Murray Takes GVSUs Reins


    GRAND RAPIDS — On July 1, 2001, Mark Murray took over as president of Grand Valley State University and last Friday he was officially inaugurated and the university’s third president.

    Following in the footsteps of a great leader like President Arend Lubbers, Murray said he will be focusing largely on leadership during his first year in office.

    “My responsibility in coming to this organization is to really understand how it has been so successful and to appropriately build on what is in place,” Murray said. “And that is identification of the existing leadership within the organization as well as understanding how we can most effectively move forward together.”

    While Murray feels he has the tools and underlying principles needed to successfully run a nearly 40-year-old university, his background is not completely in education. It is, in fact, in government. So how does a government official plan to run a university and what will he bring to the table?

    “I think the challenge in government is to ensure that activities are focused on accomplishing the core mission. I think that sometimes large organizations have trouble focusing on core missions and sometimes public organizations have trouble focusing on core missions. The same is true for educational institutions. We are a large, public, educational institution and any of the challenges on how you identify expertise and keep an organization trained on its core mission really are fairly comparable across governmental organizations and a university,” Murray responded.

    Murray stated he was the head of the Treasury Department, but he is not an accountant. He had a short stint running the Family Independence Agency, but he is not a social worker. In the end he feels it is more a matter of knowing how to find the expertise in particular areas and helping an organization come to an identification of its core mission and mobilize the work toward the accomplishment of its goals. In other words, it’s a case of knowing the fundamental principles and then applying them.

    This is not to say, however, that education was not involved in Murray’s background. “Personally I grew up in a situation where learning was very highly valued. I love continuing to learn; that is one of the most satisfying things, to be able to continue to learn,” he said.

    Before coming to GVSU Murray received two degrees from Michigan State University, and went on to get a job with the state government, which he intended to be for one year, while finishing up his master’s degree. Many years and numerous positions later, it still took some convincing for him to move into the university arena.

    Murray worked with public policy, in social welfare and then got involved in finance and did some budget work before moving from the permanent civil service to being a political appointee. Moving up the ladder included titles such as Michigan state treasurer and special policy adviser to Gov. John Engler, vice president of finance and operation for Michigan State University, state budget director, acting director of the Family Independence Agency, director of the Business Research Office for the Michigan Commerce Department and director of the offices of Health and Medical Affairs and Health and Human Services.

    As state budget director Murray worked with all five public universities and had a chance to visit the campuses on a frequent basis. He said at that time he became impressed with the growth of GVSU and the placement of importance on undergraduate studies as well as professional masters programs.

    In his leadership position Murray seeks to continue the community atmosphere he feels is important to GVSU, and to maintain continuity between two campuses nearly 30 miles apart.

    “That is a challenge. There are some shortcomings to having a long distance, but there are some pluses, too.” Murray said. “We can have two different types of campuses; in Allendale there is a self-contained campus which many people are attracted to, where you can go and get away. And then we also have the downtown campus that is integrated into the city where students can take advantage of the cultural life and things going on downtown. And that is a completely different environment that others are attracted to. All of this can be achieved at the same school, so while it has disadvantage of being far, it also has an advantage of being all in one campus.”

    GVSU also has a relationship with the Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP), where buses are run between the two campuses for students having classes at both locations on the same day.

    Two large issues facing Murray in his first year in office are the task of choosing a new permanent provost and deciding whether the university should extend health benefits to the live-in partners of same-sex couples.

    Murray said the national search has been launched for a new provost while interim provost John Gracki handles the duties. “We are hoping that the national search will generate interest and eventually the perfect candidate for a permanent position and right now, John is doing a fine job and we are in good shape as we launch our search.”

    As for the issue of domestic partner benefits, Murray said simply that he has conducted meetings within the campus communities, and hopes to have the issue decided by the end of the year.

    With a lot under his belt currently Murray said he hasn’t had a lot of time to get out into the community and become involved with community activities, which is something he looks forward to after becoming more settled. “Our roots were pretty deep in Lansing and it has been a time-consuming transfer, but that is what I expected, and it is good,” he said. “We have been to the symphony for a few performances and it is a real culturally rich town. We also have two daughters at home and when we have free time it is spent with them and getting out in the neighborhood.”

    While the day-to-day job doesn’t change for Murray after the inauguration, it is a time for the university to showcase its students and also give the community a chance to see the Allendale campus. “It is a time when the community comes together to officially welcome and accept the president. Lunches around campus will be a chance for people to see the campus. The ceremony will include speakers from constituencies within the campus and my inaugural address,” he said.

    From there, the university will hold a community luncheon and on Saturday and Sunday Murray and other campus officials will be in Holland, Muskegon and Grand Rapids to let the communities know the university also is an asset there.

    As for building a legacy for himself, Murray said, “I think about focusing my ideas and decision-making time around what is best for the institution and the best way to assess that is what’s best for the students. That’s why we exist.  That’s why we are here; to assist students. And if we keep coming back to what’s best for the students, we will continue to be successful for the next 5, 10, 15 years. And if they like, someone can look back and see what those successes are and they can choose to put a label on it and call it a legacy if they like.”

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