Behind the scenes: T. Haas’ signs on during virtual office hours

Lizzy Balboa

In a fashion almost contrary to his iconic stature, President Thomas J. Haas did not perch in his office atop Grand Valley State University Thursday and man his virtual office hours alone.

In fact, 13 university figures huddled around a conference table in the basement of Zumberge Library on the Allendale Campus and contributed to Haas’ responses, which were then dictated to a typist.

While the president framed the bulk of the answers, he called upon the expertise of the others in the group to offer perspectives from their departments. Many of the questions required special knowledge of university procedures, like the development of living communities, the requirements for financial aid and the preservation of student-professor relationships in cost-saving plans. For these posts, Haas collaborated with the others.

Jon Jellema, associate vice president of Academic Affairs, provided input for many academic questions, and when a student perspective was called for, Student Senate President Jack Iott was there to offer his.

“It’s a little bit like a game show,” said Mary Eileen Lyon of GVSU News and Information Services. “Everyone just starts yelling out the answers.”

Haas said the group worked together to do some “wordsmithing” to make sure that the answers were as clear as possible. Even in the fast-paced atmosphere, the construction of responses was deliberate and tentative. Every period and every comma was dictated to the typist, and individual words were carefully chosen for concision and accuracy.

While the president typically only has time for one or two-sentence replies, site inactivity allowed him to spend more time on each post this time. His virtual office hours saw fewer visitors and questions this fall than it has in the past. A total of 40 people logged into the chat, but only 16 questions were asked and many came from the same users. The president said he usually responds to about 50 or 60 posts, and he has even more to choose from.

Lyon added that there are typically a few questions ready to go when the chat begins, but this event was much slower to start than it had been in past semesters. She attributed the inactivity to midterms, which may have preoccupied many students, staff and faculty.

While some took advantage of Haas’s attention by voicing their concerns and questions about the future of GVSU, others used the opportunity to come to know the president on a more personal level.

After all, how often can a student ask “T. Haas” about his favorite memories at GVSU and get an honest answer? (His reception of the nickname “T. Haas” two hours into his presidency was his reply).

Haas even opened up about his personal college experiences and athletic endeavors. Again, in a fashion contrary to his powerful position, the president ordered the typist to include a “smiley face” at the end of his response.

To view the transcript of Haas’s fall 2012 virtual office hours and perhaps get a peek of the personality behind the power, visit and log in with a GVSU username and password.

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