GVSU President Thomas Haas announces impending retirement

Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas announced his impending retirement Wednesday, Feb. 28, to an audience of GVSU administrators, faculty, staff and students. GVL / Sheila Babbitt

Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas announced his impending retirement Wednesday, Feb. 28, to an audience of GVSU administrators, faculty, staff and students. GVL / Sheila Babbitt

Arpan Lobo

Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas announced his impending retirement date Wednesday, Feb. 28, in the Haas Center for Performing Arts.

Haas, who is currently in his 12th year at the helm of GVSU, told an audience of Board of Trustees members, faculty and student senators that he will remain president of the university until June 30, 2019.

“It’s with profound appreciation that I’ve had the opportunity to serve as president of Grand Valley for the past 11 and a half years,” Haas said. “I’ve advised the board, and today I’m announcing to you and others in our community that I will retire on June 30, 2019. 

“Marcia and I have been so proud to represent Grand Valley for almost a dozen years, and we will continue to give it our all.”

Haas, 66, became the fourth president of GVSU in 2006 after being president of the State University of New York Cobleskill. He was an honors graduate from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1973. In addition to serving as GVSU president, he is also an appointed professor of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He will continue his professorial duties at GVSU following a break after his retirement.

“It has been my absolute privilege to work with steadfast trustees and members of the Grand Valley Foundation,” Haas said. “I don’t want (this) to sound like it’s a goodbye because I’m announcing my retirement now so the board has the best opportunity to find the right candidate for the next phase of Grand Valley’s continued growth in quality and stature.”

Haas reflected on GVSU’s dedication to creating a safe atmosphere on campus during his tenure.

“The greatest pride for my administration has been and is campus safety,” he said. “I’ve appointed committees and groups to continue to examine practices, procedures, policies on sexual assault cases and campus-wide response to acts of violence.

“We must plan, we must prepare and we must continue our drills so we are ready.”

Haas also spoke of GVSU’s need to remain relevant in both the West Michigan and higher education communities. He touted the university’s contribution to the city of Grand Rapids with buildings such as the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences and the currently under construction Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall.

Haas stressed the importance of state investment at GVSU.

“We cannot tolerate any further disinvestment in higher education,” he said. “Education is a public good, and states that invest in it have more lively economies and communities.”

Haas will travel to Lansing to meet with legislators Thursday, March 1. There, on behalf of students, he will vouch for increased state funding.

After Haas spoke, he received a standing ovation from the audience. He was followed by student senate president Jonathan Bowman, who voiced his appreciation for Haas.

“At first, I couldn’t even imagine Grand Valley without such a wonderful, inspirational person leading it,” Bowman said. “But then I realized, President Haas will never truly leave Grand Valley. And that’s the cool thing about a Laker Effect. It never ends.”

Bowman spoke of Haas’ continued advocacy for GVSU students, citing initiatives such as the Grand Finish Grant and the expansion of the Haas Center for Performing Arts.

“It has been an honor for me this past year in my position working with him and directly seeing the legacy he will leave behind,” Bowman said. “At Presidents’ Ball this year, he said that we have the best students in the nation. But the fact is, that starts with him and his strong leadership. We have been fortunate to have him serve as president these past 12 years.” 

Following Bowman, GVSU Board of Trustees Chair John Kennedy addressed Haas’ contribution to the university.

“I know that Tom had other opportunities, and he continued to choose Grand Valley as the place he wanted to stay,” Kennedy said. “While other regional universities have struggled in our state, Grand Valley’s enrollment has risen. Our retention and graduation rates have become the highest among Michigan’s regional universities. That was done as a part of Tom’s plan for this university.”

After the event, a special meeting of the GVSU Board of Trustees was held. At the meeting, trustees voted unanimously to create a presidential search advisory firm. The firm will consist of board members, faculty members, a student senate representative, an alumni member and a member of the public community.

As the meeting closed, Haas shared his appreciation for GVSU.

“As we planned ahead looking for opportunities for the university, working with the boards, doing strategic planning, engaging with the community, but, most importantly, focusing on student success, that has driven me in my entire career,” he said.

“It’s going to be a continued love I have for students that will never diminish, individually and collectively. Each of the students we have here, we may have 25,000 strong, but each one is an individual with his or her own story. And we’re part of that story. We’re helping the individual on their journey.”

Haas also stressed his intention to make sure GVSU has proper investment from the state of Michigan. 

“Resources enable mission,” he said. “Resources aren’t the end-all. So, I need to have the appropriate resources. As a public institution, and delivering the talent needed for this state, it’s a public good.”

While Haas’ retirement date is set for June 30, 2019, he spoke of his commitment to the “Laker for a lifetime” motto.

“Grand Valley has become our family,” he said. “Grand Valley means family to us.”