President Haas leaving big shoes to fill
At a gathering of administrators, faculty, staff and students, Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas announced his impending retirement Wednesday, Feb. 28. As one would expect, his surprise announcement has been met with emotional cries of nostalgia from the campus community. Haas, affectionately dubbed "T. Haas" by students, has had an immeasurable impact on the university and will be leaving his yet-to-be-determined successor with enormous shoes to fill.
During his tenure as GVSU's president, Haas has helped to increase enrollment and foster university growth and equity. Records have been broken in total number, first-year students, students of color and those living on campus. GVSU is also recognized for having exemplary graduation and retention rates, all furthered under Haas' lead. On top of this, as of 2016 (Haas' 10-year leadership anniversary), more than 30 new majors had been established and two million square feet developed on campus. GVSU also leads in sustainability efforts today, with nearly 20 LEED-certified buildings, including the Mary Idema Pew Library.
Unlike presidents at other universities, Haas has been more than just a shrouded policymaker or figurehead. On the contrary, what has set Haas apart and made him so universally endearing has been his down-to-earth, everyday-style involvement in campus events. From serving ice cream to students during move-in week to strolling through the student section at Laker football games, Haas has actively participated in even the most mundane of campus events and made personal connections with students and other community members.
The outpour of emotion on social media after Haas' announcement shows what he means to the GVSU community. Haas was emotional, too, choking up during his announcement and in subsequent interviews. What being a part of the university has meant to him and his family is clear.
"Grand Valley has become our family," he said after the announcement. "Grand Valley means family to us."
In the final 16 months of Haas' tenure, GVSU students should be thankful for a president who has been actively involved in their campus lives and whose reach has extended beyond the Allendale and Pew campuses. Projects like the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences and Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall (currently under construction) have given GVSU a footprint on Grand Rapids' Medical Mile, and broadening GVSU's reach also expands the opportunities available to students here. We should be thankful to Haas, his wife, Marcia, and the rest of the president's cabinet for that.
The next 16 months will bring a search for someone to fill Haas' shoes. In this search, the advisory committee, put together by the GVSU Board of Trustees, should expand its horizons as well.
While there have only been four presidents in the university's history, none of them have been women or people of color. While the first priority must be to find someone who is qualified and can continue to steer GVSU in the right direction, the committee should also be open to finding someone who can represent the university and its ever-changing demographics in another way.
Before he hangs up his presidential robes for good, Haas has some work ahead of him. At his address, he told the audience that he would always protect the integrity of GVSU, and on Thursday, March 1, he is traveling to Lansing to vouch for an increase in state funding. Fighting for GVSU and its students, Haas truly embodies the Laker spirit.