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State of Transition: Ross Steps Down July 31



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Ross to Step Down

President plans to assist with university capital campaign, teach in 2019

Evan Sasiela

George Ross will step down as president of Central Michigan University effective July 31.

In a Jan. 22 campus-wide email, Ross stated the birth of his first grandchild was a motivation for the decision.

Ross said he is not leaving the university for good. He said he plans to have an office at CMU’s location in Metro Atlanta. He plans to help CMU’s next president, if needed, and assist the university’s capital campaign, which will go public in April.

Ross also plans to teach courses in 2019. He has previously taught in the College of Business Administration and has guest lectured in the past. He said he hopes to do some teaching in CBA and in the College of Education and Human Services, as he is tenured in educational leadership.

CMU Director of Communications Heather Smith said Ross’ calendar year 2018 salary is $461,250, which is the same as 2017. Ross declined a raise at the December Board of Trustees meeting. As part of Ross’ contract, he will receive a $30,000 retention bonus in June, Smith said.

His compensation after July 31 is yet to be determined, Smith said. Ross has offered to help the board and his successor after he steps down, and they will determine how and if they wish to use his services.

If Ross teaches a class at CMU, Smith said the compensation he would receive from that has yet to be determined.

Ross said he and his wife, Elizabeth, have been in “serious discussion for the better part of the previous year” about his decision to step down as president.

“We think it’s time for us and we think it’s an opportunity for Central,” George Ross said.

The president said he had discussions with the Board of Trustees last fall and in December about whether his contract would be extended.

“We indicated to the board that we were having thoughts about not finishing the current contract, let alone extending beyond it,” Ross said.

Ross said he made a decision early in December to notify trustees that he would step down. Before Christmas, his first grandchild, Jorge, was born.

William Weideman, chair of the board of trustees, said in letter to the campus community that the board will hire a “nationally-recognized search firm” to help identify CMU’s 15th president. An advisory committee, led by trustee Tricia Keith, will include trustees, students, administration, faculty, alumni and business and community leaders. An open forum for community feedback will be scheduled.

Ross said CMU’s next president will have challenges regarding support from the public, the preparedness of students coming from the K-12 education system and technological advances. He added that these are challenges at all public universities. 

“There’s never a good time for leadership change, because there’s always things going on at Central — at the university,” Ross said. “There are major initiatives going on right now.”

Major initiatives taking place this spring include the academic organizational review, groundbreaking of the Center for Integrated Health Studies, hiring of a chief diversity officer and capital campaign public announcement.

“I’ll be putting time and energy into all of them,” Ross said of these initiatives. “I don’t think one outranks the other. They have to keep going — they can’t stall and can’t stop.”

Ross said he doesn’t think his decision to step down will impact donations to the capital campaign. He said relationships he has made with alumni won’t disappear. Before Ross officially steps down, the 2018-19 operating budget will be approved and tuition will be set. He added that recruiting the high school class of 2019 will start around June.

In 2010, Ross was hired as CMU’s 14th president after serving for two years as president of Alcorn State University. President Michael Rao left CMU to become the president of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Ross, who will turn 67 in April, served as CMU’s vice president of Finance and Administrative Services and Treasurer from 2002-2008 before departing for Alcorn State.

“Coming back here was coming home. It was something I never expected,” Ross said. “It was a gift to be able to come back and I tried to treat it like home and treat the people around it like family.”

During his time in office, CMU has opened the College of Medicine, opened a $95 million Biosciences Building and created corporate partnerships with Ford Motor Co. and Quicken Loans.

“There is nothing that I did by myself. You can’t do any of that by yourself,” Ross said. “It requires strong leadership at various levels of the university — strong administrators, strong faculty. There’s been student leadership here that has helped me tremendously as president.”

Ross said the academic rigor is tougher than when he first started, and is proud of that. He said he most proud that CMU has administered degrees to more than 42,000 students during his time as president.

“I do believe the education (students) receive here transforms lives,” Ross said. “I have met too many students and mentored too many students to not know that for a fact.”

President George Ross, left, and William Weideman, right, listening to the speaker answer a question at the Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 20th in the President’s Conference Room in the Bovee University Center.

CMU Board of Trustees to hire 'nationally recognized search firm' to help find next president

Evan Sasiela

The Central Michigan University Board of Trustees will hire a “nationally recognized search firm” to help in finding a replacement for President George Ross, who will step down from his position effective July 31, 2018.

In a letter to the CMU community Jan. 22, Chair William Weideman stated an open forum will be scheduled “to engage the entire campus community and gather input about the qualifications and skill set necessary in our next leader.”

In addition, the board will appoint an advisory committee led by Trustee Tricia Keith, Weideman stated. The committee will include representatives from the board, administration, faculty students, business and community leaders and alumni.

Weideman stated the process to identify the university's 15th president will "immediately begin." He added that the board will communicate throughout the search process.

In his letter, Weideman stated the board accepted Ross’ decision to step down effective July 31 of this year. Ross announced his decision to the campus community Jan. 22.

Weideman thanked President Ross and his wife, First Lady Elizabeth Ross, for their leadership of CMU.

“President Ross and First Lady Elizabeth Ross are tremendous ambassadors for CMU, in their relationships with community members, students, faculty, staff and alumni. They are champions for our university, beloved by many,” Weideman stated. “They will be greatly missed, and we wish them many years of happiness as they enter the next phase in their lives. 

Ross has served as president of CMU since 2010. He was CMU’s vice president for Finance and Administrative Services from 2002-2008 before leaving to serve as president of Alcorn State University.

Weideman stated the university’s academic organizational review, search for a chief diversity officer, building of a new Center for Integrated Health Studies and public launch of a capital campaign will continue to move forward.

“Rest assured that Central Michigan University's position as a nationally ranked university will remain strong. Our commitment to excellence in academics and student success is unwavering,” he stated.

WATCH: Students react to George Ross stepping down as CMU President.

Community members say they will miss President Ross, reflect on his tenure at CMU

Ashley Schafer, Quinn Kirby

While students and faculty on Central Michigan University’s campus reacted to President George Ross’ decision to step down July 31, Mount Pleasant leaders discussed the impact he made while in office. 

Erik Rodriguez, interim public relations director of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe called Ross a “strong leader” who was instrumental in collaboration of projects between the tribe and the university. 

“(Ross) has been beneficial with making sure that the university has been aware of the Chippewa nickname (and) moving away from the mascot,” he said. “Making sure that we focus with the student body, the student government, the community and as well as alumni to let them know what the Chippewa name means.

"Our relationship with (CMU) is the strongest it has ever been with President Ross.”

Rodriguez also noted the implementation of the Niijkewehn Mentoring Program, which Ross supported during his tenure. Niijkewehn is an after school program that pairs native and non-native CMU college student mentors with native youth and at-risk youth to provide a safe place and a positive role model. 

Rodriguez said the tribe hopes Ross’ successor follows in his footsteps — continuing with the partnership, diversity and building relationships.

Bret Hyble, Mount Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said the chamber will miss Ross. He described Ross as always being “accessible, approachable and authentic” with the way he interacts with the community. 

“He has always been an advocate for collaboration, with our city and our business community,” Hyble said. “He and Elizabeth have been regular attendees at chamber events. He’s been a strong supporter of our business regionalism as a member of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance.”

As for the future president of CMU, Hyble said the Board of Trustees have done well planning for the future and feels it will find a president that matches CMU's direction.

Kathy Ling, Mount Pleasant commissioner and former mayor, said she will miss his role in "fostering a good relationship" between the university and city.

“I was surprised to hear Ross planned to retire," Ling said. "Ross has been a great partner with the city. I was honored in 2013 to have the opportunity to be featured with him in a series done by the Michigan Municipal League that identified CMU and Mount. Pleasant as a good example of a community with a positive town and gown relationship.  

"As a grandmother myself, I know that he and his wife, Elizabeth, will love their new role as grandparents.”

State Rep. Roger Hauck, R-Union Township, said Ross has done a great job for the university and community during his tenure. 

"I’m sad to see him go," Hauck said. "He’s leaving on his own terms and good terms. Central’s a good school, they’ll get a lot of good candidates and we’ll move forward." 

Tom Olver, president and CEO of United Way said Ross and wife, Elizabeth have "exhibited grace, compassion and wisdom" during the time in service. 

United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties is a local non-profit organization. CMU partners up with United Way every year to put on "Dance United" and raise money for the charity. 

"George and Elizabeth have given so much of their time, talent and treasure to advance the mission of CMU, while actively supporting community initiatives to enhance the quality of life throughout the region," Olver said. "(They) added tremendous value to our community while constantly enriching the lives of others."