New GVSU President Up For Challenge

July 31, 2006
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ALLENDALE — With the lowest state appropriation of Michigan’s 15 public universities coming to Grand Valley State University, incoming President Thomas Haas said he is no stranger to tough economic decisions.

One of the most difficult situations he was in during his tenure as president at State University of New York campus at Cobleskill was the 9.4 percent budget cut during his first year. Haas said he looked at the situation from a strategic planning perspective and was not opposed to making cuts in his own office.

“I eliminated all but my salary and my assistant’s salary,” he said of his presidential office. “We need to make sure the books are in libraries before I need to travel on the state dollar.”

Haas said he also took 1 percent of the operating budget and reinvested it in the highest priority need, which inspired a higher morale on campus.

During his time at Cobleskill, Haas also reorganized the structure of the school, creating three schools from the previous makeup of five divisions, which allowed the school to eliminate some bureaucracy.

“You plan, you prepare, you perform, and then you do your assessment,” he said.

As for funding Grand Valley State University, Haas said he is prepared to work with the government and partner with other schools to see that the university is funded in a way that suits its needs. The university is currently funded by the state with an appropriation of $64.8 million, or $3,174 per student, which is the lowest of the 15 public universities in the state.

After 25 years of growth from a small college to a state university, Haas said Grand Valley is very different than it used to be and needs to be funded in a different way.

“We can do better,” he said of funding. “We must do better.”

Besides funding, Haas said he would like to focus on the academic issue of the relevance of programs at Grand Valley and how they advance economic development and prepare students for jobs.

“Jobs are a critical outcome,” he said. “We have to think differently when it comes to jobs.”

Students should come out of the programs and the liberal arts education with the ability to learn and to adapt, Haas said.

He said he is impressed with the community partnerships that Grand Valley has with private businesses in West Michigan.

“That I have not seen in all my travels through the states and higher education,” Haas said.

Haas said he would like to continue building partnerships in the private sector, as well as with the community colleges in the area. During his time in New York, Haas said he worked with community colleges to accept students with associate’s degrees at a junior status.

“I’m very proud of some of the interaction and relationships I’ve have with community colleges,” he said.

As a supporter of public education, Haas said the public institutions have a responsibility to the public to prepare students for jobs and to deliver on the promise of a better life for the students.

“We do have to understand our accountability to those who are providing the funds for us to exist,” he said.

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