Governor names new trustees to Western’s governing board

Contact: Paula M. Davis

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has appointed two new members to the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees.

Joining the University’s board are James L. Liggins Jr., senior counsel with the Kalamazoo office of Warner Norcross + Judd, and Kara Wood, executive director of the Grand Rapids-based economic development organization Grand Action 2.0.

Liggins was appointed to fill a seat left vacant by the untimely death of Shani J. Penn, who passed away last August while in the latter years of her eight-year term. Liggins will serve through Dec. 31, 2024, when the term expires.

Wood succeeds former trustee Kurtis Trevan, who relocated to live out of state about midway through the term he was appointed to in 2020. Wood will serve through Dec. 31, 2028.

“We appreciate the diligence and care Gov. Whitmer devoted to these appointments,” WMU President Edward Montgomery says. “Kara Wood and James Liggins are both accomplished individuals, well-regarded in their respective fields, with deep experience in community and board service. We look forward to the leadership and expertise they will bring to Western Michigan University.”

James L. Liggins Jr.

For Warner Norcross + Judd in Kalamazoo, Liggins runs a multifaceted practice encompassing commercial litigation, property disputes and real estate concerns, as well as criminal defense, health care issues and emergency manager matters.

James L. Liggins Jr.

“As a lifelong resident of Kalamazoo, my introduction to higher education started at WMU over 40 years ago through its Hands-On Science Training Program, which endeavored to motivate black students to study science and mathematics,” Liggins says.

“In this full-circle experience, I am honored to join the WMU Board of Trustees in ensuring that WMU continues its same commitment to access, inclusiveness, discovery and growth that inspired me so long ago.”

Along with his work as an attorney, Liggins serves on the boards of the Harold and Grace Upjohn Foundation, the Bronson Healthcare Group, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and Greenleaf Trust. He also helped to found Kalamazoo’s indigent defense organization, Kalamazoo Defender.

Liggins earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Michigan and his Juris Doctor from Michigan State University College of Law.

Kara Wood

Until 2022, Wood was an associate vice president at WMU. She also chaired the University’s COVID-19 Response Coordination Team during the pandemic and is a proud alumna of the institution.

Kara Wood

“I know firsthand that Western Michigan University is a special place that offers a remarkable education to students, from both inside and outside of the classroom,” says Wood, who was honored in October with an Alumni Achievement Award from the College of Arts and Sciences.

"The University also is a crucial contributor to the vitality of the region and the state of Michigan. I am thrilled and honored to now serve the University as one of its fiduciary leaders, and I am grateful to Gov. Whitmer for this opportunity.”

Wood, who has more than 20 years of experience in economic and community development, leads the not-for-profit Grand Action 2.0 in its efforts to identify downtown and adjacent neighborhood building and transformational capital-intensive projects in Grand Rapids, implementing strategies to secure public and private sector support for projects. She also serves on a variety of boards, including the African American Arts and Musical Festival Board, Great Lakes Commercial Capital and the Michigan Community Capital Board of Directors.

Wood holds a master’s degree in public administration from WMU, a Bachelor of Business Administration from Michigan State University and is a certified economic developer.

The appointments are subject to the advice and consent of the state Senate.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.