Presidential Search Advisory Committee hears GVSU community’s concerns in listening sessions

James Kilborn

Since President Thomas Haas announced his impending retirement Wednesday, Feb. 28, Grand Valley State University has been searching for potential candidates to fill his position. On Thursday, April 12, students, faculty and staff came to voice characteristics they desire in potential candidates, as well as their visions for GVSU’s future. 

The listening sessions took place in the DeVos Center, located on the university’s Pew Campus. On Friday, April 13, similar sessions took place in Allendale. 

The Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC) is comprised of professors from various departments, members of the Board of Trustees and the student senate president. The committee fielded questions during the session, working to create a better understanding of what faculty and the student body desired in the pool of potential candidates. 

A common view expressed amongst attendees was GVSU’s role in higher education. Many stated that the university should not be research-oriented but should instead focus on becoming a premier teaching institution, with greater emphasis on improving education for those pursuing a four-year degree. As one attendant stated, “We can become a below-average research university, or we can become better in training baccalaureate students.”

Henry Matthews, GVSU director of galleries and collections, said the next president should be an ardent supporter of the visual arts, emphasizing the importance of the diverse collections of paintings and murals that line the halls of buildings across GVSU’s campuses. He argued that the abundance of artwork enriches life on campus and exposes students and faculty to various pieces they may otherwise never see. 

Another important characteristic raised was the next president’s ability to advocate for the university’s interests in Lansing, Michigan; Washington, D.C.; and local communities. This ability to confront legislators for funding was seen as an important skill that many attendees agreed upon. 

Rachel Siglow, executive assistant to the president, said an emphasis on student involvement should be a crucial aspect taken into consideration during the hiring process. Siglow cited Haas’ willingness to attend student functions and be active within the student body as a vital role and hopes the next president shares Haas’ commitment to student life on campus. 

Other attendees said that while investments toward attracting growth in GVSU’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is important, they hope the incoming president will encourage continued growth in the humanities, such as art, philosophy and literature. Attendees viewed these fields as vital in continuing GVSU’s legacy as an outstanding liberal arts institution and in providing students the ability to empathize with others from different backgrounds. 

Perhaps the most agreed-upon sentiment shared by those in attendance was the importance of selecting a candidate who is committed to bettering the university’s standing while retaining what makes it unique. As many mentioned, GVSU is a premier regional university in Michigan and has a “homey” feel on campus. Attendees emphasized that while replacing Haas will be no small feat, they hope the PSAC will find a pool of candidates that shares his ambition to improve the university while remaining committed and involved in student activities on campus.