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Originally published: 2013-06-03 13:40:24
Last modified: 2013-06-03 13:41:09

And for my next career ...

by Susan King

James F. Barnes is the recently named interim university ombudsman, or "ombud," in the newly established Ombuds Office at Appalachian State University. 

The Ombuds Office provides an independent, confidential environment for members of the Appalachian community to discuss campus-related concerns or problems. 

 "The ombudsman position is my current challenge, one that I'm really excited about," Barnes said.

But that's just his latest adventure in a career that spans nearly 50 years in higher education. 

Between 1960-70, Barnes earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in political science at Ohio State University. His areas of expertise include urban politics, the European Union, European politics and government, politics in France and Francophone politics.  

A simplistic definition of "francophone" is "French language speaker," but the term refers specifically to people whose cultural background is primarily associated with French language, regardless of ethnic and geographical differences. The francophone culture beyond Europe is the legacy of the French and Belgian colonial empires.  

Barnes said, "I've always had a fascination for things French. There's a particularly fascinating relationship between France and black Americans, with Josephine Baker and Richard Wright probably the best known. So, in 1965, I had an opportunity to spend a couple of years in Paris and jumped at the chance. I spent those two years as a political officer in the U.S. NATO delegation and simply had a great time in what is one of the most fascinating cities in the world."

Those years were the beginning of regular visits to France, topped off by a sabbatical year in 1981 when Barnes received an invitation from the United States Embassy in Paris to conduct a lecture tour in a number of French-speaking African countries. 

 "This led me to, among other places, Gabon," he said.

Barnes returned to Gabon on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1983-84 to teach at the national university. That led to the writing of "Gabon: Beyond the Colonial Legacy," a well-received book on the country that has been a major focus of Barnes' research during the years. 

In 1996, after 32 years at Ohio University, a new phase began in Barnes' life, and North Carolina beckoned. 

"I knew then Chancellor (Frank) Borkowski quite well and that led to a faculty fellowship and a tenured position at Appalachian in what is now government and justice studies," he said.

Renee Scherlen, one of Barnes's colleagues at Appalachian, said, "There are so many remarkable things about Jim, it is hard to know where to begin. Jim is not just active -- he is exceptional in all areas of faculty responsibility:  teaching, research and service.  Students regularly tell me how much they enjoy Dr. Barnes' class -- and how much they learn. He always has students visiting him during office hours; he is easily one of the professors chosen most frequently to serve on honors' theses. Jim's relationship with students embodies the academic ideal, where differences in age and background cease to be barriers for communication and interaction.

 "Jim Barnes is also an engaged scholar, who has a broad and deep range of interests," Scherlen said. "He is a nationally recognized expert on Gabon, sought out by media. Jim's continued passion for research is an inspiration; he shows us that regardless of rank or years in the profession, we can continue to investigate, explore and contribute to scholarly knowledge."What's next for Barnes? 

"I'm currently finishing an English translation of a book in French by a Gabonese friend of mine that will be published in the next few months," Barnes said. "I'll probably retire in the next year or so. My target is age 80. Then, I plan to hang out with my friend Banister Pope and learn how to paint."

With the collected experiences of his colorful career as background, it's likely that Barnes will stretch the canvas of his next career in a uniquely interesting fashion.