On Dec. 24 of last year, the Albion College Board of Trustees announced in a press release that Mathew Johnson had resigned as the college president and that trustee Joe Calvaruso, ’78 alumnus, would serve as interim president.
Calvaruso, an Albion native, spent 29 years in the banking industry before joining the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation as the executive director for 12 years. He has also done work as the Trip Lead for the White House advance team.
In addition to his work, Calvaruso has remained an active member of the Albion College community. He has served on numerous committees for the college, including one for the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy.
The Pleiad was able to sit down with Calvaruso to discuss his plans for the interim presidency and the state of the college.
The Pleiad: What is your Albion story?
Calvaruso: I started here in 1974, graduated in 1978. I was pre-med, like so many students were back then and still are today. I was born and raised in Albion, sixth generation on my mom’s side, and on my dad’s side, third generation. I am a graduate of Albion High School and it was always an honor to stay in Albion and attend Albion College. It was something that a lot of students did back then, and today we have the Albion Fellows.
P: What was the decision making process like in choosing you to be the interim president?
C: I spent about almost 30 years in banking and 12 years as the executive director of President Ford’s Foundation in Grand Rapids, so I had a wide variety of business experiences and different things. Through the years, I spent a lot of time on various committees at the college, the Ford Institute was one I kind of came in and helped through the years. I’ve been on the Board [of Trustees] 12 years. I retired a while back to travel the world. Never did I know that COVID was going to curtail that effort. So I started spending a lot of time back here at Albion and just being involved and getting engaged in things. I love the school, I love coming to events, being involved and doing things. I think it was perceived as kind of a natural fit.
P: What are some of your top goals and priorities as the interim president?
C: I think rebuilding bridges with the faculty and students, Albion community and just reconnecting connections that have been lost. COVID made it tough. Just getting back in and rebuilding confidence and trust among everybody.
P: There has been a significant drift between students, faculty and the community with the administration of the college. What are your plans to address that?
C: It was easy for things to drift with COVID. It was hard for people to connect. I think part of it is taking this opportunity to reach out. I was down there passing out 300 cookies when everyone was re-checking in for the Spring semester. The first of January, I was out stopping by businesses, giving out “A” cookies to people, talking to Albion residents and just listening to what they had to say. Then we got COVID again, so we took a little step back. I stopped going to all the businesses in town and passing out food, but we’re going to be back out there. I think reconnecting with students and faculty and just making myself available, I think that’s something that really hasn’t been a priority and that’s what my priority is, to just be available.
One of the things we did, [chemistry professor] Lisa Lewis is now coming to the cabinet meetings, so faculty has a place at the table with the cabinet. I think that’s important that we’re transparent to the faculty and Lisa has been a great addition to the cabinet. Her feedback has been just great information. So I’m rebuilding bridges.
One of the things we’re starting next week, we went through the listening tour and now we’re into “Ask Joe.” We have a set time every week to make myself available to people to ask faculty to call in. We’re going to do the same thing with students. In the case of faculty and staff, Ron [Mourad, provost,] will sit in on those calls with me and be my lifeline with maybe additional information or historical background. Leroy [Wright, vice president for student development and dean of students,] is going to be available for the students, too. Students can ask those questions, faculty can ask, staff can ask questions. We have a lot of projects going on the campus. We’re just going to make it easy for people to feel they know what’s going on and to be available.
P: What is the mission behind the “Ask Joe” sessions?
C: To eliminate any confusion on anyone’s behalf on the projects we’re working on, any issues that the college is working on. It’s a forum for people to have questions. My goal is maybe someday, maybe, people feel comfortable and understand things enough that maybe it’s every other week. But people have got questions and I’m here to answer them. I am here, I am available to people.
P: What would you like to accomplish in your presidency?
C: I think just getting our arms around some of the projects. Where’s Washington Gardner? Where’s the [St. John Parish] Catholic Church? What are they going to be used for? Those are all things that are out there, but we’re going to define them more and really get us to a new level. We’re talking to spend a lot of time on student housing. What are the needs? Where do they go? What is it going to look like?
P: Is it true that the Washington Gardner building will no longer become the Body and Soul Center?
C: If it is, I’m not aware of it. We’re taking a look at the stuff and right now. It’s in the stage of, “What should it look like?” Getting people comfortable with it, and using something that’s on track with the other projects.
P: Is the same true of the Alumni Unity Hall at the former St. John’s Parish?
C: Yeah, that’s a little easier to get your arms around. I think it’s an easy facility to do events in. I think it’s spectacular. The acoustics are just spectacular. It’s a meaningful facility to so many people in the community, too. If you’re born and raised in Albion, you’ve been to funerals, you’ve been to weddings there. We need to really take a good look at that. I think that could easily be a facility that could be done within a reasonable period of time. We’re looking at the fundraising efforts to finish that project. I think it’s a very doable project, one where the students could really utilize that, and I’m excited about that project. We just need to modernize the electricity, modernize the heating system in there and do some other internal things to put it to use.
P: Do you have an idea of how long the interim presidency will be?
C: I gave them, [the Presidential Search Committee,] the full latitude to do the process the way they need to do it, and to include the different groups in the process along the way–students, faculty, staff, and really do a search on the timetable that really fits well with individuals’ expectations.
P: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Albion community?
C: Welcome back to campus. I’m excited for the semester. I’m excited that, knock on wood, COVID is under control and hopefully going down in the near future so that we can get back to normal and enjoy the semester.