James Chalmers came to Brookings from Ohio. A teacher, preacher and administrator, he was well-educated in the liberal arts. His administration was one of stability and small successes, despite the fact that he did not come from an agricultural background. His strong university training made Chalmers into a strong leader, and he was universally popular on campus. The general level of the education given at State was reported to have reached a "higher plane," during his presidency, helping to increase enrollment. Many of the programs begun by Heston were beginning to bear fruit, and Chalmers’ leadership encouraged this. In addition to the expected changes in faculty and programs, Chalmers introduced the new Education Department into the curriculum, which has had a positive effect on the college over the years.
He was well-liked by the regents, but not all of them and not for long. Some members of the board tried to put a stop to Chalmer’s frequent public-speaking engagements, thinking that he was gone too often.
Chalmers was the second president to live in Woodbine Cottage. The college had purchased Woodbine a few years earlier and used it for a dormitory and a music department. In a legacy that continued, Chalmers lived in Woodbine Cottage rent free.