Q&A with Joe Calvaruso, ’78 – The Albion College Pleiad Online
On December 24 last year, Albion College’s Board of Trustees announced in A press release that Mathew Johnson had resigned as president of the college, and that 1978 alumnus Joe Calvaruso would serve as acting president.
Calvaruso, an Albion native, spent 29 years in banking before joining the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation as executive director for 12 years. He also worked as a travel leader for the White House Advance Team.
In addition to his work, Calvaruso remained an active member of the Albion College community. He served on numerous college committees, including one for the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy.
the Pleiade 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?
Calvarus: I started here in 1974, graduated in 1978. I was in pre-med, like so many students were then and still are today. I was born and raised in Albion, sixth generation on my mother’s side, and on my father’s side, third generation. I graduated from 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: How was the decision-making process to choose you as interim president?
VS : I spent nearly 30 years in banking and 12 years as executive director of the President Ford Foundation in Grand Rapids. So I’ve had a wide variety of trading experiences and different things. Over the years I have spent a lot of time on various college committees, the Ford Institute is one I have come to and helped over the years. I was a board member [of Trustees] 12 years. I retired some time ago to travel the world. I had no idea COVID was going to reduce that effort. So I started spending a lot of time here in Albion and getting involved and engaging in things. I like school, I like going to events, getting involved and doing things. I think it was seen as kind of a natural fit.
P: What are some of your main goals and priorities as interim president?
VS : I’m thinking about rebuilding bridges with faculty and students, the Albion community, and just reconnecting the connections that have been lost. COVID has made things difficult. Just come back and rebuild the trust between everyone.
P: There has been a significant drift between students, faculty and the community with the college administration. What are your plans to fix it?
VS : It was easy for things to drift with COVID. It was difficult for people to connect. I think part of that is taking this opportunity to reach out. I was there handing out 300 cookies when everyone was coming back for spring semester. On the first of January, I was stopping by businesses, handing out “A” cookies to people, talking to the people of Albion and listening to what they had to say. Then we had COVID again, so we took a step back. I’ve stopped going to all the shops in town and handing out food, but we’re going back. 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 my priority, just being available.
One of the things we did, [chemistry professor] Lisa Lewis now comes to cabinet meetings, so the professors have a seat at the table with the cabinet. I think it’s important that we are transparent with faculty and Lisa has been a great addition to the firm. His comments were nothing but great information. So I rebuild bridges.
One of the things that we’re starting next week, we did the listening tour and now we’re going into “Ask Joe.” We have a set time each week to make myself available to ask teachers to call. We will do the same with the students. In the case of faculty and staff, Ron [Mourad, provost,] will participate in these calls with me and be my lifeline with perhaps additional information or history. Leroy [Wright, vice president for student development and dean of students,] going to be available for students, too. Students can ask these questions, professors can ask, staff can ask questions. We have many ongoing projects on campus. We’re just going to make people feel like they know what’s going on and they’re available.
P: What is the mission behind the “Ask Joe” sessions?
VS : To eliminate any confusion on behalf of anyone about the projects we are working on, about any issues the college is working on. This is a forum where people have questions. My goal is maybe one day, maybe people feel comfortable and understand things enough that it’s maybe every other week. But people have questions and I’m here to answer them. I am there, I am available for people.
P: What would you like to accomplish in your presidency?
VS : I’m just thinking of putting our arms around some of the projects. Where is Washington Garner? Where is the [St. John Parish] Catholic Church? What are they going to be used for? These are all things that exist, but we’re going to define them more and really take us to a new level. We are talking about spending a lot of time on student accommodation. What are the needs ? Where are they going? What will it look like?
P: Is it true that the Washington Gardner Building will no longer become the center of body and soul?
VS : If so, I don’t know. We review things and now. It’s at the stage of “What should it look like?” Get people comfortable with it and use something that’s on track with the other projects.
P: Is it the same for Alumni Unit Hall at the old parish of St. John’s?
VS : Yeah, it’s a little easier to move the arms. I think it’s an easy setup for organizing events. I think it’s spectacular. The acoustics are simply spectacular. It is also a meaningful facility for so many in the community. If you were born and raised in Albion, you’ve attended funerals, you’ve attended weddings there. We really need to look at this closely. I think this could easily be an installation that could be done in a reasonable amount of time. We are reviewing fundraising efforts to complete this project. I think it’s a very doable project, a project where students could really use it, and I’m excited about this project. We just need to upgrade the electricity, upgrade the heating system and do other internal things to use it.
P: Do you have any idea how long the interim presidency will last?
VS : 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 research on the timeline that really fits meet individual expectations.
P: Is there anything else you would like to say to the Albion community?
VS : Welcome to campus. I’m excited for the semester. I’m thrilled that, touch wood, COVID is under control and hopefully down in the near future so we can get back to normal and enjoy the semester.