Haas Ready With Tools

October 9, 2006
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ALLENDALE — The transition to leading GrandValleyStateUniversity has been an easy one for university President Thomas J. Haas.

With wife Marcia's family ties to West Michigan, his leadership experience and a strong history with several state university presidents, Haas comes into the position prepared and well-armed with the tools to serve.

John Fallon, president of EasternMichiganUniversity, hired Haas as the vice president of academic and student affairs and dean of the faculty at WilliamPennCollege in Iowa. Fallon, who was serving as president of the college at the time, said Haas stood out because of his ethics, integrity and honesty.

"Those qualities are behaviors that I aspire to in my own work," said Fallon, who also worked with Haas at the State University of New York where Haas was most recently president at the Cobleskill campus. "My antennae are up for those traits and characteristics in others at all times."

A good work ethic was another characteristic that Fallon said he admired in Haas.

"Tom works hard and puts in a lot of hours. He works hard to understand all sides of an issue before coming to a conclusion," he said.

Fallon said that although on some levels the two men will be competing for resources and students, he believes there will also be time for collaboration.

"At the most basic level, I'm going to be one of Tom Haas' biggest fans," he said.

As Haas makes his way through the university community introducing himself to students, faculty and staff, he said he has been impressed with the level of their dedication to the students and with their experience, which he values highly.

"We, in fact, are in the business of developing people for future service," he said. "We have a fundamental role in providing the skill sets and habits of the mind and the skill sets and habits of the heart for an individual's vocation."

Haas' own vocation in education came after serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served on operational tours in the Great Lakes and with hazardous materials using his background in chemistry. Haas has a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, two master's degrees from the University of Michigan in environmental health services and chemistry, an additional master's degree in human resources management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Connecticut

Haas said he discovered that his passion was education while he was on the faculty at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. He had a variety of educational experiences there, including as a student, faculty member, coach, assistant dean of academics, student development coordinator, chemistry section chief, associate dean of academics and of faculty affairs, dean of academics and supervisory professor.

"It was all about understanding the different roles as an educator," he said.

Behind all those roles, a concern for the student is essential, he said. Teaching the student is the No. 1 job of an educator, Haas said. The administration is in place to support that mission.

Haas first worked in Michigan higher education while he was a fellow with the American Council on Education and while serving as an executive assistant with Diether Haenicke, former president and current interim president of WesternMichiganUniversity.

Haas said his experience at Western helped him "test the waters" to see where he fit in higher education administration.

"That really gave me a better diversity of experience," he said.

Haenicke said the Grand Valley State University Board of Trustees picked a winner when it chose Haas as president.

"I think Tom Haas is a perfect match for GrandValleyState," he said. "I think he has a very solid, good academic background. I think he is a very capable administrator, and that I have observed first hand."

Haenicke said Haas' mix of ambition and humility impressed him when he was at Western, and he had followed Haas' career with interest.

"He has this quality that I like so very much: he isn't full of himself," Haenicke said. "He is a real fine, regular guy with enormous talents."

Haas said he followed a fairly traditional model when it came to his rise through the system: starting as a teacher and working his way through administration. What sets him apart is his varied experience with institutions, from military to liberal arts to state universities.

"The context for leadership skills that I have were formed in a very interesting and diverse way," he said.

Since coming to GrandValley, Haas said he has been trying to connect with the students and get a better understanding of the community by attending sporting events and artistic performances of both the students and the faculty.

"I find the faculty and staff here to be so devoted and committed to student development," he said. "Their pride in the university is second to none that I've seen in all my experience in higher education."

Haas also plans to connect with students through hands-on experience in their education, as evident by the chemistry textbooks on his shelf. They are there to help him prepare for the freshman class he will lecture later this month.

"Leadership is exercised best when one understands they are actually in service to others and in service to a mission," he said.

Haas said his goals, in addition to becoming part of the campus community, include improving access to the university, continuing to strengthen the liberal arts and science programs, and attracting more international students to create more global awareness.

"We need to look at the nature of higher education in the context of global understanding," he said.

As he travels from Allendale to Grand Rapids, and Muskegon to Traverse City visiting the university's various programs and campuses, Haas emphasizes the need for communication.

"They need to know Tom, and I, in turn, need to know their perspectives," he said.

Haas also knows he can ask for the perspectives of two other community leaders: his predecessor Mark Murray and President Emeritus Don Lubbers.

"I can easily give a call to Mark and to Don and say, 'What do you think?'" Haas said.

With a network of help behind him and the future of a growing university in front of him, Haas said he is looking forward to his investiture ceremony Oct. 27, where, of course, there will be representation from the U.S. Coast Guard.    

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