Bruce James '64: Making an impression

Bruce James '64 is following in the historic footsteps of Ben Franklin. In 2002, James was selected by President Bush for the post of Public Printer of the United States. It's a historic position: Franklin was the first, and James is the 24th.

James, chair of the RIT Board of Trustees, bought his first press at age 11 and employed a dozen youngsters in a printing business while in high school in Cleveland. After graduating from RIT's School of Printing Management and Sciences, he joined a leading color printing company, rising to vice president of client services by age 27. He went on to start more than a dozen businesses built on technological innovation including Uniplan Corp., Electrographic Corp., Advanced Electronic Publishing and Barclays Law Publishers.

In 1993, he "retired" at age 51 and moved from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, Nev. He joined the RIT board the following year, and he's made his mark on the university in many ways. For one, James and his wife, Nora, donated generously toward the 1998 addition to the Gosnell Building. The couple commissioned the artwork etched into the black granite floor of the building's atrium, which is named in their honor. They also committed a $1 million planned gift for the current fund-raising drive.

James also has remained deeply involved in many other educational, civic, and professional organizations. In 1998 he launched a campaign for the U.S. Senate, but withdrew to leave the field open to a fellow Republican.

The Public Printer position is a huge honor. Yet James seems equally gratified to have been chosen RIT board chair, a position he takes very seriously and to which he brings his characteristic vision.

"My interests lie in where are we going with this university over the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years," he explains. "We must be certain that what we?re putting into place today really is what is important to the future of RIT.

"Technology is the driving force of all of our lives," he continues, "but particularly in a technological university, it's something we've got to understand, and know what the possibilities are. You've probably heard it said that of all the people who lived in the history of the world, 60 percent of them are alive today. And 85 percent of all the scientists who have ever worked in the history of the world are at work today. What that is leading to is the tremendously accelerated pace of technological change that we're seeing."

He's also very concerned about the rising cost of higher education. James was the first member of his family to graduate from college. A full, four-year scholarship made that possible. "I'm not sure I could have come here without that scholarship," he says. He has supported scholarships over the years, but he feels there's more to be done.

"If we're going to see to it that education is affordable to families, and that students don't have to leave college with huge debts, we're going to have to find ways of partnering, similar to what industry does," James says. "I think you're going to see universities, colleges, come together, probably on a regional basis, and look at how to rationalize the resources. And I see RIT, in fact, being a leader in that."

His other new job, as U.S. Public Printer, is equally challenging. As chief executive officer of the Government Printing Office, James leads a staff of 3,500 and oversee an annual budget of $1 billion.

"The Government Printing Office has been such a force throughout the last two centuries," he notes. "I remember as a youngster in this business in the '60s and '70s that the Government Printing Office was the technological leader in the application of new technology. It certainly wouldn't be characterized as being the leader at this point. They're doing a lot of marvelous things, but it has not been the industry leader in some time."

One focus is the evolution from print to electronic information, an area James is well-qualified to address. The GPO has the responsibility for the printing, publishing and distribution of all government documents for all three branches of the government. "Everything but money," says James. Laws enacted long before the digital era regulate the process, so it's no easy matter to replace printed documents with electronic distribution of official information.

Plus, with electronic information, authenticity and long-term storage are considerations.

"So there are a lot of challenges in front of us to make certain that we can take advantage of technologies that will be available," notes James. "What I hope to do is lead our government in developing a plan that's more relevant to the 21st century in how we're going to collect, process and distribute information."

If anyone can handle the job, it's Bruce James, says RIT President Albert Simone. "Bruce is one of the most thoughtful and creative trustees we have," he comments. "His selection to lead the Government Printing Office is a fitting tribute to his remarkable achievements."

The University Magazine, Fall 2002