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Saginaw Valley State’s new president vows to listen to students, community

George Grant Jr. headshot
George Grant Jr. will be Saginaw Valley State University’s next president. Grant is a Detroit native and is currently the chancellor at Pennsylvania State University-Berks. (Photo provided by Saginaw Valley State University)
  • George Grant Jr. will be the next Saginaw Valley State University president
  • He is the university’s first president of color
  • He previously served 24 years at Grand Valley State University

Saginaw Valley State University named the current chancellor of Pennsylvania State University-Berks as its next president Tuesday. 

George Grant Jr. will be the university’s fifth president and first president of color, according to a news release. He will begin on Dec. 1, one of several new university leaders this year in Michigan. The current Saginaw Valley president, Donald Bachand, is retiring after leading the school since 2014.

Grant is a Detroit native who spent 24 years at Grand Valley State University including 12 years as dean of the College of Community and Public Service. He became chancellor at Pennsylvania State University-Berks at the beginning of 2021, where there are about 2,100 students

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“I am a person that’s passionate about community service and compassionate about the idea that a university should be part of a community not separate from the community,” Grant said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.  

Grant said he doesn’t subscribe to the view of universities as an “ivory tower…that we have all the expertise and if you just be quiet, we’ll tell you what to do.”

Saginaw Valley, he said, “partners. It’s part of the community. It’s not separate. It listens.”  

Saginaw Valley, in University Center, just north of Saginaw, listed about 7,500 students in fall 2021, including 6,500 undergraduates. The university is one of several public universities in the state that have suffered enrollment declines. The school’s fall 2021 enrollment was 26.6 percent lower than in fall 2013. 

Grant said he intends to listen carefully to students, staff, faculty and community members especially in his first 90 days as he becomes acclimated to the university. He said he will also spend time analyzing the budget and working with law enforcement to ensure a safe campus.

His priorities include working with mental health professionals so “everyone who steps foot on campus feels comfortable.” He wants to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion efforts so they are “part of the foundation and pillar” of the university. He said he also wants to promote collaboration, transparency and community engagement.

While Grant was at Grand Valley State University, Sherril Soman, current dean of the College of Education and Community Innovation, said he built strong relationships. 

“He was extensively involved in the community, partnering with other educational institutions,” Soman said in a news release. “He had a really good relationship with Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Rapids Community College.” 

Soman said Grant makes a point to be present and visible to students. 

“At Grand Valley, we are a predominantly white institution,” Soman said. “He showed up in the spaces for the students of color we had. He knew it would make a difference for them. He always made a point to be present. He cared about students and he showed that in his actions.” 

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While at Grand Valley, Grant raised more than $46 million for the school, according to a news release. He also developed academic programming to support adult learners and implemented a master’s of social work program in rural communities across the state. 

Grant studied at Wayne County Community College before completing a bachelor’s degree in social work at Marygrove College in Detroit. He has a masters degree in social work from Grand Valley State University and doctorate degree in sociology from Western Michigan University. He also has a certificate from the Harvard Institute in Educational Management.  

Other universities in Michigan will also see changes in leadership soon. Santa Ono will lead the University of Michigan beginning in October. Former Grand Rapids Community College president Bill Pink began the presidency at Ferris State University in July. Wayne State University president M. Roy Wilson announced he will leave his post at the end of next July

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