As this history was being written for the 50th anniversary of Grand Valley, the news media was full of phrases such as "the worst recession since the early 1980s" and "the highest unemployment rate since the recession of the early '80s." Although no designation seems to have stuck to the period of 1979-82, the way "The Great Recession" was being bandied about in 2008-09, it was similarly disastrous for Michigan.
The state had never recovered from the oil crisis and precipitous drop in car sales of the early '70s, and the effects of inflation and declining tax revenues meant ever-deepening cuts in state programs, especially in higher education. Taxpayers led by the Shiawassee County Drain Commissioner vocally and adamantly opposed any new revenue; Governor Milliken declared a financial emergency. Despite the slashed budgets adopted by Grand Valley at the end of the decade, voices were heard throughout the state suggesting that the newer public colleges be eliminated entirely.
By 1982, President Lubbers, his administration and the Board had reached a decision. "When our arithmetic lesson for (1981-82) is finished," he told the Grand Valley Forum in March 1982, "we have studied subtraction, not addition." At their June 1982 meeting, the Board of Control approved a major reorganization plan.
President Lubbers denied in the Forum article that the reorganization was "a closing of some colleges and the saving of others," and characterized it instead as a grouping "according to disciplines, into departments and schools." However, the undeniable outcome would be the subtraction of William James College and Kirkhof College and the end of the cluster college era.
The plan, which took effect in the 1983-84 academic year, returned Grand Valley to a single college structure with four divisions: Arts and Humanities, Business and Economics, Science and Mathematics, and Social Sciences. The "s" was dropped from the institution's name, reverting to Grand Valley State College. The William James name would remain the title of an annual Synoptic Lecture, and the Kirkhof bequest was recognized by renaming the Campus Center as well as the School of Nursing in his honor.
At the end of March 1983, Adrian Tinsley, former dean of William James College, returned to Grand Valley for the final Synoptic Series, "Endings and Beginnings." Her speech celebrated the accomplishments of the school. "We were young together at WJC," she told a group of alumni, "young in a time of optimism and experiment and reform, and we were able to do good work."
That good work was widely acknowledged, although not widely publicized. In an April 1979 report made as part of NCA accreditation, the site visit committee wrote, "It is a supreme irony that a college so well-equipped to focus on the principal educational interest of the region (preparation for employment) has almost totally failed to communicate that message. As a result, enrollment has begun to decline."
William James had attracted students and faculty from throughout the country, and initiated a curriculum that was considered a model by the U.S. Office of Education, which funded a demonstration project at the college on teaching career-related subjects from a liberal arts perspective and liberal arts subjects from a practical point of view. In 1979 the college hosted a national Conference on Education and Vocation. But difficulties persisted in WJC's relationship with the larger institution and its administrative structure. In his interview for the 50th Anniversary Video History Project, President Lubbers mused that "The William James people and the faculty saw themselves as a community making community decisions, not very interested in authority of any kind except authority of the group."
The NCA site visit team also recognized problems in relationships between the cluster colleges. "The College has also suffered from having its successful programs copied by other on-campus academic units who then forbid their students access to the William James alternative," they wrote.
There is a wealth of oral history about William James available through the work of Grand Valley Communications Professor and former WJC faculty member Barbara Roos on the web site Vimeo. For an in-depth survey of many voices discussing the reasons behind the closing of William James, check the web site Vimeo, #1915406.
Like WJC, Kirkhof College also was absorbed into the new structure at Grand Valley, a transition possibly made more smooth by substantial changes that had occurred at the college since its founding in 1973. The school had evolved into a combination of liberal and professional studies, utilizing both traditional and self-paced methods of education. Most of the faculty and programs found homes in the new divisional structure. In his article for the Fall 1995 Grand Valley Review covering the history of Grand Valley, Milt Ford, an original College IV faculty member, wrote that "the competency based general education program (of Kirkhof College) played a strong role in the definition of the general education requirements of the newly restructured Grand Valley." (More about the genesis and development of general education at Grand Valley can be found later in this narrative.)
While the period of retrenchment and restructuring at Grand Valley has sometimes been described as its "near-death experience," almost everyone agrees that the college came out much stronger on the other side. Enrollments began to rise again, beginning a trend that would set records for the college over the next two decades. By the mid-1990s Grand Valley was placing regularly on national rating systems of America's 100 Best College Buys, and by the end of the decade had become the fastest growing university in Michigan.
One of the factors that allowed the college, soon to be designated a university, to continue to grow as the economy continued to flounder was a major shift in financial management brought on by the trauma of the early '80s. Don Lubbers, in his 50th Anniversary interview, called it "one major blood-letting," explaining that "when we put forth the cuts we cut deeply enough so we could capture some cash to reposition the institution, starting some new programs." Ron Van Steeland, financial officer during President Lubbers' entire tenure at Grand Valley, said in his Video History Project interview that the administration "decided consciously to manage the financial affairs of the institution differently," learning to handle the ups and downs of the Michigan economy.
By 1987, when the economy took another drastic tumble, Grand Valley was nudging up against the 10,000 mark in enrollment, had been granted university status by the Michigan legislature, and was in the midst of hiring a wave of new faculty to accommodate a growing depth and breadth of academic programs (detailed later in this section).
What was to become the defining moment of the 1980s, however, was the persistent effort to open a campus for Grand Valley in downtown Grand Rapids, an undertaking that raised more than a few eyebrows. "The question was put to me by reporters," President Lubbers said in his 2009 Video History interview, "'What are you doing in a recession pushing for money to build a building downtown?' … I said to them, 'If I was a CEO of a business corporation in a recession and I was not planning for the future when the recession ended, I would probably be fired. Why isn't that true of a university … Times are going to be better, and we're going to be downtown.'"
"Allendale is 12 miles west of downtown Grand Rapids. It’s not seen by a lot of people. If you build downtown on the Grand River you in a sense are building a presence and when that building, the Eberhard Center, was built, thousands and thousands of more people saw Grand Valley."
—Don Lubbers, Video History Interview 2009
In 1979, an anonymous donor placed $600,000 in trust for Grand Valley, expressly earmarked for use in building a center in downtown Grand Rapids. The financial nudge was just what was needed to solidify plans the college had already been considering to consolidate programs it was running at multiple sites around the city. Another large gift was received in 1982 in a $250,000 bequest from Clara Loosemore. In 1983, the last land deal was made to secure 4.5 acres on the Grand River in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.
The state of Michigan funded architectural plans for a proposed Grand Rapids Center, and in 1985 the Board of Control approved the design by Robert Lee Wold & Associates; ground was broken on June 4, 1986.
The legislature covered a large part of the construction costs for the 155,000 s.f. center, but the project also marked a new era of Grand Valley partnerships with community philanthropists. The Center was named for the largest donor in the capital campaign, grocery store magnate L.V. Eberhard. Another of West Michigan's most successful retailing businessmen, Frederik G.H. Meijer, funded a facility integrated with the Eberhard Center to house studios and offices for Grand Valley's public broadcasting television and radio stations.
At the same time, one of Grand Valley's longest serving supporters, indeed, the man widely known as "the father of Grand Valley," was leaving the area to move to Arizona. L. William Seidman had been a member and frequent Chair of the Board from 1960-74 and 1977-1983 (taking a break for service in the administration of U.S. President Gerald Ford). More about Seidman's role in founding Grand Valley can be found in Part One of this history. He was named the first "honorary life member" of the Board of Trustees in 1983.
In 1987, Steelcase Inc. donated an industrial building and large parcel of land near the Eberhard Center to Grand Valley. President Lubbers appointed a task force to study the role of the new downtown campus and its relationship to the main campus in Allendale. The group became known as the Stow and Davis Task Force, taking its name from the factory that had been located on the property. The conclusions and recommendations of the task force would have far-ranging effects on the growth and development of the university over the next two decades. They defined the roles of the two campuses. Allendale would be a primarily residential campus, focused on undergraduate liberal education. The Grand Rapids campus would focus on professional and graduate work. Perhaps the most significant recommendation adopted from the group's work was the plan to make the two campuses "one integrated institution." Rather than define the University's sites as quasi-independent satellites, as some others do, the two campuses would share the same governance and administration for all policies and curriculum. This principle would continue to guide Grand Valley's operations as it developed sites in other locations throughout West Michigan.
Another recommendation by the Task Force aligned with the economic development initiatives of Michigan Governor James Blanchard. State universities were envisioned as key partners with the private sector. The report of the Task Force stimulated debate about the fundamental purposes of Grand Valley's research mission and its relationship to instruction, affecting long range plans then under development.
In an address to the convocation opening the academic year in September 1981, President Lubbers anticipated the path that the institution would follow to survive. "In addition to being appalled by the invasion of harshness to which I referred earlier (demise of the ivory tower, campus riots), we must listen to and respond to terms such as productivity, market, and accountability—terms foreign to our profession," he told the gathered faculty. "(Our) sense of special purpose is endangered by the fears and fights brought on by economic stringency, closer public scrutiny, and continuing criticism ... the best way to survive is to hold before ourselves and the public the special reason for our existence ... If we in the academy lose our vision because we are not tough enough to cope with some adversity, we will betray ourselves and all of society."
By 1999, the NCA site visit team declared that the mission presaged in Lubbers' speech was accomplished. "The institution has now adapted its early idealism to the reality of student needs," they wrote, "which include a strong desire for professional education, without abandoning its original ideals."
By 1999, the NCA site visit team declared that the mission presaged in Lubbers' speech was accomplished. "The institution has now adapted its early idealism to the reality of student needs," they wrote, "which include a strong desire for professional education, without abandoning its original ideals."
Both professional and graduate education became an integral part of Grand Valley through the Seidman College of Business. The school was accredited by the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business in 1997, a major external affirmation of the quality of its work, and by 2008 it was included in lists of the best business schools in the country. Information about the development of Seidman College of Business can be found on its web site.
It is tempting to speculate from a perspective of nearly three decades, however, that the introduction of a graduate program in nursing in 1983 would mark the beginning of a new era for the university, when Grand Valley would experience exponential growth in the health sciences. In 1993, Kirkhof School of Nursing, which had been a unit within the Division of Science & Mathematics, became an autonomous school. Graduate programs in nursing began to be offered in Traverse City, Kalamazoo and Muskegon. By 1998, the growth of the School of Health Sciences resulted in restructuring it with the Department of Physical Education, and the stage was set for the College of Health Professions that would blossom on "Health Hill" in Grand Rapids in 2001 (more details in the next section of this history). A book about the School of Nursing was created in 2003 for the school's 30th anniversary. "Kirkhof School of Nursing Celebrating 30 Years of Nursing Education 1973-2003," by Michele Coffill, is available through the Grand Valley Library.
Grand Valley also initiated a four-year program in engineering in 1983, an enterprise that would culminate in a move to splendid new facilities in 1999 with the expansion of the downtown campus (covered later in this section). For more information about Grand Valley's Engineering programs, seewww.gvsu.edu/engineering.
Other programs that responded directly to the educational needs of professionals in the area were developing rapidly. Grand Valley's Master of Social Work program established in 1980 was accredited in 1985. The School of Criminal Justice was established in 1989 and began offering Master's degrees in 1997. A Master's program in Public Administration was accredited in 1995. Information about these schools and programs is available elsewhere on the Grand Valley web site. For more information about graduate studies at Grand Valley, see www.gvsu.edu/gs.
The Celebration of Grand Valley's 25th Anniversary in 1985 highlighted the growth of other academic divisions. The Science and Mathematics Division sponsored an appearance by two-time Nobel prize winner Dr. Linus Pauling. The annual WJC Synoptic Lecture by civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, and a Jazz Jubilee featuring renowned bandleader Buddy Rich and jazz bands from 25 area high schools gave Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences students and faculty their own take on the anniversary celebration. A special edition of Horizons magazine traced the school's history.
Two other significant events were high points for Science and Mathematics during this period. First, in 1993, ground was broken for a new $40 million science complex. The project was long anticipated to upgrade the aging facilities of Loutit Hall of Science, one of the first buildings on the north campus. In an address to the community at the beginning of the 1991-92 year, President Lubbers remarked that, "The long-sought Science Building is like a military fortress that does not surrender. We have just launched our latest campaign and ever the optimist I hope in 1992 we will achieve our objective. The war is a long one."
The war was won in April 1996 when the Padnos Hall of Science was dedicated, part of a 300,000 s.f. complex that also encompassed Henry Hall and a new Student Services building, completed in 1995. The science center was named in honor of Seymour and Esther Padnos for their many years of commitment to the university, particularly to its science programs. Henry Hall was named in honor of the late Paul B. Henry, U.S. 3rd District Congressman from 1985-1993. The new complex also marked a major shift in architectural design that would shape the university's physical form through the next decade. (For more information about the design of the University's buildings, check Architecture and Environment: The Physical Grand Valley in the Sidebar section of this history.)
The new facility opened up numerous opportunities, not the least of which was the expansion of the Michigan Regional Science Olympiad, which Grand Valley began hosting in 1985. In 1998, GVSU became the first non-research institution to host the National Science Olympiad, earning rave reviews as a record 108 teams from Alaska to Florida converged on the Allendale campus.
For a detailed history of Grand Valley's mathematics department, see their website.
This was also a period of growth and success for the Arts & Humanities division, as they absorbed much of the creative energy of the cluster colleges Thomas Jefferson and William James. By the end of the 1990s the School of Communications was one of the largest majors at Grand Valley. Also growing by leaps and bounds was the Art and Design department. The number of art majors doubled between 1996 and 1998, and in 1997 the program moved into dramatically expanded and renovated facilities, putting everyone in the department under one roof for the first time. It was christened Calder Arts Center, moving the name from the performance facility opened in 1971. The designation honors internationally renowned sculptor Alexander Calder, whose stabile erected in downtown Grand Rapids in 1969 was the first public art project funded through the National Endowment for the Arts. Grand Valley awarded Calder an honorary degree that same year.
A semester-long Celebration of the Arts began with the dedication of the new Calder Arts Center and the repurposed Performing Arts Center, now a hub for the Music and Dance department, on March 19, 1998. (More about Art and Performance at Grand Valley can be found in the Sidebar section of this history site.)
Perhaps the most visible development in the arts at Grand Valley during this period was the growth of the University's art collection. Although the Campus Center Art Gallery had been established in 1978, and budget allocated for exhibitions and a permanent collection, Don Lubbers, in his 50th Anniversary Video History Project interview, traces the source of the expansion to an addition to AuSable Hall in 1992. "One day I was walking through that and I said, 'This place needs … art,'” he remembered. "I couldn’t think of anything else, it needs art! We’d always bought art and we had purchased art from faculty, but it was in seeing that building that we really set the policy of every building should be an art gallery."
In 1999, the University realized that its growing art collection needed the attentions of a full-time professional. Don Lubbers contacted Henry Matthews, director of the Muskegon Museum of Art for the previous 13 years, and persuaded him to take charge of the more than 700 works scattered throughout the college campuses. Since then, the entire collection has grown to nearly 9000 pieces, and can be accessed in an online gallery.
In 1993, the academic organization of the college was reviewed. The School of Education and the School of Social Work had been part of the Social Sciences Division, and were made autonomous schools, along with Kirkhof School of Nursing, formerly part of Science and Mathematics. It was also in this period that the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership began to develop. Established in 1992 by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, it was named for Board of Control member Dorothy A. Johnson in 1999. More information about all of these schools can be found on the GVSU web site.
With the demise of the cluster college system, under which the historic goals of Grand Valley's liberal arts education were met by different segments in the curriculum of separate colleges, the need for an all-college general education program became apparent. In his speech at the 1981 convocation, President Lubbers threw out a challenge to the faculty: "Build a coherent general education curriculum in the pluralistic, professions-directed university … for the good of the human mind and the professions themselves."
Thus began a conversation that continues to the present. The program that was developed and implemented as part of the reorganization of 1982 was examined and revised in 1987, and again in 2000, when the current themes program was implemented. Still the subject of lengthy debates, the present system is outlined at www.gvsu.edu/gened.
Another area that drew close scrutiny in the academic world of the 1980s and 1990s was diversity. In their 1989 report the NCA site visit team wrote, “Although the University has done rather well in the recruitment of minority faculty, there is much affirmative action to be taken in correcting the disparity between the number of men and women faculty, especially in higher administrative positions and at the associate and full professor ranks."
A study group was formed representing a broad campus constituency, and an 18-month period of discussion and survey produced the 1991 Women's Climate Study Report — with tangible results. Salary studies were undertaken, a new children's center was opened, the Women's Commission was established, a group was formed to study gay/lesbian/bisexual issues, and the discriminatory harassment policy of the university was clarified and promulgated. In March 2000, GVSU and the study's director, Mary Seeger, were presented with the Progress in Equity Award by the Legal Advocacy Fund of the American Association of University Women.
In 1981, the Grand Valley Library established a computer system to link students and area residents with sources of published information across the country; articles could then be mailed from the source to the local library within a few days. It seemed astonishingly efficient. By 1982, a Computer Center on the third floor of Manitou Hall was jammed with students wanting access to the terminals there, and Computer Science classes filled up immediately. A new era was beginning.
Grand Valley had long prided itself on cutting-edge technology. In 1988 the Library computerized an integrated on-line system, connecting it to the new Eberhard Center and offering unprecedented access for personal computers. By the 1990s, direct electronic communication for faculty and students was established, and advanced programs in digital technology were being offered in many academic areas. The Music Department's facilities for electronic music and composition were described in the NCA's 1999 evaluation as "possibly the finest such in Michigan." In 1999, Grand Valley offered its first completely on-line course, British Writers II, for language arts students at the University's Traverse City campus. That same year Grand Valley began appearing on lists of the "most wired" schools in the U.S., a designation repeated throughout the next decade.
But the growth at Grand Valley was more than virtual. As enrollment skyrocketed, competition for space continued to be a challenge for the university. The new Fieldhouse opened in 1982 with a community celebration featuring a concert by Willie Nelson and one by the Grand Rapids Symphony. From 1987 to 1998, a construction boom brought nearly a dozen new living centers to the Allendale campus, providing a level of student housing far superior to anything that had been previously available. Development of the Cook De-Witt Center began a move to define the heart of the campus in 1991, solidifying in 1994 with the dedication of the Cook Carillon Tower on November 15.
In 1994, the Meadows Golf Course opened, quickly joining the ranks of top golf courses in Michigan and attracting NCAA championship play.
Grand Valley also began to take its place as a major regional university serving the entire West Michigan coastline. While courses had long been offered in Muskegon at a variety of locations, in January 1995 construction of the James L. Stevenson Center for Higher Education on the campus of Muskegon Community College offered the university new opportunities in the shoreline community. A collaboration with MCC, along with Ferris State University and Western Michigan University, the three-level building looms over Fourmile Creek like a huge cruise ship. More about Grand Valley's Muskegon programs can be found atwww.gvsu.edu/learn/muskegon.
Defining the heart of the campus, the 10-story brick and stone Carillon Tower is named in honor of major donors Peter C. and Pat Cook of Grand Rapids. The 48 bronze bells were cast by the renowned Royal Eijsbouts Bellfounders and Tower-clock Makers of the Netherlands. Watch University Carillonneur Julianne Vanden Wyngaard play the Cook Carillon in this video.
View the Carillon clip larger.
In 1995 Grand Valley also became a part of a consortium of universities to establish the Northwestern Michigan College University Center, which houses the GVSU Traverse City Regional Center.
The important role of Grand Valley in Muskegon would be further emphasized by the growth of the Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute. Founded in 1985 as part of the biology department, WRI had centered much of its off-campus activities in Grand Haven, home port of the D.J. Angus, the school's water research and education vessel.
In 1996, Dr. William Jackson, long-time advocate for stopping the pollution of Muskegon Lake, was a major donor for WRI's second vessel, named in his honor, to be docked in Muskegon. The stage was set for a permanent home for the new vessel and the Institute, which had experienced rapid growth in the 1990s and outgrown several homes on the Allendale campus. A $5 million capital campaign in 1999, the largest ever undertaken in the Muskegon area, resulted in the opening of the Lake Michigan Center in June 2001. The 24,500 s.f. Center houses education, research, conferencing, docking and vessel support operations (the D.J. Angus remains docked in Grand Haven), and has become one of Grand Valley's most visible and most successful community outreach projects. More about Annis Water Resources Institute can be found at www.gvsu.edu/wri.
In 1997, Meijer Inc., a long-time benefactor of Grand Valley, donated a 19-acre site in Holland to the University, setting the stage for a facility to consolidate continuing education programs that had been offered in the Ottawa County area for many years. The Meijer Campus was dedicated in August 1998, and offers a wide variety of academic and support services to area students.
In an address to the faculty on March 20, 1997, President Lubbers outlined his vision for the continued growth and prosperity of the University. "I am overwhelmed, almost, by the decisions we in the university community will make in the next few years," he said, after describing the progress Grand Valley had made in its first three decades. He was speaking primarily of the impending expansion of faculty and the importance of making the best possible choices. But, he added, "people and programs require facilities if they are to work effectively. In our rush to the future, we are building, but we need to build more." Earlier in his speech he alluded to the growing importance of funding from private donors for buildings, endowments and programs, a sum which, he said, had doubled in three years.
At the end of that academic year, the largest graduating class in GVSU history would move commencement ceremonies to Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids for the first time, and ceremonies also would be held for the first time in Traverse City. Anticipating the continued needs of the expanding University, a campaign to raise $15 million in private funding for new buildings in downtown Grand Rapids had been organized in 1996. The Grand Design 2000 Campaign was a success, and in fall 1997, ground was broken for a $50 million expansion of the downtown campus, which opened in the fall of 2000.
Named for Amway Corporation co-founder and long-time GVSU supporter Richard M. DeVos, the main structure in the expansion was DeVos Center, constructed along with the Steelcase Library. They were soon followed by Engineering Labs named for businessman and philanthropist Fred M. Keller, and the John C. Kennedy Hall of Engineering (2007), also named for a local business innovator, all part of the Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and Computing. The downtown campus was named to honor Robert C. Pew, a former Steelcase Inc. chairman who had been part of the college's founding committee, and had remained an active supporter over the decades. At the heart of the DeVos Center is the Beckering Family Carillon Tower.
Don Lubbers' prediction of the importance of private donors to the growth of Grand Valley had been spot on. Smaller but equally significant donations enabled the construction of a new Alumni House and Visitor Center on the Allendale campus, dedicated during Homecoming 2000. But President Lubbers had a prediction that fall that many greeted with consternation. "Nancy and I have decided to retire June 20, 2001," he told a gathering of faculty, staff and students in September 2000 at the Cook-DeWitt Center. "I don't know when I will run out of steam, but I will be 70 three weeks after we leave the presidency. That's as good an age as any to admit your mortality. With the steam that is left in me I will always be ready to use it for Grand Valley."
When Arend Donselaar Lubbers came to Grand Valley in 1969, he was one of the youngest college presidents in the nation. Now, in 2001, after 32 years at the helm, he was the country's longest serving president of a public university.
In his farewell address to the University on April 17, 2001, he noted that other members of his administration, including Provost Glenn Niemeyer and Vice President Ron VanSteeland, were also planning to retire. "The first generation of Grand Valley faculty and staff are leaving the stage," he said. "We have given this place, I believe, a larger dose of commitment than most state universities. That dose has made some special things happen here, and my hope is that you will carry this place forward keeping the commitment quotient high."