ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) -- For only the fifth time since it became a university back in 1960, Grand Valley State is looking for a new leader.
Thomas Haas announced his retirement Wednesday.
His voice was choked with emotion as he made the announcement Wednesday morning.
"It's with profound appreciation that I've had the opportunity to serve as president of Grand Valley for the last 11 and a half years," he said, addressing faculty and staff.
His retirement is effective June 30, 2019, giving the Board of Trustees 15 months to find a new president. An executive search firm will be hired to assist the search.
"I'm announcing my retirement now so the board has the best opportunity to find the right candidate for the next phase in Grand Valley's continued growth in quality and in stature," Haas said.
A graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy with a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, Haas came to GVSU in 2006. Since then, he has led the university through major growth, including a new library and science center at the Allendale Campus, expansion of the engineering program in downtown Grand Rapids and the creation of a large presence along Grand Rapids' Medical Mile.
He has overseen more than just a building boom. The university has added 30 undergraduate programs and 16 graduate programs during his tenure. He also pushed state lawmakers for more funding.
But at 66, Haas says it’s the right time for him and his family to retire.
"With our children in transition themselves and another granddaughter on the way, we really wanted some more flexibility to be with them, and I think now is the time to do it," he said.
The announcement of his retirement was a well-kept secret. Only a handful of staff knew the reason they were called to the Thomas and Marcia Haas Center for Preforming Arts Wednesday morning. The announcement was met with a kind of stunned silence.
Mention the president's name to a student at just about any large university and chances are the student will answer, "Who?" At GVSU, the president has an affectionate nickname: T Haas.
It came at the suggestion of students during move-in day in the fall of 2006, when Haas and his wife Marcia greeted students on the Allendale campus.
"They started chanting. Then that evening on the news, it said 'Students welcome T Haas to campus,' and it stuck," Haas recalled.
Soon after, he said, he got an email he received soon after from a former colleague:
"'Hey, T Haas. A nickname from students is like a hug,'" he said it read. "I took it that way. Every time I hear it, I get hugged."
"He leads the Laker Effect. He leads to making it feel like home for a lot of people," GVSU junior Talyce Murray said of Haas.
Haas was there three years ago on the day Murray moved to the Allendale campus and agreed to a selfie.
The nickname and selfies with the president became a symbol of Haas's relationship with the GVSU community.
"It's a running thing. Everyone has to have a picture with T Haas before they leave," Murray said. "He knows us. He and Marcia actually know their students. They remember the conversations you've had with them and they care."
Haas won't be gone from the university entirely after his retirement. After a break, he will return as a chemistry professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.