GVSU Finds Good Fit

July 17, 2006
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ALLENDALE — Thomas J. Haas anticipates a smooth transition when he begins his tenure as the new president of GrandValleyStateUniversity on Aug. 22.

Though Haas and former President Mark Murray come from different professional backgrounds, Haas said he believes they share similarities as well.

"Mark and I are very similar in leadership styles. We're passionate about the mission to shape student lives," he said.

Haas said he attributes the stability of the university to Murray's efforts and experience.

"He was the right person at the right time," Haas said of Murray's tenure as president.

Rob Franciosi, chairman of the Faculty Senate and member of the advisory committee that recommended the finalists, said he was impressed by Haas' academic background, which contrasts to Murray's background in finance and state government.

"He's a Ph.D. in chemistry, he's gone through the ranks in the military, but also through the ranks being a professor," Franciosi said of Haas. "It's sort of like the business equivalent of someone who worked their way up from the shop floor to the management suite."

Franciosi said Haas is just what the school needs at this point.

"We've had some really excellent leaders at GrandValley," he said. "Haas, I think, just brings another dimension that GrandValley hasn't had since the first president."

Haas, who has been president of the State University of New York's College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill since 2003, earned master's degrees in chemistry and environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan and also served two years on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Acacia in Port Huron after graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1973. He met his wife, Marcia, at the Traverse City Cherry Festival where she was part of the Cherry Queen's Court. She has family in the Grand Rapids area.

Donna Brooks, chair of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee and member of the board of trustees, said she is very pleased with the choice to bring Haas to GVSU to replace Murray, who has taken the position of president of Meijer Inc.

"He's got a real passion for students," she said of Haas. "He really has a priority for teaching and learning."

Brooks said she also was pleased about the timing of the selection, as Haas will be joining the university at the beginning of the academic year.

"We feel very good about that, that we were able to get it accomplished and that he will be able to come and start the academic year with us," she said. "I think everyone is extremely pleased with the outcome of the whole search."

Haas said he found out about the GVSU presidential search through his brother-in-law, who sent him a newspaper article about it. When Haas found out he was one of the finalists for the position, he and his wife began to look more earnestly at the opportunity.

"We're comfortable in New York but may be ready for an adventure in our professional and personal lives," he said.

This is not the first time Haas has worked in West Michigan. He was impressed with GVSU when he was an American Council of Education fellow and executive assistant to the president at WesternMichiganUniversity from 1992 to 1993.

Haas said he thinks he will fit well with the university's commitment to academic excellence and entrepreneurialism and is excited about working with the GVSU executive team.

"I can see it right now; I will inherit a wonderful executive team," he said.

He will also stay in touch with his teaching roots by lecturing in freshman chemistry from time to time. Although it is difficult for a university president to teach a full course, Haas said he likes to stay active in teaching and interact with the students and the faculty.

"Engagement to the students and faculty is part of the core business," he said.

Franciosi said Haas may find it a challenge at a larger university to honor his commitment to always stay connected to faculty and students, but that the connection is still symbolically important.

Franciosi said Haas' experience with athletics as a coach and his various ties to Michigan make him a good fit for many people in the GrandValley community and beyond.

"He just has a lot of different ways in which he fits, not only with GrandValley, but with the region," he said. "A lot of different groups on campus can look at him and say, "This fits our needs.'"

Haas said he would not be hesitant to discuss the university with both Murray and President Emeritus Don Lubbers, who have both offered to be available to him.

Haas' annual salary will be $185,000, with a deferred compensation plan of $25,000 per year that requires Haas to complete three years as president.    

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