Around the world people ushered in the new millennium wearing goofy 2OOO eyeglasses and anticipating widespread chaos if computers failed to adapt to the chronological odometer rollover (they did adapt). At Grand Valley State University, contemplation of change was perhaps not quite so hysterical, but many were concerned about the future of the institution. The 1999 report of the NCA re-accreditation site visit team put it succinctly: "The greatest short-term challenge for GVSU comes with the loss of its greatest sources of stability, cohesion and vision for the last three decades, the retirement in the next few years of its President and most of its senior Vice Presidents."
The Board and the Grand Valley community had plenty of warning that the long-time administrative team would be leaving, and just three months after the April 2001 farewell "Hail to the Chief" celebration of Don Lubbers' presidency, Mark A. Murray became the third president of Grand Valley State University on July 1, 2001.
Murray was treasurer of the State of Michigan when the Board selected him to lead the university. He had spent more than 20 years in state government leadership positions, including advisor to Governor John Engler on education policy, as well as state budget director from 1994-98. He had served as vice president for finance and operations at Michigan State University in 1998-99, and his tenure with the state involved a variety of experience with educational policy, including directing MEAP testing and spearheading implementation of the Michigan Merit Award for college-bound high school seniors. Still, it was a thinking-outside-the-box choice that some questioned. "He has managerial skills with very complex organizations," explained Board Chair Donna Brooks when the appointment was announced, "combined with a passion for leadership, knowledge of the area and of the university."
In an article for the Fall 2002 issue of Grand Valley Magazine, Murray looked back on his first year at the helm of the university, and the questions he faced at its beginning. "I think it's perfectly natural for the faculty to question an individual coming in who is not from the academic community," he said. "I received a very warm and comfortable reception from the faculty. I think people know that I take the core mission of the university very seriously and value very highly the teaching and learning experience."
Mark Murray had barely settled into his office when the events of September 11, 2001, shook the world, and the campus. Evening classes were cancelled and memorial services arranged to honor the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, and the crash in Pennsylvania of a terrorist-controlled airplane. The new president made what he felt was an "absolutely critical" decision to gather the campus community quickly, and then to return to classes as soon as possible.
When Mark Murray was interviewed for the 50th Anniversary Video History Project, he was passionate about describing his priorities for the university from his very first days. "This was a materially better institution than the brand gave it credit for," he said. "We needed an unalloyed commitment to absolute excellence in the undergraduate experience." He called it the "gold standard option," and vowed to build the brand of Grand Valley.
In a 2009 interview with the author of this 50th anniversary web history, President Emeritus Don Lubbers mused about the things that set Grand Valley apart from other comparable regional universities, and high on his list was the fact that the Provost is the chair of the budget committee. "The vice presidents of finance or development don't have as much influence," he explained. "We built a university building an academic program."
It was clear that the next critical event in the evolution of Grand Valley would be finding the right person to serve as the university's second Provost (third Vice President for Academic Affairs). In his Video History Project interview, Mark Murray acknowledged that "with a non-academic president, we needed a strong Provost," and joked that "everyone talked about how tough I had it following Don. (The new Provost) came after Glenn Niemeyer."
The right person proved to be Dr. Gayle R. Davis, who had, according to Murray, "a passion for undergraduate education, a love of the academy." Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research at Wichita State University in Kansas, she had been at Wichita State for twenty years and had not planned to move. In an interview with the author in 2009, she described the position at Grand Valley as an opportunity she couldn't resist. "It was a new team in an organization that had stability, a young, vibrant university in a place I love, and a niche in higher education that was very attractive to me at a personal level." Davis had earned a doctorate in American studies and a master's degree in art history from Michigan State University, following undergraduate work in French at Muskingum College in Ohio.
Both Mark Murray and Gayle Davis were clear on their first priority. It had been repeatedly suggested during NCA re-accreditation processes that Grand Valley needed a stronger emphasis on strategic planning. A new position of special assistant to the president for planning and equity had been created by former president Lubbers shortly before he retired, and President Murray created a division of planning and equity with a Vice President at the helm early in his tenure. He assigned planning activities at all levels to the new Provost and that Vice President, Patricia Oldt, and the two led the development of strategic plans and the refinement of assessment plans for every academic and nonacademic program, unit, college, and division across the university.
In February 2003, the Board of Trustees adopted a new mission statement: "Grand Valley State University educates students to shape their lives, their professions, and their societies. The university contributes to the enrichment of society through excellent teaching, active scholarship, and public service."
A slightly more lengthy process was required to reorganize the university's academic affairs division. "Reorganization conversations had been going on for a long time," said Provost Davis in the 2009 interview. "Don, Glenn and Ron (Lubbers, Niemeyer and VanSteeland) had tried to move toward it. I brought new eyes. They broke the ice and I brought it up again in the context of strategic planning." The process of analyzing and reorganizing academics at the university began in the spring of 2003, and by July 2004 a plan was ready to be implemented.
The new plan emphasized the core role of liberal education at Grand Valley, while acknowledging that the university's mission also includes professional and graduate education. The reconfiguration dismantled what had been a divisional structure with schools, and replaced it with colleges. The largest is theCollege of Liberal Arts and Sciences, combining sciences, mathematics, social sciences, arts and humanities.
The reorganization also addressed a growing need to define Grand Valley's professional education programs in ways which made sense to national accrediting agencies. "Grand Valley is so unusual," explained Gayle Davis in 2009. "We are the largest comprehensive university in the Midwest that still is focused on education not research … It's wonderful that Grand Valley has hung on to its liberal arts focus," she continued, but "professional programs at the college have different expectations."
To strengthen the University's professional programs, the reorganization established the College of Community and Public Service, the College of Education, the College of Health Professions, Kirkhof College of Nursing, Seidman College of Business, and the Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and Computing.
At the same time, the College of Interdisciplinary Studies was established to strengthen the connection within, between, and among academic units, and reinforce a central value of the university's mission that all students, regardless of their degree, achieve a liberal education. It includes all university requirements, such as the general education program, junior level writing exam, and supplemental writing skills program, as well as the Honors College, the Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, the International Center, Continuing Education, Liberal Studies, Environmental Studies and other programs that blend knowledge with experience.
President Murray, in his remarks at the Convocation opening the academic year in 2004, when the reorganized structure took effect, was emphatic about the elements of a liberal education that he said had changed very little, even in a rapidly changing economy: "solid quantitative and verbal skills, the need to question the conventions of the day, the need to explore the new and different, the need for basic integrity and honesty, the value of curiosity, reaching out to hear what would otherwise be 'missing voices,' and an unwavering dedication to excellence." The attributes of a liberal education, or, as he termed it, a "liberating education," would give students the tools "to get to more basic truths about the problems and challenges of the day." He concluded, "We are better at everything when we are grounded in the skills to learn effectively."
One reason that the need for a new academic structure had become critical was rising on a hillside along Michigan Street in downtown Grand Rapids. On September 15, 2003, the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences was dedicated, providing more than 200,000 s.f. of space to house the new College of Health Professions, Kirkhof College of Nursing, and much more.
In an address to the faculty in 1997 titled "The Golden Age of University Building," President Lubbers described new funding approaches and new plans for future growth. He emphasized the overcrowding of Henry Hall after only two years of use, demonstrating the need for more space for expanding health programs. The programs "should be located downtown, preferably attached to the Butterworth Hospital Campus," he said. "To have it in at least five years, we must begin thinking about it now."
Not too long after that, a community campaign to raise funds for the project was organized. Richard M. DeVos, Peter C. Cook, Audrey M. Sebastian and Jay Van Andel were honorary co-chairs of the Building for Life Campaign, which became the largest private campaign Grand Valley had ever conducted. More than 460 donors contributed more than $20 million, led by gifts from Peter and Pat Cook and Rich and Helen DeVos, for whom the new center was named. The State of Michigan committed $37.1 million to the project, and a state-of-the-art facility for training and research was the result. "A successful partnership of the private and public sectors along with our community's heart for giving have helped us surpass our goal for another major campaign," said DeVos, a trustee of the University in the 1970s and '80s and chair of the Grand Valley University Foundation. "We're thankful for the quality of our health care and understand the importance of investing in the training of medical professionals who will be ready to provide top-notch care."
The Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences is on the corner of Michigan and Lafayette Streets in the heart of what is known variously around the city as Medical Mile and Health Hill, an area shared by the renowned Van Andel Institute and the Spectrum Health Butterworth Campus, which have become important partners with Grand Valley for health care education and research. The Center also houses the West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative, a partnership created with the Right Place, Van Andel Research Institute, the City of Grand Rapids, and Grand Rapids Community College to promote and attract high technology business development to the area using a business incubator model. The partnership has been expanded to include Spectrum, Saint Mary’s Health Care, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and the Grand Angels, and the initiative is one of two SmartZones of the university authorized by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
The new facility houses 10,000 s.f. of wet lab research space, twelve general classrooms, two computer labs, 23 teaching and research labs, a 150-seat auditorium, twelve seminar rooms, ten conference rooms, and two levels of parking. At its opening celebration, however, almost as many oohs and aahs were generated by the outstanding art collection displayed in its public spaces and along its corridors. (More about the arts at Grand Valley can be found in a separate Sidebar section of this history.) The College of Health Professions has expanded to accommodate a variety of demands, including developing Grand Valley's first doctoral program in 2004. In 2008, an agreement with its newest neighbor, the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, provided a link for pre-med students at Grand Valley. In his 2008 Video History Project interview, President Mark Murray recalled proposals for a medical school at Grand Valley.
It wasn't just the health story on the hill that brought Grand Valley to state and national attention over the first decade of the 21st century. The construction of new facilities on the downtown Pew Campus prompted an organized plan to make improvements to existing classrooms, beginning in fall 2002 with a major addition to Mackinac Hall in Allendale. In 2005, a fifth building in the original Great Lakes academic complex was constructed, Lake Ontario Hall, and ground was broken for the John C. Kennedy Hall of Engineering on the Pew Campus. At the groundbreaking ceremonies, Governor Jennifer Granholm noted that the United States will be able to compete only if it creates "a workforce of workers who love to learn, a workforce of knowledge workers."
Programs all over the university were developing to meet the demands of a new economy. The Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies was founded in 2000 with a $1 million gift from Ralph Hauenstein, who was chief of intelligence in the European theater under General Eisenhower in World War II. A $5 million endowment campaign for the Johnson Center for Philanthropy was successful that same year, and Grand Valley's first endowed chairs were established: The Stuart and Barbara Padnos Chair in Art and Design; The Frey Foundation Chair in Family Foundations and Philanthropy; and The James R. Sebastian Endowed Chair in Engineering, Cooperative Education, and Educational Development.
In 2001, the Seidman School of Business, (now College of Business) was named the new Michigan Small Business Development Center State Headquarters by the SBA, marking the first time a federal program had placed its state headquarters in West Michigan. (A timeline of Seidman's Small Business program development can be found on the MI-SBTDC website).
In fact, Grand Valley began showing up regularly in national rankings by a variety of ratings agencies. Whether these systems have substantial merit or not is a discussion for another forum, but since the late 1990s, Grand Valley has consistently been named one of the country's Best College Buys by Institutional Research and Evaluation, Inc., a Best Midwestern College by The Princeton Review, one of America's Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, a Best Value for Tuition Dollar by the Kaplan/Newsweek College Catalog, and, of course, as one of the "most wired campuses" by WIRED magazine.
But perhaps the greatest attention (well, apart from football, see below) has been drawn to the campus in recent years by its pioneering efforts in campus sustainability and green building. In 2004, Grand Valley launched a formal sustainability initiative. By 2009 it was named as one of the top 25 environmentally responsible and cutting edge green colleges in the Kaplan College Guide 2009.
Grand Valley's renown for sustainability efforts grew exponentially with the construction of the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon in 2004. The first building in the shoreline community's SmartZone high-tech business park, the center also was among the first new construction projects in Michigan to earn a gold rating in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. MAREC was created as a self-sustaining distributive energy center that features a high-temperature molten carbonate fuel cell, photovoltaic solar roof tiles, and nickel metal hydride battery energy storage system. The facility offers business incubator space, an energy laboratory, a conference center, and classroom facilities.
For more about Grand Valley's environmental leadership dating to its earliest years, check the Sidebar section of this history under The Physical Grand Valley: Architecture & Environment.
But it was football that brought the plucky little school from West Michigan to television screens nationwide. In 2002, the Grand Valley Lakers beat Valdosta State in the national Division II finals, bringing home the university's first national title. And even better, they did it again in 2003, 2005 and 2006! (More about Athletics at Grand Valley in the Sidebar section.)
All this success drew attention from many quarters, including one of West Michigan's most substantial businesses. In January 2006, Mark Murray announced that he would be leaving Grand Valley to become President of Meijer, Inc., one of the Midwest's retailing giants. In his Video History Project interview, Murray was asked about his accomplishments and disappointments during his short tenure as Grand Valley's third president. "The flywheel was moving fast when I got here," he admitted. "I helped keep it spinning. I'm proud of the tone and culture, the continued development of a strong institution." He did express regret that "the opportunity at Meijer came only five years in," saying that he had hoped to put in at least 7-8 years before deciding his next step until retirement. “He was a champion for liberal education,” said Jon Jellema, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Grand Valley and a former representative in the Michigan legislature. “Students and faculty alike expressed disappointment over his decision.”
A series of open forums was scheduled in January and February 2006 to gather community input on the search for Grand Valley State University's fourth president. In June, Provost Gayle Davis was named as interim president, and a living center on the south campus in Allendale was named in honor of Mark A. Murray.
At their July 10, 2006 meeting, the GVSU Board of Trustees appointed Thomas J. Haas as the university's fourth president, and, unusually, a professor of chemistry as well. He had been president of the State University of New York campus at Cobleskill since 2003. Haas holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Connecticut and had been a tenured faculty member, department chair, dean, vice president and president over the previous two decades. A graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, he served two years on the USCG Cutter Acacia in Port Huron, Michigan, and earned a Master of Science in Chemistry and another in environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan. He also holds a Master of Science in human resource management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
Grand Valley was appealing, said Haas in an early interview, because "it had dramatically focused on offering programs that are relevant." He shared the university's student-centered mission, noting its reputation for "producing quality graduates who were ready for the work force here in Michigan," students "who were ready to assume their responsibilities in leadership."
The new president put his words into action upon his arrival on campus, hosting pancake breakfasts for members of the Student Senate and playing pick-up basketball with students in the Fieldhouse. On one of his first walks around campus, a group of students gathered around him, and among their questions was, "What shall we call you?" One yelled out, "Hey, T-Haas." The nickname stuck, and can be heard chanted by students in the stands at football games inviting their engaging president to join the cheering section, which he inevitably does.
More seriously, the new president was faced with an economic situation in Michigan that was growing more dire every year. At his investiture on October 27, 2006, he noted that "We are proud of the atmosphere of teaching and learning we have at Grand Valley, and proud that we do it in a fiscally sound manner. We must continue to be good stewards of all of our resources and our communities." Some have quipped that Grand Valley operates in an almost too fiscally sound manner, as it has for many years managed with great success while being funded at the lowest per-student appropriation among universities supported by the Michigan legislature.
Like many other institutions of higher education, shrinking public funding has meant higher tuition costs at Grand Valley, although tuition and fee growth at the university has been relatively low over the past decade when compared to peer institutions. Enrollment growth has continued to be strong, indicating students perceive Grand Valley as a good value (agreeing with national ranking systems that repeatedly list GVSU among "America's Best College Buys").
During his first speech at his investiture, Haas introduced what would become a very familiar word during his administration. "Because we are a public university," he told the Grand Valley community, "we are accountable for what we do. A degree from Grand Valley should rightly be considered a public good. It is a promise for our students and to our society." Under his direction, the university produced the 2007 Accountability Report, providing for the first time a public review of the university's academic and economic performances, including the proper use of resources, and demonstrating the university's ability to educate successful students in the state of Michigan. The most recent version of the annual Accountability Report can be viewed at http://www.gvsu.edu/accountability/
The Accountability Report was conceived for taxpayers, legislators, students and parents to show that Grand Valley is a responsible steward of resources, but the project also has earned national attention for transparency and value, and was featured in the magazine of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education as a model for other institutions. The report is integrated with the ongoing strategic planning and positioning processes initiated by Mark Murray, Gayle Davis and Pat Oldt, which can be followed atwww.gvsu.edu/strategicplanning, and now includes the 2010-2015 document.
Another area that President Haas was determined to address upon his arrival at Grand Valley was diversity and inclusion. The University had made some progress in previous decades toward improving multicultural awareness and activities, with both student organizations and administration positions geared toward creating a rich and diverse learning environment. By 2001, the University's Minority Scholarship Fund had reached $1 million, and in 2005, President Murray commissioned a survey that focused on personal characteristics like sexual orientation and beliefs surrounding religion and politics. Questions centered around climate, negative treatment and perception of Grand Valley's commitment to diversity. (Grand Valley had first conducted a similar study in the 1970s, see Section Three of this history, Part V. "Culture Clashes".)
President Haas brought a unique perspective to the issue. In a 2010 interview with the author, he described his experience with both military service and the academy. "The military is a leader in diversity because the building of a team to accomplish a mission demands it," he said. It was a fortunate coincidence that he arrived at Grand Valley just as it was becoming a critical issue, he explained. "I believe passionately that diversity is an intellectual asset."
In November 2007, Haas appointed a Diversity Assessment Committee to research current campus diversity initiatives and recommend ways to comply with Proposal 2 (Michigan's 2006 voter-driven constitutional amendment banning public schools from discriminating against, or granting preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting) and to increase diverse representation for a rich learning environment. He also had been leading the process to establish a new administrative division. Dr. Jeanne Arnold, Vice President for Inclusion and Equity, began her duties in January 2008, one of the first chief diversity officers hired at the senior leadership level by a regional four-year public university.
President Haas made diversity part of the strategic planning imperative. "I'm a chemist," he said in the 2010 interview. "I think in systems. We could develop a predictable model that comes out of strategic planning." The process was not a result of Proposal 2, he explained. "I was disappointed that it passed, but not discouraged." His initiatives had begun before that campaign, and have resulted in a strong value statement in the current strategic plan: "The institution values a multiplicity of opinions and backgrounds, and is dedicated to incorporating multiple voices and experiences into every aspect of its operations. We are committed to building institutional capacity and strengthening our liberal education through providing an inclusive environment for all of our Grand Valley constituents."
In September 2008, Grand Valley re-dedicated its 35-year-old Honors College in celebration of its move into a splendid new living and learning center named for retired Provost Glenn A. Niemeyer. The new facility houses 450 students, more than twice the former Honors College living center, along with classrooms, offices, and meeting and study areas. Established in 1973 by Niemeyer, along with Thomas Cunningham and Mary Seeger, the Honors College offers academically motivated students an interdisciplinary curriculum and other challenges.
In October, the Honors College was named for Frederik Meijer in recognition of a gift that established scholarships for first-generation college students, an endowed chair, an ongoing lecture series, and career development opportunities for graduate students.
The following summer, the building was awarded silver certification in the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system, close on the heels of the announcement that the new Indoor Turf Building had earned LEED Gold certification. The building opened in Fall 2008 to provide more recreational opportunities for students, as well as Movement Science classes and intercollegiate athletics. It was Grand Valley's second building to be awarded the coveted status (the first was the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center, covered earlier in this history).
As mentioned previously, Grand Valley was becoming nationally renowned for its sustainability efforts, and was the only Michigan school cited in the Kaplan College Guide 2009 list of "cutting-edge green" colleges and universities. The university was the recipient of the USGBC’s 2008 Recognition Award and the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s 2008 National Sustainability Innovator Award; the Mark A. Murray Living Center was the first university student housing unit in Michigan to receive an Energy Star designation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More about the history of Grand Valley's environment awareness, which dates to the siting of the first buildings on the Allendale campus, can be found in the Sidebar section of this history titled The Physical Grand Valley: Architecture and Environment.
The Grand Valley State University of today is a large comprehensive institution that is much more complex than can be summarized in a narrative history such as this. The reader is invited to delve further into its historical story by checking the Sidebar sections accessible at the top of this page, and by visiting the individual pages of each college and school at the University on this web site, many of which contain valuable historical information.
On June 10, 2008, the largest fundraising initiative in Grand Valley's history was announced. Shaping Our Future is a $50 million campaign to fund multiple capital and endowment priorities at Grand Valley. "Our top priority continues to be a new library," explained President Haas, "but this will not be the kind of library most of us are used to. We need to replace the library that was built in Allendale to serve a couple thousand students with a new kind of library for the information age. It will serve our 24,000 students looking for tools they’ll need to build their own futures and contribute to the overall economy of the region.”
In addition to the Learning and Information Commons, the $50 million campaign targets funds for student scholarships, faculty chairs and academic support, endowments for the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, along with support for the Movement Sciences and Indoor Recreation Building and the John C. Kennedy Hall of Engineering in Grand Rapids.
By spring 2009, more than 70,000 students had graduated from Grand Valley, with nearly half that number living or working in the West Michigan tri-county area. The number of graduates has nearly doubled in the last ten years, with an enrollment growth rate of about 42%. And, nearly all GVSU graduates are employed or in graduate school, with 94% remaining to work or study in Michigan.
As this history of Grand Valley was being researched and written from January-December 2009, the national economy was struggling to recover from its near-collapse at the end of 2008. It is an echo of the many desperate times Grand Valley has weathered through its 50-year history. While previous recessions threatened the university's very existence, the challenge now is to maintain success and growth in a changing environment. "We're examining the curriculum," said Provost Gayle Davis in a 2009 interview. "Are we offering what students need in a changing world? How can we make sure our students are at the top of the list for graduate schools and jobs in this competitive market? That's where liberal education comes in — the job you are trained to do may not exist by the time you graduate. We aim to graduate students who know how to think, how to keep learning. A lot of employers are getting that now. How do you look at things other than credentials — at competencies? This is another crossroads for Grand Valley."
A memorial service was held in September 2009 for L. William Seidman, who had died in May. President Thomas Haas told the community gathered in Louis Armstrong Theater to mourn the founder of Grand Valley about a new commitment to acknowledge his legacy. "Rich and Helen (DeVos) would like to do something directly memorializing Bill and holding up the Seidman legacy very high," he told the audience, announcing a lead gift to launch efforts to construct a new building for the Seidman College of Business.
It's a fitting end to this 50th anniversary narrative of Grand Valley's history to circle around to the beginning and quote Bill Seidman, who set out in the late 1950s with such high hopes, and gathered around him the strength of a community that still keeps Grand Valley strong and growing, shaping our future.