President Michael Le Roy began his time at Calvin at the same time as this year’s graduating class. As a fellow “fourth year student,” I sat down with him to reflect on his first experiences at Calvin, his growth as a leader and his visions for the future.
Chimes: What was your first day on the job like?
Le Roy: Well, technically my first day was in July, so almost no students were here. But I hardly remember it; it almost feels like it doesn’t count. But I do remember the first day students moved in, very clearly actually. It was WeHaul day and I was helping move everybody in. It’s great to see the energy and enthusiasm of new students: they always have a little bit of fear and anxiety, but it seems like once they get into their room, they see their roommate and they start to get acquainted on their floor and meet their RA, they start to feel better, and by the end of the day they’re doing pretty well. I often get requests to speak or attend something, but I keep my schedule clear on WeHaul days. Even if I can’t carry boxes anymore, I’ll carry pillows or something; it’s one of my favorite days of the year.
Chimes: What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?
Le Roy: It really is a privilege and an honor to do this job at a place with such a great mission. I love being able to see that mission being acted out firsthand, especially in off-campus experiences. I’ve been able to go to Honduras and see what students are experiencing and learning there, I got to travel with the Women’s Chorale in California, and I sometimes travel with the athletic teams to events in other cities and states. I like these experiences, because I get to spend a little more time than normal with students and learn more about their lives — what they’re learning, thinking and doing. Those are the highlights.
But I think the hardest part of the job has to do with loss; when people are being laid off, or when we have significant deaths in the community. They are just such painful moments, and in the role that I’m in I have such great proximity to the people who are suffering. Losing a student or a professor or staff member who’s part of your campus community … there’s never anything that prepares you for that.
Chimes: What is it like to be the face of an institution?
Le Roy: It’s been hard to get used to not having any privacy. People are, as far as I know, very kind about it. But, for example, my daughter and I like to go out to breakfast together, and we’ve had to find parts of town where I can be more anonymous so I can give her my undivided attention.
Having that much attention is also difficult to get used to, but it is important to adapt. There is a lot of pressure today for higher ed leaders to always be vigilant: anything you say and anything you tweet could be very damaging or harmful to the college, so that’s just a constant pressure. It’s for the right reasons of course, but it’s a lot.
Chimes: Is there a part of the job that you think most people don’t realize that you do?
Le Roy: The calendar is the most complicated part of the job. One day I’ll go to Chicago and have a meeting the next morning, then I’ll get on a plane and go to Kansas City, but the day after that I have to be back on campus so I can go to an event. There’s not a lot of time to take a breath. And when I go somewhere, I have to think about alumni, potential board members or other contacts who might be there also. I try to never go somewhere for just one purpose. It’s those long hours, long weekends and that kind of packed schedule that can make planning things difficult.
I do make it a point though to carve out a number of nights a week where I’m home for dinner, so I can be with my family. I try to set aside Sundays as well, but unfortunately that’s not always possible.
Chimes: How have you grown personally over the past four years?
Le Roy: I’m very achievement-oriented, and I’ve learned that sometimes I can start to rely on myself too much. I’ve been faced with a lot of challenges here, and sometimes I had moments where I just looked at God and said, “I can’t do this, God; I’m not sure I’m the right guy.” But I’ve learned that that is the right response to have. I need to be in a posture where I always recognize my dependence on God. It’s a great comfort for me to know that he goes with me in every moment, and that it’s not all riding on me and my abilities. I’ve grown in my awareness that I need to be more reliant on God. I’m still not as fully aware as God would like, but I’m growing.
I’ve also learned to appreciate the value of experience. I had an opportunity to apply for a job similar to this about four years before this opening came up, and I decided not to. I didn’t feel ready, and at that time I didn’t think it was right. I also didn’t feel ready when I applied for this job, but I decided to step out and see what happened. But looking back, I think I had a series of experiences in those four years that prepared me to do what I’m doing now in ways I didn’t understand at the time. Now I can look back and say in all honesty that I wasn’t totally unprepared for this, and that makes me grateful.
Chimes: Where do you see Calvin in five years?
Le Roy: I’d love to see us with a student enrollment that’s back between 4,000 to 4,200 students, who [feel strongly about what their education has done for them], that we’re living out our mission, that we have financial stability and that we’ve brought back the equilibrium and calm that you hope to have in an organization like this. But most of all, I really hope that Calvin continues to grow, in the awareness of Christians and non-Christians alike, as a place that intersects faith with learning, in all of its forms, and is not afraid of taking on hard questions in a serious way. I think that’s our niche, what we’re really good at.
Chimes: So now that you’re “graduating,” what major did you get?
Le Roy: I feel like I’ve majored in everything. Sometimes my head spins when I go through my day. I’ll walk in and be looking at spreadsheets, then be part of a committee evaluating faculty personnel, then be at a light-hearted meeting with students about a dance they want me to be in, then I’ll jump from that to a very serious phone call with a parent and then I might have lunch with a donor, and then I might have to go and speak in front of a group with only 10 minutes notice and I have to figure out what I’m going to say. When you think about it, a liberal arts education really prepares a person to do all those things, as I think it should. So I’d say I was an interdisciplinary studies major.
Chimes: What’s your go-to stress reliever?
Le Roy: Exercise, a walk with my wife, or maybe watching a movie with my family. I like to go to student events too, like athletics and art events. Those are relaxing to me.
Chimes: Are you a “stay up all night and finish it” person or a “wake up early in the morning and finish it” person?
Le Roy: Definitely a “wake up in the morning” person. I’m not much use after 9 p.m.
Chimes: Ready to “graduate”?
Le Roy: You know I am. But I hope they keep me around a little bit longer.