Calvin College's New President Talks Budget Pressures, Diversity, and the Biggest Theological Issue Today
Michael Le Roy's career has been deeply molded by Reformed theology, one of the many reasons he accepted the offer to become the 10th president of Calvin College in June 2012. "I love the worldview tradition—that's why I love Calvin," he said. "But also through the course of my life as an academic, I've come to see the real value of the heart side. The heart chases the mind."
With celebrated teaching posts at Wheaton College, Whitworth University, and the College of William and Mary, Le Roy now has a chance to help the 4,000-plus students at the Christian Reformed Church–affiliated college integrate their studies with their spirits. But with increased competition from distance-learning programs, he thinks that can really happen only in the traditional learning environment. "You think of Jesus Christ himself—that was an incarnation act. Embodiment is important to Christ, so learning in an embodied environment is really important. The brick-and mortar-place, particularly this place, is a crucible."
Le Roy recently sat down in his home with CT managing editor Katelyn Beaty (who is, full disclosure, a Calvin graduate) to discuss the financial and pastoral challenges he's facing, as well as how he's fared as a non-Dutch president—and the first president who never attended the Grand Rapids, Michigan, college.
At your inauguration ceremony last fall, you described your role as "educator-in-chief." What does that phrase mean to you, especially as you work with different constituencies—students, faculty, alumni, the board, the Christian Reformed Church, and the city of Grand Rapids?
Often when we think of the term educator, we think of a teacher, but to be a teacher, you first have to be a learner. When I was a professor, I always had to remember that I was first a learner, then a co-learner with my students.
Not having grown up in the Christian Reformed Church, I felt I needed to be in a learning posture: reading everything I could get my hands on about Calvin College, listening to key faculty and staff who have been here a long time. . . .
I've spent most of the year meeting with every department on campus, 74 departments, hosting 20 receptions for every employee in the house by the end of the spring. I'm listening for major themes that animate and motivate this community. This year I've tried to be a student of Calvin College.
What has your first year as educator-in-chief looked like?
When I speak internally, I try and help faculty and staff see the issues that confront us: the competitiveness, the cost pressures, the price pressures, the political context that is much more skeptical of higher education than it used to be, and the need for us to be more evidence-based in the way we think about ourselves. The day is over when Christian colleges can assert their uniqueness. We have to demonstrate our uniqueness. We have to start more apparently [showing] why they should attend a place like Calvin. We have to be ready to make the case.
So how would you make the case to a parent with a 17-year-old looking at different college options? Calvin is on the list, but so is the community college that's a lot cheaper, alongside the option of distance-based education.
I would first say that a Christian education isn't about selling credits. If you just want to buy credits, this isn't the right place for you. American culture is leading us to believe that education is really a commodity. It's like flour, sugar and butter, like we are just buying credits and we can buy those credits anywhere, online, community college.