University Mainstay Binkerd Heads Into Retirement

Touro Campus Celebrates Longtime Student Affairs Leader as he Transitions to Next Stage of Life’s Journey

August 23, 2023
The photo shows Dr. James Binkerd laughing during a retirement celebration for Binkerd at the Farragut Inn Ballroom at Touro University California, Wednesday, May 31, 2023.
Dr. James Binkerd laughs during a retirement celebration for Binkerd at the Farragut Inn Ballroom at Touro University California, Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

The Touro University California family bid a fond farewell this spring to Dr. James Binkerd, an original faculty member in the College of Osteopathic Medicine and a venerated leader in Student Affairs.

Faculty and staff from across campus filled the Farragut Inn Ballroom on May 31 to honor Binkerd during festivities that featured a Hawaiian theme, with participants encouraged to wear Hawaiian print shirts and given leis as they arrived.

Binkerd brought a strong background to his time at Touro. He was in private practice for more than a decade when he joined Touro University California as a faculty member. He began his tenure in the Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine department in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, moved to assistant professor, associate professor, interim chair and vice chair – all within a span of a decade.

He then became Associate Dean of Student Affairs and remained in that role for 15 years – not accounting for a pair of stints as Interim Dean: six months in 2012 and then for a bit more than a year from mid-2018 to mid-2019.

Then-Provost Dr. Sarah Sweitzer welcomed guests with an account of how Binkerd stepped in to support the University early in her tenure as provost, agreeing to serve as Interim Dean of Student Affairs after the retirement of Dean Lisa Waits and prior to the hiring of Dr. Steven Jacobson – something she pitched to Binkerd as a temporary gig.

“I think since the day I arrived here, he’s been planning this,” Sweitzer said of Binkerd’s retirement. “That short time (as Interim Dean) became a wee bit longer than we had planned.”

Pioneering Touro OMM Faculty Member

Colleagues past and present offered praise for Binkerd. He was described in turn as a pioneering Touro OMM faculty member, as one of the more active and important faculty members on the College of Osteopathic Medicine Admissions Committee, as a staunch advocate for students, and as a voice of reason during difficult discussions.

Steven Davis, Director of Admissions, cited Binkerd’s ability to work with everyone, and to listen to and hear everyone. Davis also noted Binkerd’s successful progression from faculty to administration and the benefits Binkerd’s background provided to Student Affairs.

“We’re going to miss your calm presence. We’re going to miss your experience,” Davis said. “I’m going to miss your sense of humor.”

Jacobson, Vice Provost and Dean of Student Affairs, said Binkerd worked at all times to help others succeed. He said he had an opportunity to spend time with his immediate predecessor, Waits, who offered a singular piece of advice: “Always listen to Dr. B.”

It’s advice he said he took to heart.

Touro's Ponytail Era

Binkerd early in his tenure at Touro University California embodied what has come to be known as the “ponytail era” of the early 2000s, his hair flowing well past his shoulders and down his back.

Andrea Garcia, Vice President of University Advancement, shared how Binkerd ended the ponytail era.

“It was the early 2000s, a beautiful, memorable day at the deck of Farragut Inn when, surrounded by 30 applauding students, he sat expressionless as a hair stylist snipped his hair away. He not only donated this to Locks of Love, but this inspired 10 students to do the same two years later,” Garcia said. “As one student, Joelle Donofrio (DO, Class of 2009) said at the time, ‘It’s for kids with cancer. Who wouldn’t want to do this?’”

Binkerd was also known for his musicianship, so much so that his retirement program featured Binkerd performing two songs for those assembled at Farragut Inn.

Tongue-in-Cheek Appraisal

Waits returned to the Touro University California campus to honor Binkerd. She referenced in her remarks the backstory of the main character in the Tom Hanks film “A Man Called Otto,” a remake of the Swedish film “A Man Called Ove,” based on the novel of the same name by Fredrik Backman … and the character’s drive to help his new neighbors coupled with his penchant for referring to people as “idiots.”

“By now you might be thinking, ‘Why is she talking about this movie?’ Because I don’t think that Dr. Binkerd has a tragic backstory – at least as far as I know – and he’s not super curmudgeonly,” Waits said after a bit of laughter from those gathered to honor Binkerd. “Well, OK. Dare I say that many of us in this room have run into the side of Jim that can cut through all the fog and lay out a plan of action in a way that can sometimes feel a bit crusty if you’re not too familiar to the caring ways of a curmudgeon.”

“You have to admit, his suffering has been great,” Waits said to additional laughter. “Just think of all the deans he’s had to work with. And for all the huffing and puffing about our human failings, Dr. B. never failed us. He delivered on promises, helped find a way out of many miseries, and generally brought his considerable problem-solving abilities to the issue and helped meet student, staff, faculty needs. Indeed, he truly met our needs and not necessarily our wants.”

“Jim is the rare person who will tell you to your face, whatever needs to be said,” Waits said. “He is a strong and disciplined person who supports decisions to the best of his ability, even when he doesn’t agree that is the best course of action. He’s the person who will show up when most needed. And like our character Otto, Jim always leaves having completed or succeeded more than expected, and most certainly leaves the place better than how he found it.”

“Caring is not the first impression Jim will give you, but if you’ve worked with Jim Binkerd you know, that like Otto, he is without doubt, a breath of kindness,” Waits said.

Sweitzer took a moment to sum up what Binkerd’s retirement means for the University.

“It is without a doubt a tremendous loss to Touro,” she said.

Humorous Personal Story

After the words were said and the songs were sung, Binkerd offered a bit of a tongue-in-cheek “rebuttal” to the gentle ribbing he had just received.

He acknowledged his particularities and left those gathered roaring with laughter while telling the story of how he and his then-girlfriend, now wife of more than 30 years, Dr. Sandra Skates, almost didn’t get married because he, as the navigator while she was driving her parents’ car to the airport in Seattle, was telling her to turn right at one point in the drive while pointing left.

“There happened to be a diner on the corner, a Denny’s or something similar, and a parking lot, right on the corner, and she pulls into the parking lot, pulls into a parking spot, and she slams into park, and she said, ‘What direction am I supposed to turn?’ And I said, ‘I don’t understand. Go to the right.’ ‘But you’re pointing to the left!’” Binkerd said his then-girlfriend responded, exasperated by the situation. “Now at that point I just started to laugh because I realized. And what did I say? I said, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you something about me.’”

“That was the closest we came to not dating each other.”

Next up for Binkerd was a summertime trip to Hawaii with his wife.