to more than 32,000 in 2012. The quality of Mason’s students at all levels increased dramatically during his tenure. Coinciding with this growth was the emergence of Mason as a vital center of cultural, academic, and athletic activity for the entire Northern Virginia–Washington, D.C., region.

Prior to coming to Mason, Merten was dean of the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University from 1989 to 1996. He was dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Florida from 1986 to 1989, where he also served as a professor of information systems. From 1970 to 1986, he was at the University of Michigan, first as an assistant professor of industrial and operations engineering. Merten rose to the rank of associate dean in the Michigan Business School where he was responsible for executive education and computing services.

Merten has held academic appointments in both engineering and business, and academic and business positions in Hungary and France.

He served on business and government councils and committees, holding several leadership roles. Merten was chair of the National Research Council’s Committee on Workforce Needs in Information Technology and a member of the Virginia Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education. He served on the board of directors of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Northern Virginia Technology Council, the Inova Health System Board of Trustees, a real estate investment trust, a mutual fund trust, and a banking institution.

Merten was recognized for his contributions to the Northern Virginia technology community and as a leader of the greater Washington, D.C., business community. He also received honors for promoting volunteerism and service to the community and for his contributions to the use of information technology in the federal government. Named one of the most powerful people in the National Capital Region in 2007, he was commended for outstanding community service and dedication to improving the quality of life in the region.

Merten has an undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin, a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford University, and a PhD in computer science from the University of Wisconsin.

George W. Johnson (1979–96) guided George Mason University from a small liberal arts college of 10,000 students to a nationally recognized institution with 24,000 students and a reputation for innovation and excellence.

During Johnson’s tenure, the university acquired doctoral status; established a law school; instituted 34 new programs, including 11 doctoral programs; created new organizational structures, including six academic institutes; and became a distributed university with campuses in Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William counties. The Johnson era also saw the introduction of bachelor’s and master’s degrees in independent studies and the establishment of New Century College, the Early Identification Program, and the Mason Scholars Program.

Johnson attracted prestigious faculty, such as the eminent Robinson Professors to teach interdisciplinary courses to undergraduates and James Buchanan, who won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Major facilities built during Johnson’s administration include the Patriot Center, the Center for the Arts Concert Hall, Student Union Building II (now called the Hub), extensions to the library, student residence halls, six new classroom buildings, and a new university center that integrated academic studies with student affairs activities and programming. At the end of Johnson’s tenure, the center was dedicated in his name.

In addition, Johnson helped start the Northern Virginia Roundtable, a group of corporate and civic leaders dedicated to the region’s economic growth. He was chair of Virginia’s Council of Public Colleges and Universities and served twice as president of the Association of Virginia Colleges and Universities. For four years, he served as the Virginia representative to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

At Mason’s 2004 commencement ceremony, Johnson received the George Mason Medal. That same year, he received a honorary doctorate of humane letters from the College of William and Mary at its annual Charter Day ceremony celebrating public service in Virginia.

Robert C. Krug (1977–78) came to Mason in 1965 and held several key positions, including dean of what was then George Mason College, dean of the faculty and graduate school, provost, and vice president for academic affairs prior to his tenure as president.

The Richmond native became Mason’s third president following the resignation of Vergil Dykstra. While president, Krug proved to be an effective lobbyist for funds from the Virginia General Assembly and was responsible for acquiring the university’s first computers.

Krug’s academic expertise was in chemistry. During World War II, he pursued research that led to improvements in aviation fuel efficiency. As a research chemist for Atlantic Richfield in Philadelphia, he was granted a patent for Desulfurization of Hydrocarbons with Boron Phosphate-Alumina Catalyst. He also co-wrote a number of articles that were published in professional journals.

Krug’s first position in higher education was in 1949 as a professor of chemistry at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. The following year, he joined the faculty of Virginia Tech where he later became chair of the chemistry department and was the first recipient of the W. E. Wine Award for excellence in teaching. He remained at Virginia Tech for 15 years.

In 1980, Mason’s Board of Visitors honored Krug by naming one of the institution’s original buildings after him.
Krug earned a BS from the University of Richmond, a graduate degree from Pennsylvania State University, and a doctorate from Ohio State University.

Vergil H. Dykstra (1973–77) came to Mason after serving as a faculty member and vice president of administration at the State University of New York at Binghamton (now Binghamton University) from 1962 to 1973.

Dykstra arrived at Mason one year after the university was granted independent status. While at Mason, he helped bring archived materials of the Federal Theatre Project to campus and saw the groundbreaking of the university’s first student housing complex, the dedication of Robinson Hall, the opening of Student Union Building I, the creation of the Office of Extended Studies, and the initiation of more than 20 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in academic areas ranging from geography and international studies to nursing and public administration.

The eighth of nine children, Dykstra was born in Harrison, South Dakota, and reared in Iowa. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946. He earned an undergraduate degree at Hope College in Michigan and master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Wisconsin.

Dykstra’s college teaching career included positions at the University of Cincinnati, the University of Oregon, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Minnesota. He taught courses in philosophy, ethics, logical epistemology, and education.

Lorin A. Thompson (1966–73) became the first chancellor of George Mason College in 1966 and the first president of the newly independent George Mason University in 1972. Thompson came to Mason in 1966 as chancellor of what was then a two-year satellite campus of the University of Virginia (UVA). Thompson had been director of UVA’s Bureau of Population and Economic Research since 1958 when he was asked to take over as Mason’s chancellor.

An expert in growth, Thompson originally came to Virginia in 1940 to direct a comprehensive population study for the Virginia State Planning Board. It was felt that Thompson’s administrative skills and his expertise in demography would enable him to guide Mason in its expansion.

One of Thompson’s first challenges was to work closely with the commonwealth’s Board of Control to acquire 421 additional acres, the amount of land recommended by the Northern Virginia Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission. This accomplishment marked the beginning of Mason’s growth spurt in terms of land acquisition, buildings, student enrollment, and degree programs that continued for the rest of the century and ultimately captured the attention of the nation’s educational community.

During his tenure as Mason’s chief executive, Thompson was instrumental in the growth of student enrollment from 840 to more than 4,000 and the campus more than tripling its size.