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President Gaylen Byker will retire following the 2011-2012 school year

Calvin College president Gaylen J. Byker has announced that he will retire at the end of the 2011—2012 academic year. Byker, who has served as Calvin’s president since 1995, made his formal announcement to the Board of Trustees Friday afternoon.

“I consider it a blessing to have been able to serve my alma mater for the past 16 years,” said Byker. “I have had the privilege of working with faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the college who are committed to our Reformed Christian liberal arts project.”

Byker said that his decision to retire was a difficult one—one he’s thought through for a couple of years and one that was delayed longer than he had originally anticipated.

“When I first took the job in 1995, I planned to stay 10 years. Before long we laid out a five-year strategic plan, started a capital campaign and were building faculty, staff, curriculum and facilities. Now, 16 years in, I look back and see the priorities we set when I came here—and most of them have been completed.”

Under Byker’s leadership the college has flourished in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most visible reminder of his legacy will be the significant construction projects that were completed during his tenure—which include the Covenant Fine Arts Center, the Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex and the expansion to the east-side of campus, to name a few. But, his colleagues are quick to point out the most central part of his legacy—his commitment to the mission of Calvin College and the institution’s Reformed Identity.

“While his success at fund raising and building may be most noticeable, President Byker’s ability to understand and protect who we are will be his legacy,” said Scott Spoelhof, chair of Calvin’s Board of Trustees.

“His passion for, and defense of, our confessions and the Reformed identity and mission of Calvin College, in my mind, outweigh the obvious physical improvements,” said Spoelhof. “Because if we don’t hold true to those foundational beliefs, it really doesn’t make any difference what we build.”

During his tenure, Byker has helped the college develop new academic programs and strengthen existing ones. In 2001, Calvin implemented a new core curriculum, which strengthened the integration between faith and learning in the classroom. Included in the new core is a first-year student program, which provides incoming students with a framework for building a Reformed Christian worldview—a foundation of faith that supports their entire Calvin education.

He has also helped in building institutes and centers at the college to extend the mission of Calvin to the ends of the world. The Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity, the Van Lunen Center for Executive Management in Christian Schools and the Center for Innovation in Business were all established under Byker’s leadership.

He has been influential in helping Calvin emerge as a leader among colleges and universities in global engagement. Calvin’s off-campus programs have greatly expanded under Byker’s watch, now offering students study abroad opportunities on six continents, including 13 semester programs and 30 interims. In 2010, the Institute of International Education ranked Calvin second nationally among all baccalaureate institutions in its annual Open Doors Report for the total number of students who participate in a short-term study abroad. In that same report, Calvin was ranked sixth for number of international students studying on campus. 

Finally, Byker will be remembered for his ability to fundraise. He successfully led a $150 million capital campaign, which raised funding for scholarships and financial aid, faculty research, centers and institutes and for the addition of new campus facilities.

“The fundraising part of it is like being an investment banker,” said Byker. “You put together a very good project and you get people interested in investing in it.”

Byker followed Anthony Diekema (1976-1995) and William Spoelhof (1951-1976) in the Calvin presidency. They are the only three to serve as Calvin’s president in the past 60 years.

“To have someone who consistently supports and protects the mission of the college for an extended period of time does nothing but strengthen the institution long-term,” said Spoelhof. “Calvin is on very strong footing right now and I believe that’s the reason that he [Byker] didn’t retire earlier … He felt a responsibility and obligation to make sure that when he retired, that the foundation of the college was solid.”

Spoelhof said that a search committee, chaired by long-time board member Dave Vander Ploeg will be formed in the next couple of weeks. The committee will be comprised of trustees, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and students, who will be given the task of selecting Calvin’s 9th president in time for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Spoelhof says that he hopes that the college can find someone who is as gifted in as many areas as was the outgoing president.

“His ability to be knowledgeable in almost any situation, whether that be an academic, theological, business or legal issue, is very unique. You don’t see that very often and the challenge going forward will be to find someone who is skilled on multiple fronts,” said Spoelhof.

The 1966 Unity Christian grad’s illustrious career began in 1967, when he entered the Army. At the age of 19, Byker served as an artillery officer in Washington state and later served in Vietnam, where he supervised 90 enlisted men in combat situations and was repeatedly decorated. He was discharged from the Army Reserve with the rank of captain.

He graduated from Calvin in 1973 as one of the school’s first interdisciplinary majors, with concentrations in English, philosophy and speech. He also minored in Russian language (through courses taken at Grand Valley State University). Byker earned a law degree and a masters degree in world politics from the University of Michigan and earned a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania.

Byker left a successful career in the business world to become the president of Calvin College, moving from a post as the vice president for development and hedging with the Offshore Energy Development Corporation in Houston, Texas. He also has worked for Chase (Manhattan) Investment Bank in New York as a manager of commodity-indexed swaps and financing and has practiced law at the largest law firm in Philadelphia.

Byker is married to the former Susan Lemmen, a 1971 graduate of Calvin College. The couple has two married daughters and three grandchildren.

For more information on the search for Calvin’s 9th president and for a full story highlighting President Byker’s tenure, see http://www.calvin.edu/admin/president/search/

NOTE: President Byker and Scott Spoelhof will be available for media interviews from Noon to 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 21 at the Prince Conference Center (located on the east-side of the Beltline). Please contact Matt Kucinski at 616-307-7429 to set-up an interview.

Press Release May 21, 2011(pdf)