Amidst the pride and happiness for graduates of Austin College during Commencement 2017, a bittersweet thread also ran through the weekend for alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends of the College: the end of the spring term signals the upcoming departure of President Marjorie Hass, leaving Austin College to take on the presidency at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. She assumes leadership there July 1.
In her eight years as the 15th president of Austin College, Dr. Hass has led the College to numerous momentous milestones, with campus advances in environmental sustainability, creation or expansion of several academic and co-curricular programs, and increases in applications and enrollment, as well as sustained and significant fundraising achievements. Her presidency also saw a number of campus renovations and upgrades, as well as the addition of the Flats at Brockett Court–modern housing for junior-level students, and the state-of-the-art IDEA Center, which houses offices, labs, and classrooms for departments in the Sciences Division.
Another construction project of the Hass era not only has provided new and appealing housing for Austin College seniors but has transformed the northern edge of campus along Grand Avenue. The 24 colorful cottages of The Village on Grand provides neighborhood-style housing—some single, some duplex, and three triplex units—and each unit contains a full-size kitchen, washer and dryer, four bedrooms with full-size beds, four bathrooms, a living area, and a covered porch.
At the May Board of Trustees meeting during Commencement, the board passed a resolution that gives the Grand Avenue cottages a new name: The Dr. Marjorie Hass Village on Grand. The resolution stated that her name should “remain an enduring element of the campus landscape” in appreciation of the “leadership and community spirit of President Hass and her lasting mark upon the College’s history and future.”
Though Dr. Hass acknowledged she was shocked by the announcement, she is seldom one to be caught speechless and the usual eloquence and elegance of her words came to her quickly. “This gift of the board to commemorate the work we did in creating the Village just absolutely overwhelms me,” Dr. Hass said at the Friday evening event designed as a farewell from the Board of Trustees. “I am so touched and I am so moved. I had already been overwhelmed tonight by this event and your willingness to spend a few hours thinking with me about what this place has meant to me and what we have accomplished together. To know that this legacy will be here makes me happy beyond belief.”
Commenting that she had been 30 years old before living in an apartment as nice as those in the Village, Dr. Hass joked that perhaps she could reserve one for her retirement. Her words quickly turned more serious:
“Serving as president of AC has truly been the honor of a lifetime. As you know I will go on to serve in other leadership capacities, and they will be meaningful and moving but there will be nothing as important to me as the work here. You took a tremendous risk in hiring me. I had never been a president; I had never lived in Texas. You looked at us and we looked at you and we said, ‘let’s make a match.” In our tradition there’s a saying that God spent the first six days of creation building the world, on the seventh day He rested, and on the eighth day, God made matches, marriages. I absolutely believe God had a hand in making this match between me and Austin College. You are in my thoughts and prayers eternally … as I’ve said, always a ’Roo. …. Three best board chairs a president could ever have, current and past senior teams – almost nothing that we achieve is the work of any one hand, we do it together and collectively. I see so many of you who have devoted your life to Austin College, who made this the place where you work, the place where you have chosen to have that place, as they say, where your talents meet the world’s hunger. Thank you all for sharing this special evening with me.”
Dr. Larry Hass, husband of the president, also was on hand with sincere thanks. “My heart is so full tonight,” he said. These past months, I have been so thoughtful of our time here and our work together. I would like to thank the board for this tremendous honor of naming the village in Marjorie’s honor. You surprised her, and I can tell you that this means so much to her. I will never forget the day Marjorie and I came to Austin College and to north Texas for her interview. We are adventurers, but we had never been to Texas. At the end of that day, we were totally smitten. We were completely taken, and I want to say thank you for saying ‘yes’ to us and helping us make this match. It has been a tremendous honor to serve the College in the capacity that I have.”
“Naming the Village after President Hass is fitting,” said Tim Millerick, vice president for Student Affairs and Athletics, “because it reflects in many ways her administration. The Village (and Flats) were hugely collaborative projects between key constituencies with her leadership and the projects were creative in both in design and funding. Not only did the housing provide timely increased revenue to the overall budget, the units expanded on-campus housing opportunities, particularly for juniors and seniors, at a time when off-campus options were diminishing. The overall project became a recognized model nationally. I am thankful to have been a part of creating the space and am pleased that it now recognizes the leadership of President Hass.”
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, international study, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with more than 40 percent of students representing ethnic minorities. A residential student body of approximately 1,275 students and a faculty of more than 100 allow a 13:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. The College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. Founded in 1849, the College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.