Grand Valley State University’s search for a successor to President Tom Haas is the latest effort by a Michigan-based public university to secure a new leader.
As well, Central Michigan University has been conducting a search for a new president to take over after President George Ross retires in July, and Michigan State University is working to find a permanent leader after Lou Anna Simon departed in January amid fallout from the Larry Nassar sexual assault case.
The presidential searches follow the hiring of new presidents at Oakland University in 2017, and earlier this year at Lake Superior State University and Michigan Technological University.
When including Edward Montgomery’s succession of John Dunn last July as president of Western Michigan University, seven of the 15 public universities in Michigan will have either installed a new leader or begun a presidential search since the middle of 2017.
That’s a level of university leadership transitions that Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, calls “really remarkable.”
“We’ll have a new set of leaders bring in very diverse experiences and diverse talent and capabilities, and that will continue to enrich the universities and advance their missions,” Hurley said. “To have almost half of the institutional leaders turn over in the space of 18 months is really remarkable, but this is certainly a phenomenon that has been taking place in American higher education and part of it is a generation retiring.”
That’s the case at GVSU, where the 66-yearold Haas plans to retire on June 30, 2019, after 13 years as president. He’ll continue at GVSU as a chemistry professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
GVSU trustees want to have a new president hired by the end of 2018. That will allow the person to complete the academic year if he or she is coming from another university and give the individual time prepare for the new position, said John Kennedy, chairman of the GVSU Board of Trustees, the body that’s serving as the search committee.
Trustees are working with a search advisory committee that includes faculty, administration and student representation, plus a search consultant, Storbeck Pimentel & Associates.
Since Haas publicly announced his pending retirement last February, trustees have held a series of “listening sessions” to gauge what faculty, students, administrators and others want in a new president. GVSU may hold another session yet this spring “that’s more community based,” Kennedy said.
Trustees conduct the search as GVSU enjoys financial stability, growing student enrollments and strong community support, said Kennedy, the president and CEO of Kentwood-based Autocam Medical Devices LLC.
Kennedy credits Haas’ “great leadership” with positioning the university well for the future.
“Because of the relative strengths of the university, we’re in a great spot, obviously. Somebody doesn’t have to come in here and fix it,” Kennedy said. “One of the things we’re looking for is, obviously, someone who can continue the successful trajectory of the school.”
That trajectory includes continuing what Kennedy calls a “student success model” that Haas followed to support students through their college careers.
“Our view is we have to get a leader who’s going to appreciate that about the university,” Kennedy said.
Trustees expect to begin soliciting candidates this summer and narrow the initial field to 10 to 20 people for a first interview that may occur in September. The search committee will then further narrow the field to two or three finalists for follow-up interviews in the fall.
Kennedy expects the search will generate a large pool of as many as 200 candidates, given GVSU’s present status and position in a region that’s thriving economically. Trustees were told by their search consultant that “this will be a highly desired opportunity, so therefore we should have the pick of the best people who are out there.”
“We don’t have any of the problems that other universities have. You look at the investment in the school over the last 20 years and it’s unparalleled (to) anywhere else in the nation,” he said. “If you’re looking for a college presidency where you can fill out your career over the next 10 years, I don’t think you can find many places where you would have a better start than Grand Valley.”
A final selection and recommendation from the presidential search advisory committee to the GVSU Board of Trustees could come in December, Kennedy said.
The successful candidate will need to navigate GVSU into a new era where the affordability of a college education is becoming a larger concern, and look at how technology can play a larger role in instruction, according to Kennedy.
“Higher ed is a sector which is certainly looking like it’s going to need to change. The cost of education continues to go up,” Kennedy said. “Our students are challenged and we have a relatively low tuition in relationship to others, and we need to keep it there. So what we have to do is be innovative and think about are there alternative ways of delivering curriculum that would be done at a lower cost but still high touch in many of the areas where we think we need that.
“We need somebody who can help us think differently about the model because of the change in the entire higher ed environment.”