In 2011, Michael and Andrea Le Roy were in the midst of discerning a calling to make a cross country move. In 2012, they moved from Spokane, Washington, to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Le Roy would become Calvin’s ninth president. A decade later, the two again entered into a lengthy discernment process.
“After a long season of prayerful discernment over the past year, I have informed the board of trustees that this coming year, our 10th at Calvin University, will be our last,” wrote Le Roy in a letter to the Calvin community. He cited a pull to return to the Northwest to be closer to their young adult children and aging parents.
“The center of gravity for our family is now firmly rooted more than 2,000 miles away,” wrote Le Roy. “During the pandemic, this distance only seemed greater to us. Having now emerged from this long crisis, we long to give greater emphasis to the family commitments in our lives.”
Le Roy is fully committed to fulfilling his role as president through the 2021-2022 academic year, the final year on his current term.
Attracted to the mission
Prior to coming to Calvin, Le Roy had seen Calvin’s mission at work, but only at a distance.
“As Andrea and I discerned a call to Calvin in 2011, we discovered a vibrant academic institution with a clear Christian mission anchored in Reformed tradition,” wrote Le Roy in a letter to the community.
It drew him in, and he aspired to combine his gifts with the talented community he was joining to see this compelling mission continue to thrive.
“I think if I have a hope for Calvin it is that it will live ever more deeply into the mission that was established many, many decades ago,” said Le Roy in a 2012 video interview from his living room in Spokane.
In that interview, he also talked of extending that mission further …
“From the community, from all the stakeholders we will work together to generate a vision for the future, a vision that takes the heritage and the mission seriously and a vision that is moving very deliberately in a purposeful direction. I’m convinced with the kinds of minds and capable people that we have at Calvin that together we’ll discover some promising ways forward with an exciting vision that everybody (…) can get excited about.”
Extending the mission’s reach
Fast forward to 2021 and it’s clear to see those aspirations for Calvin being shaped into reality. Perhaps it is seen no more clearly than through the university’s Vision 2030, which was collaboratively developed by that very community Le Roy spoke so highly of years earlier.
“The mission of Calvin is what drew Michael here a decade ago, and his passion for the mission was stoked day after day, year after year, as he saw faculty, staff, students, alumni, and stakeholders faithfully live that mission out,” said Bruce Los, chair of the board of trustees. “It’s his witnessing this living mission that inspired him in leading the charge on the university’s exciting new vision.”
In short, the goal of Vision 2030 is to allow the mission of Calvin to be accessible to a greater diversity of learners worldwide through becoming a university, becoming a trusted partner, and through deepening and strengthening the institution’s commitment to Reformed Christian faith.
Listening, leading, supporting
While this vision wasn’t formalized until 2019, Le Roy had been listening to the Calvin community and helping foster an environment from which a vision could emerge.
“Michael is an extraordinary person with whom to work. He is an exceptional listener with an uncanny ability to read the room. He moves toward conflicts with a posture of grace and truth,” said Cheryl Brandsen, outgoing provost who served alongside Le Roy for seven years. “He values and delights in the teaching and scholarly work of faculty, and he loves interacting with students. Michael is a deeply wise leader who loves Calvin and loves God.”
Michelle Loyd-Paige, who was appointed by Le Roy to be the executive associate to the president for diversity and inclusion, says Le Roy has been a great partner in efforts to strengthen the diversity and inclusion efforts of the university. “We have consulted with one another on several diversity matters. He has been a strong supporter of my work and I have admired his leadership,” said Loyd-Paige. “His commitment to diversity gave me hope that Calvin would be willing to pursue becoming a diverse and inclusive institution.”
Le Roy faced a number of headwinds during his tenure, many not unique to Calvin. But he took on these challenges, such as the reality of a significant decline in high school graduates from the Midwest, always with the long-term viability of the institution at the fore. He consistently had to make hard decisions to keep the university on a strong financial footing.
And when the pandemic hit in spring 2020, Le Roy led. He helped write the playbook for how institutions in Michigan could safely reopen, and he secured a first-of-its-kind partnership with a testing company which paved the way for students to safely return and stay on campus for the 2020-2021 academic year.
“Of course, there have been hard days, but I cannot imagine anyone more equipped to lead through all this than Michael,” said Brandsen.
Enacting the vision
As part of Vision 2030, Le Roy led the transition of Calvin from a college to a university and expanded the populations the university serves, including adding to the university’s graduate-level programming portfolio and establishing the university’s first school (School of Business). During his tenure, Calvin also began offering bachelor’s degrees to inmates at the Handlon Correctional Facility through the Calvin Prison Initiative, a first of its kind program in the state and one of very few nationwide.
Le Roy has also proved to be an accomplished fundraiser, something he admitted wasn’t his strong suit coming in. The university brought in more than $300 million in total fundraising during his tenure, including a record-setting year in 2020.
“He believes in the mission and in the people who are carrying out that mission, whether it be faculty and staff, students, or alumni,” said Ken Erffmeyer, vice president for advancement. “Michael feels strongly about our mission to equip students to think deeply, act justly, and to live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world. And he wants every individual to have the confidence to articulate that clearly for Calvin. He appreciates every opportunity he gets to spend with students. He’s truly an educator at heart.”
Investing in people
Perhaps the greatest investment Le Roy was able to secure will yield the most fruit over time. He developed a vision, a program, and an $11 million endowment to enhance the development of Reformed Christian faculty at Calvin University and around the world through The de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development. It’s really an investment in people and a long-term investment in the mission.
“The relationships have been a gift to us, and we will treasure these friendships for years to come. You all have made us better followers of Jesus than we ever dreamed we could be,” wrote Le Roy in a letter to the Calvin community. “We have been formed by this mission and the inspiring people we have been blessed to work with during our time here. I have no doubt that the next president called to this role will enjoy a fruitful positive working relationship with the Calvin community.”
The board of trustees has begun to plan the search and succession plan and has appointed Mary Tuuk Kuras, vice chair of the board of trustees, as the chair of the search committee. The search committee will be named soon and will comprise trustees, faculty, staff, administrators, an alum, a student, and a representative of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
When Le Roy began his tenure in summer 2012, he made a point to listen to and learn from the Calvin community. And he also jumped right in. Sometimes, quite literally. In his first winter on the job, he joined hundreds of students in taking the Cold Knight Plunge, immersing himself in a long tradition and in the icy cold waters of the Seminary Pond. He would go on to earn his Golden Towel for jumping four times. He also joined with hundreds of students in a flash mob on the Commons Lawn, dancing in a full suit and bow tie.
And it wasn’t just Le Roy making an investment in the community, Andrea was every bit as instrumental to helping faculty, staff, and students feel appreciated. The Le Roy’s would frequently show up to athletic events, theatre performances, lectures, and be seen walking around campus with their beloved dog Gus. And when the pandemic hit, Andrea was one of the first to volunteer her time to do contact tracing and testing.
“One of the things I have really appreciated about Michael and Andrea is their intentionality when it comes to creating a sense of welcome and belonging for students. They have opened their home to countless students, staff, and faculty, and they have worked hard to foster a sense of ‘home away from home’ for our campus community,” said Sarah Visser, vice president for student life. “One of the mental pictures I’ll carry with me is that of Andrea and Michael—along with the Presidential dog, Gus— on a snow-covered Commons lawn lighting the official Calvin University Christmas tree, singing Christmas carols, and greeting students over a warm beverage on a chilly evening. This is a picture of the warmth and genuine care they’ve shown to students while at Calvin.”