It’s 5:30 a.m. Michael Le Roy peers out the front window of his four-season room in DeWit Manor. He watches the light change and the campus slowly come alive.
“I feel like that’s a place where every morning as I pray, I get in touch with the work I’m called to do today,” said Le Roy.
This daily practice has become perhaps the most important routine of his presidency.
“He roots himself in prayer. I can’t tell you how many times he’s told me, ‘I was praying for you this morning,’ or ‘I was praying for students.’ It is woven into his life,” said Mary Hulst ’91, university pastor. “When you have someone spending time with the Lord in that way, you know their heart is going to be aligned for the things of the Lord.”
The Le Roys would find that time spent extremely valuable as they entered a challenging environment for higher education generally, and Calvin specifically—encountering things they were prepared to face and others they had not anticipated.
“As we look back, we need to be grateful for the heavy load they carried all these years,” said Jennifer Holberg, professor of English.
Le Roy is in his 10th year serving as Calvin’s president. In June 2021, he informed the board of trustees that the 2021–2022 academic year would be his final season at Calvin, citing a pull to return to the Northwest to be closer to his and his wife Andrea’s adult children and aging parents.
AN UNEXPECTED FIRST VOYAGE
In 2012, the Le Roys officially joined the Calvin community. Dr. Le Roy brought an extensive knowledge of Christian higher education, a deep understanding of the challenges academia would face over the next decade, and a strong appreciation
for the Reformed perspective.
Scott Spoelhof ’84 was chair of the board of trustees when Le Roy started. From the onset, he found him to be both an incredible strategist and someone who never shied away from meeting the challenge of the day head on.
“The immediate never suffered at the expense of the longer term,” said Spoelhof.
Upon arriving at Calvin, it soon became clear to Le Roy that focusing on the immediate would actually be a necessary strategy for sustaining and strengthening Calvin for the long term. So, he got to work on helping Calvin strengthen its financial position by reducing its long- term debt and closing its operating deficit.
“He was able to clarify the [financial] challenge and help us develop a plan for meeting it,” said Todd Hubers ’84, vice president of people, strategy, and technology.
SHARED SACRIFICE, FAITHFUL OBEDIENCE
That plan included asking donors to give toward reducing the university’s long- term debt. For someone who had little experience in fundraising for anything, let alone debt, this seemed like a heavy lift. But within a year of announcing the $25 million ambitious goal, the institution had exceeded it, prompting Inside Higher Ed’s headline of “Unlikely 25 Million.”
The plan also involved painful decisions and shared sacrifice in an effort to secure the longevity of the institution. It was not an easy road for the community, nor Le Roy.
“He made really hard calls that set us up for a stable, and I pray, hopeful and flourishing future,” said Hulst.
“Michael owned the many difficult decisions made during his tenure. There was never a scapegoat,” said Spoelhof. “He navigated the financial challenges early in his tenure and put Calvin on a solid financial footing.”
While he owned the decisions he made, he and Andrea also shouldered the weight of them.
“I think I have a deeper appreciation for and a keener understanding of the phrase ‘a long obedience in the same direction,’” said Andrea Le Roy. “During some of the particularly hard times, I questioned why God called us to Calvin. But listening for God and trusting God was the best I knew to do. I think now, maybe, that is exactly what a life of faith looks like.”
Fast forward to 2021 and the university is in a solid financial position. The institution received an A- rating and a stable outlook from Standard & Poor’s. And during Le Roy’s tenure Calvin’s assets have doubled, while its debt has been cut in half. The university has also experienced two of its three most successful fundraising years.
“A strong sense of calling helped Michael to be faithful to the work that needed to be done,” said Cheryl Brandsen ’79, who served as provost from 2014–2021. “Michael also drew on his faith to sustain him during hard times.”
LISTENING AND LEARNING
Le Roy gained confidence and strength from seeking input from many ad- visers. While his cabinet team would often joke that with Le Roy’s grasp of all the different aspects of higher education “he could do every one of our jobs as well as we could,” Le Roy, in humility, sought the counsel of many.
“Even when there was a big decision to make, he went around the table, what does each of you think? He loves data. He loves to get more information,” said Hulst.
“He sought to create an environment where everyone could contribute,” said Craig Lubben, chair of the board of trustees from 2014 to 2020. “As solutions were debated, he made sure no voice was marginalized.”
“Michael cared well for faculty and staff by listening carefully to the concerns they expressed. Perhaps the best example of this is Michael’s work through the years to revisit and strengthen the faculty requirements regarding Reformed Christian commitments,” said Brandsen.
Le Roy heard the faculty’s concerns in his very first faculty senate meeting.
“We desired to develop faculty and staff in a way that focused on their faith commitments and practices rather than their institutional memberships,” said Brandsen. “Michael worked persistently and patiently with the board, with the faculty, and with external constituents to deepen the university’s commitments in this area.”
A key marker of success from this was the establishment of The de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development. The institute aims to help ensure Calvin faculty and staff along with Christian educators around the world have the resources they need to deepen their abilities to bring their Reformed Christian commitments to bear on teaching and learning.
This was made possible by listening, so too was the university deepening its commitment to diversity and inclusion (D&I).
SEEKING UNDERSTANDING, BUILDING TRUST
“I think under Michael’s leadership the work of D&I became more institutionalized and the awareness became a higher priority,” said Michelle Loyd-Paige, executive associate to the president for diversity and inclusion.
This became clear early on when Le Roy added a cabinet-level position focused on D&I and appointed Loyd-Paige to fill that role.
“He trusts my judgment to be the senior spokesperson for the university when it comes to decisions about diversity goals or how to respond to something,” said Loyd-Paige. “I know I can say, ‘You’re off on that’ [to Michael], because I have. And he’s not defensive,’ he says, OK, help me to see where I’m off. Now let’s do the corrective.’”
And Le Roy also welcomes advice from students, whom he values so deeply.
In the summer of 2020 after hearing students speaking on a panel following the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, Le Roy worked with Loyd- Paige to form a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) student advisory group who he would meet with monthly.
“Michael could enter into that space and suck all the air out of the room by saying, ‘I am president,’ but he shows up as Michael. He’s the last personto speak as opposed to the first,” said Loyd-Paige.
DWELLING AMONG STUDENTS
Le Roy’s desire is for every student to have an excellent learning and living experience at Calvin. And when he sees this is not happening for some, he seeks advice from students on how things can be improved. Le Roy’s actions show he values others above himself. And for the past 10 years, he’s placed a high value on students and their input.
“I never turn down a meeting with a student,” said Le Roy, who regularly met with student senators, Chimes editors, and other student leaders and groups on campus. Even during a meeting-packed day, he would strategically align his path with theirs.
“Being with students always helps to motivate me and center me in my work, and so even in the paths that I would walk during the day if I could plan my walk between meetings before and after class those would be things I would do, going over to the dining hall or Johnny’s and sitting down with students where there was an empty chair. Andrea and I tried to get to as many concerts and athletic events as we could. We would bring our dog Gus to the soccer games, partly because the dog drew students in and they’d come over, and hopefully it made me even more approachable ... ‘I’m just a guy with a dog.’”
“I remember during orientation he joined our group’s table for dinner, and I was like, ‘Wow, he wants to eat with us at the dining hall and learn our names,’” said Emmanuel Essien, who is now a senior and student body president.
The Le Roys were all about trying to help students feel welcome. Among the thousands of house guests they’ve welcomed over the years, including an astronaut, national journalists, college presidents, and distinguished alumni, they count their interactions with students among their favorites.
“We loved hosting students at our house,” said Le Roy. The Le Roys would open their home often. For several years, they’d host groups of students by major, department, athletic team, and student group, and have a family style dinner together.
“It is such a blast,” said Andrea Le Roy. “They are so happy to be here. We’d ask them questions, they’d talk about their experiences, it was conversational. Those times were really fun.”
A VISION THAT OPENS DOORS
The Le Roys were always working to enlarge the circle of affection of Calvin. They believed so much in the mission of the institution that they wanted the doors to be open to more and more learners—of all ages and backgrounds. That’s a key driver behind Vision 2030, which has made great strides in less than three years. The most visible change has been Calvin switching its last name from “College” to “University” in 2019. But what that change has en- abled is the ability for Calvin to extend the reach of its mission far beyond the traditional undergraduate populations.
Years prior, Le Roy had identified the challenging times ahead for higher education and knew the institution would need to develop a path through the significant decline in high school graduates in the Midwest. Vision 2030 is that path through.
“Michael took the wheel and was like, ‘There’s an iceberg, you can’t see it, I can see it. We are going to go this way, just a couple of degrees is actually going to save us,’” said Hulst. “He knew we needed to get ready, and he didn’t let the headwinds of change drive him off course. And he wasn’t just steering, he was training others how to steer to get us safely where we want to go.”
“Many leaders have really shown heavy lifting, and that’s a testament to his leadership,” said Holberg. “He picked good people to help with the work, and they’ve made a difference.”
As leaders continue to steer the university toward Vision 2030, they can celebrate the ways the institution has opened doors to new learners. The university’s Calvin Prison Initiative is allowing inmates an opportunity to earn bachelor’s degrees behind bars, the Ready for Life Program is allowing students with intellectual disabilities to be full members of the Calvin community and earn certificates, and the Global Campus has opened a growing number of both in-person and online graduate-level offerings, which will total 10 by fall 2022. The university will also open its new state-of-the-art School of Business building in summer 2022 and established the School of Health this past fall.
There’s a lot of changes that have been made over the past decade. Some difficult. Some exciting. But they’ve all been done for students. To Le Roy, every student mattered.
“Everything he does points back to his faith, especially in his mentorship. He mentors me in a way that always points me back to my faith too, and that’s been really impressive.” KAY CASTURO '22
“One time I was very down when I was meeting with him, and he spent the whole meeting time praying for me. Sometimes I’ll meet with him, and he remembers what I told him last month,” said Essien. “I feel more like a son than a student or mentee. I can tell him my worries. He is able to advise me and make me feel comfortable. His Christian faith makes him this loving person.”
“Everything he does points back to his faith, especially in his mentorship,” said Kay Casturo, a senior who is interning with Le Roy this year. “He mentors me in a way that always points me back to my own faith too, and that’s been really impressive.”
“He’ll be remembered by 10 years of students who knew he cared deeply about them,” said Bruce Los ’77, current chair of the board of trustees.
“This is why my desk sits right here,” said Le Roy, pointing to his desk that is facing the window and the Commons Lawn. “I get to sit here in the middle of the hard things and see students pass by. No matter what my day is like, that helps me re-center.
“Calvin University truly is one of the most amazing Christian higher ed institutions in the world, and I can say that because I’ve been at a few,” said Le Roy. “My parting words to the Calvin community would be to cultivate gratitude: This is an amazing place with an amazing mission.”