Among all of the spaces on a college campus, the president’s office comes with particular expectations.
That office is, after all, where the president’s cabinet (comprised of every vice president) meets, where crucial priorities of the college are discussed, where donors and special guests of the institution are received.
One expects traditional features, such as an aircraft-carrier-sized desk and a long table with numerous high-back chairs perfectly positioned on all sides.
Today, the president’s office at Calvin looks very different. There is no large desk, nor a conference table. Instead, a visitor is greeted by comfortable couches and chairs arranged for conversation—more like a living room than anything else (see picture, right).
It is in that setting that Michael and Andrea Le Roy sit for a time and reflect on their arrival at CalvinCollege.
From the start of the search process for Calvin’s 10th president, the Le Roys felt a genuine welcome and an impressive attention to the details of a family considering a move from Spokane, Wash., to Grand Rapids, Mich.
That level of thoroughness and the care with which it has been delivered has already left a lasting impression on the Le Roys.
“Without exception, we’ve received a warm and positive response from the Calvin community,” said Michael. “That thoughtfulness has us excited to begin our work and life here.”
Michael has had more time than Andrea and the children to become acquainted with the college. He began his work on July 1 and on his first day spent almost three hours shaking hands with and meeting Calvin faculty and staff members during a campus welcome reception.
He began his learning process even before that, on the transition visits to campus in the spring.
“In the spring I could walk around and see how things work,” he said. “Many people didn’t know me, so I could wander around, talk to students, faculty and staff and take things in.”
This summer, he’s been regularly checking in with the student admissions tour guides who lunch outside near his office. They are giving him a student’s perspective of Calvin.
Michael plans on taking time to listen closely and understand the place, working from the inside to understand the experience of students, faculty and staff. He wants to have a better grasp of the context of current needs and issues before he embarks on meeting Calvin alumni and friends from coast to coast.
Embarking on a speaking tour immediately “would be like picking an apple in Washington state in July,” he said. “It’s a little too early. I am eager to interact with alumni where they live, but I need to get a more complete sense of where we are and what’s important at this moment in Calvin’s history.”
Michael hopes that alumni will be patient with his interest in getting more maroon and gold in his blood before he sets off on road trips throughout Calvin Nation. For now, he wishes to communicate his absolute joy about being part of the college’s rich history and tradition.
“I appreciate that alumni want to know if this new president understands who we are and the mission of the institution,” he said. “My response is that the enduring character of Calvin is what drew me to apply in the first place. Calvin’s reputation of being fearlessly academic and wholeheartedly committed to Christ is compelling to me. I share these values. The list of schools that could have drawn me to a presidency is very short. I want to be here. I am thrilled to be here.”
The experience of attending the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in Ancaster, Ont., this summer for his confirmation interview was instructive and reassuring to Michael.
He told the assembled church leaders that he has known and admired Calvin College for many years and that the denomination and the college have given the world a tremendous gift of thoughtful Reformed Christian scholarship.
“What the leaders of the church wanted to know was whether I loved Jesus Christ and appreciated and understood the Reformed tradition,” he said. “I came away from that process feeling very affirmed.”
The new president believes that church and college need to continue to encourage and challenge one another.
“Our work here is grounded by our study of every square inch of God’s creation,” he concluded, referencing the famous Abraham Kuyper quote. “You can’t take the Reformed project for granted. We have to continually work on it.”
Proactive communication is an important component of Michael’s approach, and that is evident in his immediate interest in beginning a new publication, “This Square Inch,” that he intends to send 10 times a year to all alumni, parents, church leaders and friends. The newsletter will share the latest activity on campus and allow him to deliver a short message as Calvin’s leader.
And if one wishes to get a hint of what sort of leader Michael Le Roy will be, take a peek at Leading People from the Middle: The Universal Mission of Heart and Mind (on Amazon.com) by William “Bill” Robinson, a former Whitworth president and one of Michael’s mentors.
Robinson defines “leading from the middle” as “influencing from among, rather than from above, below, or in front of one’s group. If refers to the non-aloof ways in which leaders should see themselves. Leading from the middle refers to positioning ourselves alongside those we’ve empowered… . Leading from the middle refers to living in the center of a mission, rather than simply lifting it up.”
As to their family’s introduction into the Christian Reformed Church, the Le Roys will take their time choosing the right congregation for their family. Both Andrea and Michael say that their daughters, Hannah and Astrid, will play a major role in that decision.
Both young women started school in August as well—Grand Rapids Christian High—Hannah as a senior and Astrid as a first-year student. Their older brother, Dana, will remain in Spokane, where he will be a sophomore at Whitworth University, where Michael was serving the institution as provost and executive vice president when the call from Calvin arrived.
De Wit Manor, the presidential residence, is being slightly remodeled to accommodate a family with teenagers. A family room on the main floor is being readied, as is a study/office area for Andrea and the girls.
“I wondered if the long process between when we knew we were coming here and the actual move would be a good thing or a bad thing,” said Andrea. “I think it has been good because maybe we all needed a long process. Now there’s a sense of ‘Let’s just go now.’ Our daughters are tremendously brave and they are finding each other again in a new way as sisters.”
For Andrea, the discernment process about Calvin’s invitation was complicated, which is why she was so taken by the search committee’s interest in her thought process as well as her husband’s. She has a master’s degree in psychology and recently was working with the rural poor in Northeast Washington.
She’s going to take her time at Calvin, settling her family, attending to her daughters and seeking God’s next call.
The family is used to being closely attached to a college campus. At Whitworth, the Le Roys lived close to the school and regularly took in concerts, plays and athletic events. Andrea’s father was a vice president at Wheaton College, so she grew up connected to a campus, too.
“Some of what happens here won’t be different than before,” said Michael. “You are always connected to your position when you have a collegiate leadership role. Who you are publicly has to have integrity with who you are privately. That makes things easier.”
Michael understands that he will not be able to pursue his academic area of interest—politics and international relations—with the vigor of his faculty days. The demands of a president are substantial and don’t leave much time for scholarly endeavors.
However, he enjoys writing and public speaking, so eventually he would like to address issues in Christian higher education.
“I’m interested in the challenge of articulating what it means to be an excellent academic and Reformed institution,” he said. “I would like to communicate the gift of a Reformed Christian education and scholarship to audiences unfamiliar with Calvin College.”
As he learns about Calvin inside and out and prepares for a new collegiate strategic plan, Michael is content for now in using the phrase “student-centered” when describing his view of what a college ought to be. He sees consistent attention on students and the student experience as more powerful and productive than dwelling on the latest controversy.
“We have a wonderful focus that everyone on campus—and beyond—can rally around. These students ought to be the center of all of our collective concern. They give us such wonderful energy and passion—we ought to tap into that. It’s a cause about which we can all be unanimously enthused,” he said.
Although he wants to be a careful student of the college’s history and current needs before making bold pronouncements, Michael does have a sense of what is in store for Calvin’s future.
He talks about the “vibrant competencies” that will be needed to be competitive in a rapidly changing, global society and about a college that must always strive to be better—not perfect, but better. Such a school features a community that thinks hard about what will endure.
“We’re trying to create new categories for students to consider, inspiring them to consider a career path that is not simple. That’s our liberal arts approach—a long-term commitment to Reformed ways of living and learning,” he said.
As president, Michael wants to make a compelling case for a Calvin education. Perhaps those who know Calvin best sometimes rely on the hope that Calvin’s worth is self-evident. In reality, Calvin administrators know that it is a challenge to be heard accurately and understood clearly in our stressed world.
To make a point about the relevance of the liberal arts, he presents the example of a stock broker needing specific knowledge and data to analyze an investment in a company, and then must communicate a compelling argument about the perceived value of the company to investors.
“A history major develops those same competencies and these are highly valued by all organizations. We have to connect the dots so that more people understand how relevant a Christian liberal arts education is for today,” he said.
As they settle into a new life on the Calvin campus, the Le Roys are daily seeing confirmation of God’s call to be a part of this Christ-centered community.
“In terms of reaching out to our family, the kind messages and inquiries have been tremendous and overwhelming,” said Andrea. “And the caring was so specific to our situation with our kids and the transitioning this takes. Even before we said ‘yes,’ the search committee was mindful of the issues of uprooting and how much we’d be asking of our children.
“We’re very relational people,” she added. “We are looking forward to making good friends here, both at the college and in the community.”
“I see the abundance of God’s grace on this campus,” said Michael. “There are manifestations of redemption everywhere. We’re home.”